Baseball player Yogi Berra once declared that “love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good too.” That probably explains why people are excited about reports from Major League Baseball that it may begin again in America by early July. The return of baseball each Spring signals a new season of hope for all fans who follow their favorite team. The emotions one feels from following baseball can easily be translated into feelings many of us have towards our current pandemic. The prospects of baseball returning, even without fans, is an encouraging sign and folks, after months of largely being confined to home, welcome any message of hope or restoration of normal. Stories of baseball can offer lessons for living or in our case “dancing with a virus.”
This winter I got to hear legendary Reds Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Maloney speak about his first pitching start again the St. Louis Cardinals and his hero, Stan Musial. He described how the first pitch of his major league career was met with outfielder Curt Flood’s bat for a double off the wall. His next pitch was a base hit that scored a run from infielder Julian Javier. Now, he was facing his hero Stan Musial. “Stan the Man” swatted his first pitch for another double. Adding to Maloney’s woe, the next batter Ken Boyer hit his first pitch for a two-run homer. Four pitches and down 4-0. As Maloney recalled the game, he said the pitching coach came out to the mound with catcher Johnny Edwards. The coach asked Edwards about Maloney’s pitching, “how’s his stuff? “. Edward’s deadpan answer, “I wouldn’t know, I haven’t caught anything yet.“ Maloney followed that game by becoming one of the National League’s most dominating pitchers in the 1960’s. He’s proof positive that one can survive a bad start. The world too survived a devastating start to the coronavirus. We are making progress towards treatments, an eventual vaccine, and less death. The truth is you can’t always judge a day by sunrise. It can look a lot different at sunset.
Baseball is replete with stories. After all, it was none other than the great hitter Ted Williams who once opined, “baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered successful.” My favorite Ted William’s story occurred in September of 1941. His team, the Boston Red Sox, was out of the pennant race and Ted’s batting average stood at .39955 before the final doubleheader. If he didn’t play, his average would have been rounded to .400 making him the first player in decades to reach that magical number. His manager offered to sit him out thus preserving the average. Instead Ted insisted on playing both games, got six hits, and finished the year with a .406 average which no one has ever reached again. Why? Because he took a risk. He bet on himself. As we reopen America with safeguards, it is with risk. We can’t really live without it. But just as Ted bet on himself, I’m betting on America.
And I would add while there’s a lot to love about baseball, there’s also a lot to learn from it —-even today.