As I was running errands last Wednesday morning in the car I was surprised to listen to a discussion of Christianity and pro sports on the local sports talk radio station. The host, Soren Petro (who incidentally I think is the most prepared and knowledgeable host on the station), was asking the question as to whether the open Christianity on the Royals as evidenced by Mike Sweeney, Tony Graffanino, Jeremy Affeldt, and Carlos Beltran (before the trade) was dividing the team and contributing to the 45-81 record.
As possible evidence he pointed to the events at Christian Family Day, the day when after the game the Royals mentioned above plus Corey Koskie of the Twins gave their testimonies and a short inspirational message to those who wanted to stay after the game and the fact that after games a few of the players (mostly American as opposed to Latin players he pointed out) participate in a Bible study "on company grounds" (something Petro hadn't seen before). His partner on the show Danny Klinkscale did offer that he thought when a team had as many Christians on the roster as the Royals do it did tend to be divisive. He offered no examples of other teams to back up his point however. To Petro's credit he explicitly denied that Christians were somehow less competitive citing the Chiefs Tony Richardson. This was the implicit criticism leveled by former Royals manager Tony Muser did in his now famous comment regarding his team's slow start in 2001:
"Chewing cookies, drinking milk and praying isn't going to get it done. It's going to take a lot of hard work."
I'm not surprised that the issue is being brought up as it was in 2001. Petro specifically said that he was bringing up the issue because it has been discussed behind the scenes by the media and I assume by front office personnel. He also did a nice job of giving a pastor who called in from Athletes In Action a good chuck of time to discuss the issue.
As a Christian I feel a need at least to think through the issue and so a few points follow:
- I do understand what Petro is talking about when says that members of media have been discussing this issue. I could feel and hear the resentment to Christian Family Day in the press box when I scored the game for MLB.com.
- This issue was only raised (whether or not it was talked about privately before) publicly when the team is losing. Last year with a winning team the same dynamics were in place and yet no one publicly criticized the Christians. This reminds me of a comment Bill James made in The New Historical Baseball Abstract in discussing one time Royals third baseman Kevin Seitzer. "He was a born-again Christian who sometimes irritated his teammates and managers, perhaps for good reason or perhaps just because, when things go wrong, it's easy to blame the Christian." I would venture that the latter is mostly the case here.
- Christianity is inherently divisive as Jesus himself said. I think it does naturally offend some who will automatically feel as if the Christian is claiming moral superiority or special knowledge. In reality, the Christian should be humble in their realization that only through Christ's work could they hope to gain salvation. As to the point that those attending the Bible study were American as opposed to Latin players I can only offer that Carlos Beltran I believe came to Christ through his relationship with Mike Sweeney so it doesn't appear as if there is something exclusionary going on.
- I doubt that Christianity can be more divisive than the differences between personalities generally. How about the players who don't go out and carouse at night? How about the player who actually likes to read books on roadtrips? How about the player who is active politically? These are simply differences between individuals that all of us deal with in our professional lives everyday.
- Bible studies "on company grounds" are common. When I worked at a Fortune 500 company a weekly Bible study met during lunch in a conference room on the corporate campus. The room was given up for work related meetings of course and the Bible studies were never conducted during normal working hours. As long as the studies and chapel services aren't held in lieu of batting or fielding practice for example, I can't see how there would be cause for complaint.
- The life of a major league baseball player is quite different from the corporate 9 to 5 world however. For much of the season the clubhouse is the central place for players to congregate not only for baseball activities but also for recreation (cards for example) and relaxing. Under those circumstances a Bible study in the clubhouse should be no more a problem than a game of cards or a discussion about politics or movies. This also relates to chapel services in the clubhouse. Since the lifestyle of the major leaguer means that they are often at the ballpark on Sundays it only seems sensitive (and we all want to be sensitive) to have a service.