Friday, October 28, 2011

Game 6

It wasn't a great game. It was entertaining, for sure. I would once like to hear a player say, after a game like this, we won but we were lucky. Instead of saying we never give up, or we always find a way to win, or we wanted it more than they did, etc. No, the Cardinals were lucky. Either team could have won a game that had plenty of sloppy moments. The Cardinals third baseman dropped a little league popup. The Cardinals centerfielder rushing in on a flyball while calling out to the shortstop who was rushing out - to catch it! It was clearly the centerfielder's play. This same allstar centerfielder got picked off third base! The Rangers first baseman bobbled an easy groundball in the late innings that led to a Cardinals run. Then, there were the managing decisions. Why was Mark Lowe out there in the 11th inning when CJ Wilson was warming up, too? Lowe faced one batter and gave up the winning home run. But the biggest piece of luck in the game was the Rangers rightfielder's misplay of a ball hit over his head that allowed the game to be tied in the 9th inning. The Rangers had the game won. They had two strikes on the batter. There were two outs. They were two runs ahead. And the batter hit a ball over the head of the Rangers rightfielder. When he was supposed to be in a defensive posture designed to prevent that from happening. No balls hit over the outfielders heads! Except in the case of a home run. This went over his head for a triple scoring two runs and preventing the Rangers from celebrating. As luck would have it, the Cardinals won. Not a great game, not a classic, but a lot of fun to watch.

By the way, I read today (source: Tyler Kepner in the NY Times) that Josh Hamilton said God called his extra inning home run that almost won the game for the Rangers. He said God told him he was going to hit a home run. What God forgot to mention was that it would not be the game winner!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Gospel of Moneyball

I saw Moneyball the other night. I had read the book when it came out. If you don't already know it's the story of Billy Beane, Oakland A's general manager, who was faced with building a competitive baseball club when he had millions of dollars less than other ball clubs to work with. So, he turned to statistics to lead him to undervalued baseball players who could still play and win ballgames. It was a novel idea at the time. Old timer baseball guys did not understand it. They were used to going by baseball instinct and gut feelings and knowing - just knowing - how a guy would perform in the future by watching him take some at bats or field some ground balls. It was baseball know-how vs the new science of baseball. You could take a guy with an MBA from Yale armed with a manual of new kinds of statistics like OPS which means on base percentage - someone who may have never played the game and value his advice over a well seasoned baseball grunt spitting tobacco juice, cussing, backslapping good ole boy, who knew the game, for crying out loud! It was unbaseball like, it was unAmerican, it was unorthodox. But, it worked and in the past decade has become the way baseball does business. Now,even the rich teams do what Billy Beane did.

In the movie, Beane explains his scientific method this way: don't bunt, don't sacrifice, don't steal - these are all low percentage ways of getting on base. Take a walk - who cares if you get on base by a hit or a walk. The point is to find guys who get on base. If your not on base, you can't score a run. It was unorthodox and the oldtimers did not like it. Instincts, bunting, stealing, sacrificing - this was the way the game was meant to be played. When Billy traded one of his best players and sent another one down to the minors, his assistant told him, you can't do that! They are not going to like it. He said, don't worry about what they think. If you believe it is right, then do it.

Of course, I was thinking about how often in life we don't do that. We do what we do because it is the way it has always been done and we want to avoid taking the flak for changing it (I am thinking of the Church, in particular, here). We don't want to chance the unorthodox. Now, to switch gears here, I believe in Orthodoxy when it comes to the Faith. But, I think we can do Orthodoxy unorthodoxly (if that's even a word). I think we have to. Jesus was totally Orthodox but he ran afoul of the religious establishment of his day because he went about Orthodoxy unorthodoxly. There are many ways to do Orthodox. We have to change things up sometimes. Or we end up with what has been called Dead Orthodoxy. An Orthodoxy that no one cares about. An Orthodoxy with no life in it.

Billy Beane could have taken his paycheck and been satisfied with fielding a last place team. Instead he shook things up, and found another way to field a better ball club which was competitive. He took the heat of the baseball establishment for doing things differently from the way they had always been done. It was a risk. As his assistant pointed out, it could have cost him his job. He had faith in this new way of looking at building a baseball team. It was the same game but a new way of looking at how it was played.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

All is Grace

Brennan Manning has been singing Amazing Grace for a long time. He is 77 years old and his last book is just out. All is Grace is the title and the theme of his life. Manning led a fascinating life. He was a soldier, a Catholic priest and a much sought after speaker and retreat leader who spoke at many Evangelical conferences and institutions. He wrote many best selling books on grace and popularized the phrase, ragamuffin gospel, which meant God loves us -and even likes us- the way we are. His books and sermons are filled with great stories of how God's grace was made real to him. As a priest, Manning lived in France with the Little Brothers of the Poor and was part of an experimental Little Brothers group in Alabama. For Evangelical audiences he was a unique blend of classic spiritual disciplines, and a passionate relationship with God that led him to get involved with the kinds of people that were on the fringes of society. One year he might go live as a contemplative in a cave in Spain and the next year might find him ministering among the urban poor. What endeared him to many people was his honesty. He was a fallen, broken human being who was loved by God, and many of us fallen, broken human beings were deeply touched by what he said and did.

Yet, according to this last book, he was never completely honest in his speaking or writing. There was always too much of himself and it was slanted in a way that would make him look good even when he was trying to look bad. His life was a search for human friendship and approval. Like most of us. In this book, he tells about his relationship with his parents and family. His mother wanted a girl and instead she got him, he writes, and never was he allowed to forget that. He took his first drink at 16 and alcohol took over and controlled great chunks of his life. Even though he was in rehab several times, he would always relapse. Even on his cross country speaking trips, he managed to fit in week long drunken binges. On the night before his mother's funeral he got so drunk he blacked out in a lonely hotel room and missed it the next day. When he was about 40, he renounced his priestly vows so he could marry a woman who had two children from a previous marriage and who he met at one of his spiritual retreats. He did not do this lightly but took a year of discernment to seek God's will. It took him seven years to make sure he was doing the right thing. Marriage and becoming a father to her two children were the happiest experiences of his life. But, he says, he did not do marriage well, his alcoholism wreaked havoc on his marriage. Yet, it lasted 17 years and he gives most of the credit to his wife for making it that long.

When he left the priesthood, his Catholic conference and retreat speaking dried up. Two full years of speaking commitments canceled overnight. His Irish Catholic family who had been proud of him when he was a priest, disowned him for awhile. His Catholic friends ignored him. Yet, out of this crisis, came an inquiry or two from Evangelical organizations asking him if he was available to speak. One was Young Life and that began a relationship of speaking and leading staff conferences that lasted for years. Another was with Mike Yaconelli who was associated with Youth Specialties and organized a national Pastors Conference every year. Manning was a regular speaker and retreat leader for these meetings.

In later years, as Manning struggled with his highs and lows, his sobriety and drunkenness, his imperfections, he pulled a group of men together which became known as the Notorious Sinners. Yaconelli, who wrote a book called, Messy Spirituality, was part of that group. They met every year. They were a support and accountability group for Manning and for each other. They strove to be as honest with each other as they could. Manning did not always appreciate their honesty. Yet, they loved God and loved each other.

Today, Manning, suffering from the ravages of alcoholism, needs almost constant care. This last book was written with the help of John Blase. Manning could not have done it alone. Like most of his life, Manning was deeply aware that he could not do it alone. In this book, it is as if, before he died, he wanted to make sure that was perfectly clear. He was a failed, flawed human being who depended totally (even when he tried to fake it) on the grace of God. And God was there, as Manning, often said, He is very fond of me. He trusted that the light of God would shine through the cracks in his life. And it did. All is Grace.