Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Baseball as a Metaphor

In the spirit of October, I offer the following discussions about making use of baseball, or sports in general, as metaphors for more sublime purposes. This post(as well, I assume, the articles quotes therein) was written in a light vein for sports fans, and is not to be deemed an unqualified endorsement of the sports industry.

Rabbi Emanuel Feldman has written that he always has

liked baseball, its non-violence, its patience, the solitary struggle of lonely pitcher against lonely batter. And consider its religious undertones: the goal is to circle the infield and then come back to the starting point, to return to beginnings. Unlike football or basketball, where the clock ultimately runs out, baseball is timeless: a tie game can theoretically continue until eternity.

There is even a lesson to be learned, as in here and here , from a saying which originated with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Parenthetically, on the subject of sports aphorisms, I once read an essay on the philosophical value of Yogi-isms.

But moving back to the Jewish side of things(l'havdil):

Rabbi Baruch Leff, in a response to an internet article writes that

I wanted to utilize the Yankee loss to teach a powerful Torah lesson about arrogance. Along the way, I think I hit on why many non-Yankee fans dislike the Yankees. But the article is really not about the Yankees, it's about the evils of arrogance. I hope the reader can see that.

Lest one dismiss the above as making use of dubious non-Torah concepts for outreach or other mere mundane, utilitarian purposes, I conclude with Rabbi Aaaron Rakeffet's more comprehensive discussion of the pertinent and over-arching issue of whether one may gain mussar or moral instruction from sports, and if so, how? That is really the heart(and the heat) of the issue.

There’s no question that athletes become models, and there’s a lot to learn from a good athlete. Hopefully we can learn about fair play. From Joe DiMaggio, I don’t have to tell you how much mussar you can learn from a guy that always hustled. Halevai, we should daven, l’havdil, with the same feeling that he went to the ballpark every day. He was always running around on the field. He was asked in the late 1940’s, why are you running, what do you have to prove, you’re already well-known? He answered “there may be a kid who’s never seen me before, and he should know that I always hustle.” There’s a lot of bad in athletics. You see these guys are arrested for dog fighting, the drugs, the women, what happened with Rodriguez. This is ma’asim shebechol yom with the breakdown of society. Marriage is not sacred, a woman has become nothing more than an object, there’s no concept of love or subjectivity. Of course, a person has to differentiate. On the other hand, we shouldn’t be naïve. A yeshiva boy who goes to a ballgame knows he’s basically looking at non-Jews who are poor role models. He’s going for the sport. Shawn Green may be born Jewish, but he’s not yet the gadol hador.

It’s my feeling, and I spoke about this recently, that baseball has such a hold on our youth davka because it’s slow-moving and you can think. In other words, there’s inside basketball and inside football and inside baseball. It’s beneath the surface. What play are you going to use? In other sports it’s quick; you don’t play a role in it. But in baseball, left-hander, right-hander, pull the infield in, push the outfield back, give up the run, worry about the bunt, go for the double play, the squeeze, should he steal, what do you do, put him in scoring position, hit away. There’s so much involved that you have time to think. To me, if you have that Talmudic mind, it’s one of the reasons you like baseball.

I also want to state something else- that one of the most inspiring figures I’ve seen in my life was Jackie Robinson. There, you have enough mussar. Leaving alone the fact that he had a beautiful marriage, and his wife should live and be well, but what the man did to break the color barrier, to go against all odds, to be maledicted and not respond. You talk about Branch Rickey who never went to the ballpark on Sunday. He promised his mother, who was a pious Christian, some sect of Protestant, and to them it was, pardon the term, apikorsut to go to the ballpark on Sunday. So he never went. There’s so much you can develop and learn from all that. From that point of view, you do have what to learn. And it’s no different than the Gemara. The Gemara in Kiddushin talks about kibbud av v’em and says our greatest role models are gentiles who wouldn’t wake up their fathers to get precious stones or the Para Adumah. Whatever was involved, they wouldn’t wake up their fathers. So you see the Gemara didn’t hesitate to use gentiles as examples. So baruch Hashem we have role models, and a good rebbe can do a lot from baseball, or all sports.

Now, it may all be shtuyot, someone can be cynical and sarcastic. But, when all is said and done, I would say that over the years my knowledge of baseball made hundreds of kids into bnei Torah. You ask me how? I don’t say this applies to the kollel, because they’re older and they’re established. But you have no idea the effect it has on younger students when the rebbe knows baseball. You can ask them 20 or 30 years later and they’ll say “Rebbe you changed my life when you talked about Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio.” Why? Because a kid comes into a rebbe’s shiur, and the rebbe knows how to learn a little, and beseder, he’s a yarei shamayim, and he’s living Torah. In the kid’s mind, who can be like the rebbe? He’s from a different generation. Suddenly the rebbe opens his mouth to talk baseball and he’s one of the kids. Now he can teach Torah.

This is not a sports blog, but 'tis the Season, and I suppose all bloggers have their moments of weakness.

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