September 16, 2010

God and Instant Replay

Major League Baseball is in the middle of a debate about whether the sport should allow for instant replay. In other words, should the umpires be able to see the same slow-motion replays of disputed plays that we can see at home? Was that ball foul or fair? Was that runner safe or out? Sometimes getting a single play called correctly can make the difference between a win and a loss. In a couple of cases, a bad call by the umpire (that every Joe Blow watching slow motion replays in his armchair at home could see was a bad call!) has made a potentially decisive swing in the outcome of the World Series. So there is no little push to allow the umpires to catch up with current technology. And understandably so.

And last night, a little more fuel was added to the fire! The pitcher threw one high and tight. The ball struck the batter on his wrist (or did it?). He dropped to his knees ‘in pain’ and even went so far as to call the trainer out of the dugout to come and ‘examine him’. And then, finally, he took his free pass to first base. The only problem with all of that is that, while the player was on his knees ‘in pain’, and while the trainer was ‘examining him’, the television replay showed – again and again, and with crystal clarity – that the ball actually hit his bat, not his body … making the rightful result of the play a foul ball, not a free base. But, since there is no instant replay in baseball, the charade went on unchecked … with the player in question even admitting, after the game, that the ball hit his bat, not his wrist. ‘It’s my job to get on base’ was his confident assertion. Translation? The end of getting on base justifies the dishonest means of getting there.

So today, across the radio airwaves, the debate ensues – and not just the debate about whether or not Major League Baseball should have instant replay. No, no! Surprisingly, as I drove to pick up my daily Mountain Dew, I heard listener emails being read questioning the play-acting player’s ethics. ‘I wouldn’t want my kid doing that, so why should it be OK for big leaguers to be dishonest?’ To which the radio hosts replied, in essence: ‘This is not Little League. It’s professional baseball. And the player is right. It’s his job to get on base. That’s just how things work in the big leagues.’

One wonders, incidentally, why we even bother to teach our children about the ills of lying, or cheating, or cursing if those rules are destined to change once they turn 18, or make it to ‘the big leagues’ of their chosen profession!

But let’s grant that this is, indeed, this is how it works in the big leagues. I have no doubt that it is. It’s how it worked in the legion and high school ranks in which I played (and even on the rec Softball fields this summer). It’s just how things are, right? Get on base at all costs. Deceive the umpire if necessary. Achieve my ends no matter the means. ‘Just win, baby!’ There’s no instant replay, after all! There is no getting caught … at least not in any punitive sense. The fans at home can’t do anything about an obviously blown call. And since it’s ‘part of the game’, the Commissioner isn’t going to step in on the side of ethics and propriety.

Now … why is a Christian pastor taking up all this time and space to write about baseball, and replay, and so on? Not because I am arguing for instant replay’s use in Major League Baseball. But because this whole incident reminds me of Romans 3.18: “there is no fear of God before their eyes.”

That is really the crux of this whole issue, it seems to me. The reason that batter was able to fake getting hit by a pitch (and later fearlessly admit that he did so!) is because, evidently, “there is no fear of God before his eyes”. He doesn’t believe (or remember, or care) that God is watching. Indeed, isn’t that one of the reasons that, at times, allows each one of us (and I include myself in that clause), to lie, and lust, and cheat, and look down our noses at other people? We forget (or ignore, or disbelieve) the fact that there is a God to whom we must give an account … and that, unlike instant replay in baseball, He is always watching.

If there was instant replay in life (or in baseball), we’d likely think twice about some of our sinful charades! But since there is not; since there is often no human mechanism or repercussion to cause us fear, a ballplayer can fall to his knees in a great heap of dishonesty; and we can hide our sin too, and pretend to be something we are not. Or so we think. All because instant replay isn’t watching; and often, in our consciences at least, neither is God.

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