TOD: Baseball’s Unforgivable Sin

Barry Bonds did not make the Hall of Fame. Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa, too. (For that matter, neither did Aaron Sele, who somehow managed to receive one vote.)

On the statistical side, it would appear that Bonds, baseball’s all-time home run leader, Clemens, the winner of an unprecedented seven Cy Youngs, and Sosa, one of only eight players to hit 600 home runs, would appear to be first-ballot locks for the Hall of Fame. Yet, none even received 40% of the vote -- well short of the 75% needed for induction.

The reasoning behind this apparent slight, for those who don’t know, is these three players association with performance-enhancing drugs. In a game of unwritten rules and etiquette, crimes against the integrity of the game are apparently, to the baseball writers that vote for the Hall of Fame, unforgivable.

However, in the New York Times, there was a great article this week on the members of the Hall of Fame who, to say the least, were less than stellar human beings and, in some cases, racist cheats.

That article along with the release of the Hall of Fame vote on Wednesday, got us here at Theology on Deck thinking about sin and forgiveness and how God’s grace works in the lives of seemingly unrepentant sinners and those whom their sin affects.

Br. Wesley:

Taking all of that into perspective, if performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) is the sin of baseball, what does that say about all players during that era of the game?

On the one hand you have the perspective of Houston Astros great Craig Biggio, who says that even though he played in the PED era he should not be found guilty with the rest of the PED players.  On the other you have the Curt Schilling approach which says all players are guilty; meaning that, even though there were players who did not use PEDs, they are still guilty by not doing something about it.

Hmmm. Perhaps Mr. Schilling is right. Perhaps all the players are guilty – to one degree or another. This is similar to our lives or faith. We are all sinners, and we have all been forgiven, shown great mercy and grace from our heavenly Father. But as redeemed children of the Father we are called to help each other – our fellow sinners. As it says in Ezekiel 33:7-9:

“You, son of man—I have appointed you as a sentinel for the house of Israel; when you hear a word from my mouth, you must warn them for me. When I say to the wicked, “You wicked, you must die,” and you do not speak up to warn the wicked about their ways, they shall die in their sins, but I will hold you responsible for their blood. If, however, you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, but they do not, then they shall die in their sins, but you shall save your life.”

Curt Schilling, like the prophet Ezekiel, knows the players had a responsibility to speak out against PED – in love of course. The same is true of us. We are called to help each other with sin, always in love, always pointing to God’s love and mercy and the forgiveness that is being offered to us every moment of every day of our lives.

For there is no sin that beyond God’s grace and mercy. There is no sin that is unforgivable. And if the Father has already forgiven us we should turn to him and embrace that forgiveness especially in the sacrament of confession. 

Perhaps if baseball were to act like the Father and forgive these players, this era of its history, and vote these players into the Hall, these players might embrace this forgiveness and “repent” of there sins and ask for baseball’s forgiveness that is being offered them. It might inspire all players of that era to know that they were in some way guilty and to work to correct it.

Yes this sign of forgiveness might be so sacramental that it could forever affect the game and its players to play with greater passion, with greater respect – for a greater LOVE of the game.

Br. Patrick:

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it says, “(S)in makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them. Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. "Structures of sin" are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a "social sin." (cf. CCC, 1869)

With the prevalence of PEDs and lack of effort to clean up the game internally, to have been a part of baseball from the mid-1980s through the early 2000s was to have been a part of a structure of sin. In a way, to have worked and played in that era but to have done nothing to combat the forces of evil is to have been morally complicit in the acts themselves.

It stands to reason then that the entire era is tainted, much like the 1970s were tainted by amphetamines, the 1980s by cocaine, and the early days of professional baseball by racism and drunkenness.

It is clear, though, that none of the personal or social sins that took place and were permitted are too great, too difficult to forgive. However, in order to truly repent and seek forgiveness the men who were involved – players, coaches, and, most importantly, the writers – need to admit their own failings, whether it was choosing to use PEDs or failing to confront the problem.

Turn it over to God and let Him pour his grace into your hearts. As it says in Matthew 7:7-8:

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Final Verdict

Br. Wesley: I agree with Schilling. All of baseball is responsible for the “culture” it helped to create. I say forgive and don’t ever forget. The game is cleaner because the culture of baseball has faced its past and has begun to make strides to move forward. Let them in, let all the PED-users in, let them be in with all the good and bad and ugly of the Baseball Hall of Fame family.

Br. Patrick: The players involved in this era of baseball are to some extent complicit in the preponderance of PEDs in the game. The writers are the most confounding party to this whole ordeal as they had to have known something was going on. In one offseason, string bean players are coming back looking like professional bodybuilders. We will never know what they knew or when they knew it, but, after some time of 

prostyletyzing and bloviating, the media will, like the vast majority of fans, forgive the players and elect them into the Hall of Fame.

Let this be a lesson to all of us to continually seek the forgiving and healing mercy, love and grace of God in the sacrament of Penance. Call upon His Holy Name and Sacred Heart and he will wipe away your sins. 

Hope springs eternal.