Idol Chatter

A few weeks ago, toward the end of a festive holiday meal, the rabbi of my synagogue threw out a light-hearted challenge to us. This was back when both the Mets and the Yankees were still in the playoff hunt, and the rabbi’s question was straightforward: How is baseball like Judaism? A few people tried making the connection, but nothing satisfactory came from it, and the rabbi moved on to more serious topics.

Now, having had this past weekend to ruminate on the Mets’ heartbreaking loss to the Cardinals last week, I’ve developed my own answer to the question of how baseball, if not like Judaism as a whole, is at least like one piece of the Bible: the book of Ecclesiastes.

In baseball, as in life, you never know the outcome, and any one at-bat–like any game, season, or even career–seems to rest on little other than chance. A weak-hitting catcher belts a ninth-inning two-run homer, while a genuine superstar MVP candidate strikes out looking with the tying run in scoring position. Whether a line drive falls for a two-run double or is caught by charging outfielder; whether a pitch curves in for a perfect strike or stays outside for a ball; whether a high fly ball soars over the fence for a homerun or veers left for a foul ball or is caught on the warning track for an out; whether a ground ball skids past a diving shortstop for a single or is stopped for an easy ground-out–all of these can go either way in any situation.

Sure, talent and effort count, but so do field conditions, weather, what ballpark you’re playing in, and a million other known and unknown factors.

In the face of this unpredictability, what do we do? It’s easy to turn away, overwhelmed at the randomness, and withdraw. Or we can adopt an abiding pessimism, a fatalistic certitude that there is no justice and that fate is against us (see: Red Sox, Boston, pre-2004). But neither of these responses is satisfying. Instead, all we can do in the face of seemingly arbitrary fate is to get up day in and day out and play the game. We must not let yesterday’s victory go to our heads and lead us to think that we are, indeed, fully in control of the outcome, nor can we let yesterday’s defeat weigh us down and convince us that victory will forever be elusive.

All we can do is remember that talent and effort are important factors–ones that we can control–and try our hardest to be the best players and teammates we can be, to face our challenges and hopes and fears, and to work our hardest toward our goals. And to leave the rest in God’s hands.

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