For lo, the first World Series of the new millennium was meant to settle the eternal questions of Western theology: Is God best understood objectively or subjectively; through reason or through experience? In the articulation of dogma or on the quest for insight; within a community of likeminded believers, or on pilgrimage with those who know only what they lack?
For what are these Yankees but heirs of theological rationalism in all its rigorous and systematic glory? Temporally, Derek Jeter and his brethren may dwell in the humble surround of the southern Bronx, but spiritually they are native to the Athens of Aristotle, the Paris of Aquinas, and the Rome of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
And what are these Mets if not mystics in polyester pants, cleated apostles who encounter God in an ecstatic flash that redeems long years of famine. Their Savior led them out of the wasteland of the Phillies and the Expos, and into a land flowing with milk and commercial endorsements. Their God has made the desert (the Hebrew word is 'Flushing') bloom.
This Series was not just the battle for New York, or even the championship of baseball. It didn't shed much light on the whole designated hitter thing. It was a cosmic struggle, and in religious terms it was closer to watching the Athens Yankees vs. the Jerusalem Mets. The universe has pitted the team of reason against the team of revelation; the team of the law against the team of the spirit; the team of works against the team of faith.
The Yankees are high church. They have built shrines to their saints in the outfield. The Mets are a revival led by a preacher so clueless that he pitched his tent in the flight path of a major airport.
Like any sect worth its salt, both teams are blessed with vivid creation myths. The Yankees claim apostolic succession--they trace their lineage back to Babe Ruth. On his miraculous deeds, his disciples have built the most successful franchise in the history of sport: a team that has won more than a quarter of the World Series played since 1923; a team whose leaders were always among the most significant of the era--Gehrig, DiMaggio, Berra, Mantle; a team that has been so dominant for so long that the Baseball Hall of Fame feels like a Yankee reliquary with players from other teams admitted as an ecumenical gesture.
The Mets were a make-good team created in 1962 as baseball's penance for allowing the ancestral tribes (the Dodgers and the Giants) to find their Canaan in California. In their first season, they may have been the worst baseball team of all time, and for much of their history they and their fans have been wild-eyed seekers, playing on the hunch that the game's ineffable circles within circles would provide answers.
Then in 1969, the walls of the Red Sea collapsed on the Chicago Cubs (and all their chariots and all their charioteers,) and the Mets found themselves playing David to the Baltimore Orioles' Goliath in their first World Series. Any doubt the Miracle Mets benefited from divine intervention was quashed the last time the Mets won, in 1986, as a routine ground ball slithered mysteriously through the legs of Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner with one out to go in the sixth game. The error cost the Red Sox the game, and they succumbed in Game 7. (The Sox, who committed baseball's original sin--trading Ruth to the Yankees--have been wandering east of Eden ever since.)
This year's teams perfectly distill their respective heritages. The Yankees win by design. The team is carefully constructed, like a syllogism: "We have a lead in the eighth. We have Mariano Rivera. QED: You lose." The Yanks' manager, Joe Torre, watches placidly from the bench, looking like an old parish priest listening to his millionth confession. He has heard it all, absolved it all, before.
The Mets don't win so much as they are delivered from evil--sometimes evil of their own making. (Witness Benny Agbayani play left field.) Yet, like St. Paul, they have reason to rejoice in their weakness. When their slugging right fielder Derrick Bell injured his ankle in the first game of the playoffs, the Mets inserted a rookie named Timo Perez at the top of the lineup, a man who, as yet, has no need of a razor, and he ignited their offense in the earlier rounds of the playoffs. The Mets' manager, Bobby Valentine, harassed, but hopeful, is an edgy Abraham, is always playing for time, hoping that at the last minute God might reconsider the sacrifice of Isaac.
On the outcome of this World Series, in short, rides the future of religious consciousness in the West.
Who will prevail? I sought an answer by opening my Bible and reading a random verse. Genesis 4: 20: "Adah gave birth of Jabal, the ancestor of all who dwell in tents and keep cattle. "
So that method doesn't always work the first time. I tried again. Acts 10:34: "Peter proceeded to speak and said, "I begin to see that God shows no partiality...."
What does this tell us? It tells us that St. Peter was not a Red Sox fan.