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Outside the Lines: Faith and the National Pastime

A Look at Baseball Chapel and Faith in Our National Pastime

Bob Ley, Host: There is, in baseball, a strong connection to the fabric of America.

Rituals and traditions; a collective memory of moments sparking the game's popularity into a third century.

Even more enduring than baseball's tradition is Faith itself.

Paul Byrd (Philadelphia Phillies Pitcher): If we lose we pray to be able to handle it and learn from it and get better because failure is certainly a part of baseball and if we win we pray to handle that as well.

Ley: Today on Outside the Lines, why attendance is booming in Baseball Chapel.

Jeremy Schaap, ESPN Correspondent: They're familiar sights, athletes gesturing to the heavens, crossing themselves. More than ever before, ballparks are cathedrals-where players express their religious devotion publicly, and privately. Every Sunday of the baseball season, while millions of Americans are in church, hundreds of players, whose work prevents them from going to church, attend brief, informal Christian services at the ballpark-held in equipment rooms and lounges, any free room they can find.

Anthony Telford (Expos Pitcher/Chapel Leader): it's a place where you can get alone with God and just have at least 15-20 minutes of the day of peace, and I really do feel it's necessary

Schaap: Founded in nineteen seventy-three, baseball chapel is a privately financed organization that coordinates the Sunday services held throughout professional baseball. Vince Nauss, the executive director, says that despite the makeup of the congregation-and the location of the chapels-the GAME is not the emphasis.

Vince Nauss (Executive Director., Baseball Chapel): I wouldn't doubt that some players may come to chapel because they think that they may gain some favor on the field with God that way, but that's kind of a trivialization of God and I would tell a player that.

Paul O'Neill (N.Y. Yankees Outfielder): It's kind of demeaning to God to put to the point where, "Get me a hit this time" or "Help me win this time." That's, that's far from the Christian beliefs.

Schaap: Not long ago, religion was virtually taboo in major league clubhouses. To many players, managers and coaches, devoutness equaled softness. But as the born-again Christian movement has grown, that perception has changed, allowing athletes to discuss and display their faith more openly.

Johnny Oates (Texas Rangers Manager): I don't think there's any more people that have a strong faith, I think that they're just willing to talk about it more. (1:43)

Schaap: The conventional wisdom regarding religious players-that their faith makes winning less an imperative and losing more palatable-has been challenged.

Paul Byrd (Philadelphia Phillies Pitcher): I've never read a scripture where God delights in ah you getting you not giving your all or you doing a poor job at work, it's the exact opposite he says you give everything you've got until you drop.

Tim Bogar (Astros Infielder/Chapel Leader): Just because you're a Christian doesn't mean you're a wimp or you don't wanna play hard, yk, I go out there every night and I play my hardest and that's what He wants me to do.

Schaap: In fact, some players on teams with a high concentration of religious players say their teams benefit from their shared outlook.

Paul O'Neill: I think that the more people that have more things in common obviously it becomes closer, you know, you become closer knit and I think that's what the people that have followed the Yankees over the past 4-5 years have noticed, how the chemistry and how close the players are on this team and I think it had a lot to do with that.

Schaap: Faith?

O'Neill: Sure.

Schaap on Camera: On the world champion New York Yankees the last two seasons, as many as twenty-two of twenty-five players attended weekly chapels services or daily prayer sessions. The chapel leader, Chad Curtis, now a Texas Ranger, was the Yankee most vocal about his beliefs.

Chad Curtis (Texas Rangers Outfielder): If I have something that I believe is the truth and it's necessary for other people to come to some type of a recognition or grip of that truth then I want to share it.

Schaap: As more players, like Curtis, have publicly embraced religion, they sometimes urge their teammates to find religion, creating the potential for clubhouse conflict.

Chad Curtis: Some people are heading down wrong roads and I'm trying to say hey man what are you doing I care about yah. Let's try and go a different direction and ah somebody takes ah get out of my life don't mess with me, but what I'm trying to do is help.

O'Neill: Chad, he's a vocal person and I think his intent was always right. I think sometimes his avenues-and he'll admit it-weren't the right way to take things.

Schaap: Did he divide the team in any way?

O'Neill: No, absolutely not.

Schaap: But Curtis says his religious zeal may be one of the reasons the Yankees traded him.

Curtis: It definitely came into my mind that maybe they weren't too crazy about some of the things that I was doing-you know talking to my teammates about religion.

Brian Cashman (N.Y. Yankees General Manager): No that's false, I think the one thing I appreciate is Chad is agonizing over why he's no longer a Yankee which this is a good place to be especially right now and he was part of a great mix and I can appreciate maybe why he's grasping for straws to find out why he's no longer here, but it was really a good old-fashioned baseball trade.

Doug Melvin (Texas Rangers General Manager): We acquired Chad Curtis because of his baseball abilities and we had heard those rumors and not, but it hasn't taken place yet at our ballclub.

Schaap: This month, however, Curtis and his Rangers teammate Royce Clayton had what both described as a heated discussion concerning the music Clayton was playing in the clubhouse.

Curtis: It was some music being played and there was a lot of foul language and I'm a guy that just you know I don't really care to hear that and I know there's other guys that are the same way and we have some kids in our clubhouse, too, and I said, you know what, this isn't right, it's not good.

Royce Clayton (Texas Rangers Shortstop): I don't try to force my beliefs on anybody, nor should I feel that anybody should force their beliefs upon me, and once you start to do that, then you're stepping into foul territory.

Schaap: Clearly, the hard-sell approach can backfire.

Tim Bogar : As much as I'd like to see all my teammates become Christians and to believe in God, that's not for me to decide, you know, and if you go at it too strongly you can turn people off.

Paul Byrd: My first year after becoming a Christian I didn't have many friends you know I shared I shared with the coach and I think that wasn't a good move and uh you know I shared with anybody out in the outfield and I carried scripture in my glove in the outfield to memorize it and ah yk I was very unforgiving and I forgot that you know just a year prior I was in the strip bars or the bars or I was where everybody else was, and then when I became a Christian I tried to say hey what are you guys doing, and I was the same one, same way.

Terry Jones (Montreal Expos Outfielder): A lot of people are scared of it, they don't want to hear it and you know you just have to if they want it we'll give it to them or whoever is a Christian, but if they don't want to hear it don't bug 'em with it.

Schaap: But Curtis says nothing-not even team harmony-is as important as the message.

Curtis: To me it's not so much religion and baseball as baseball and religion. Religion first, baseball somewhere down the road. 01:38

Schaap on Camera: Whatever atmosphere Curtis's attitudes helped create in the Yankee clubhouse, it didn't hurt the team's performance-just as the decidedly less pious lifestyles of Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle didn't hurt their Yankee teams. For Outside the Lines, I'm Jeremy Schaap.

Ley: And when we continue, my conversation with Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Orel Hershiser on baseball chapel and faith in our national pastime.

Ley: The topic, baseball chapel. We are joined today by Orel Hershiser, 18 years a major league veteran, back now with the Los Angeles Dodgers where he wrote so much marvelous history.

Orel, in your time in baseball, how have you seen attendance change at baseball chapel, and attitudes toward it?

Orel Hershiser, Dodgers Pitcher: Wow. It depends on the ball club. It depends on the basic Christians on the club at the beginning of the year and then what their outreach is, their motive that year, if they're really dedicated, if they're really going after it to go after other players or to reach out. Or are they just there to have chapel and be ministered to in their own right and not reach out in an evangelical way?

Ley: You said the attitudes on different teams. Have you been in clubhouses where there has been too much outreach, too much evangelical fervor? Have you ever seen problems?

Hershiser: You can see that, yeah. It depends on the mix of personalities. You can get some very outspoken evangelical Christians that are really out there.

And there's that Billy Joel song about you wear your emotions on your sleeve. And some people have them rolled up. Some people have them down.

And I think you can have some aggressive Christians out there that are really witnessing on a daily basis and trying to win guys to the Lord.

Ley: When you have that, does it sometimes fall to another committed Christian to pull somebody aside and say, "You know, we've got a close-knit clubhouse here. Maybe what you're doing in the name of faith isn't helping this team."

Hershiser: Well, you know, everybody has got their own priority list. And some people come to the ball park, and baseball is the number one priority, and their faith kind of filters into that. And other people come to the ball park, and their faith in the number one thing and baseball is secondary.

And the ballclub chooses you as a baseball player. And then you bring your own personal beliefs and your relationship with God into the clubhouse. And so that can mix sometimes in a really great way, and other times it can cause some controversy.

Ley: What we've heard about baseball chapel, it seems that attendance is up. We have a comment from Paul Byrd of the Phillies. I'd like you to listen to it. He talks about why players in his mind are increasingly drawn to faith today.

Paul Byrd, Phillies Pitcher: You get here and you think that, well, this is the answer to everything I've been working for, money, fame, people like me. I'm doing what I've wanted to do with my life.

And you get here, and you're still one team. You say, well, there's got to be something else. And I think that's what separates us from animals and other things like that is, hey, where are we going? Who made us? What's our purpose? Is it just to get a lot of toys and then die?

And you know, I think when you go in there and you read scripture, you find out the answers to that. And I think they're great answers.

Ley: Twenty-five guys in the clubhouse in the major leagues, a lot of them are millionaires who are in their twenties. They've achieved just about everything materially in life. Does he make a valid point?

Hershiser: Well, I think there is emptiness in riches. That's for sure. You know, I've played in the big leagues, and been fortunate enough to make a lot of money and have a happy home and a great family. I would say if you picked my priorities, it would be my relationship with God, and then my family and health, and then baseball and making money.

But then once you have those riches, what do you do with them? You know, you contribute them to charity, or you can indulge yourself. So I think Paul has a lot of valid points. And especially, they are validated in scripture.

Ley: One of the great chemistries in baseball is putting together the right group of guys in the clubhouse. Do you think - or have you seen instances where perhaps personnel decisions have been made as the GM has constructed a club or a trade has been made about, well, perhaps religion did enter into a decision?

Hershiser: Well, I don't know. I'm not in that room. Rumors in clubhouses, rumors around baseball and the industry, some people think that there were always rumors also not only on religious bases, but rumors about union issues.

So you know, you never know. People are always thinking that way. I think player decisions come down to all different things. I think ability on the field, how will they mix in my clubhouse, is he a gamer, is he someone of deep faith and brings spiritual impact on the team? You know, we need a settling influence. There's all different kinds of things other than just the way you play baseball.

Ley: What goes on in the clubhouse certainly affects the team chemistry. And Chad Curtis (ph) had that little set too with Royce Clayton. The issue was rap music, music being played. There could be some magazines around the clubhouse. What is your observation here in the 2000 season? Are things a little quote, unquote, cleaner around clubhouses? Are people cleaning up their acts?

Hershiser: Wow. It might be subtler. I mean, the vices of man are all around. I mean, you do have the pornography stuff, the music, and all the different things that are going on.

But you know what? People do have free choice. And if they choose to do that in their life, you've got to allow them to do that. If they ask, "Do you think it's wrong?" can you give them advice? Yes. But are they coming to the clubhouse to look for advice? I'm not sure about that.

You know, I have no issue with Chad. I love Chad. And he just has a different way about him. And God has called him to a different style. But everybody has got their own style. And there are all kinds of Christians. And all of us are flawed because that's the reason we became a Christian.

Ley: We'll continue this discussion with Orel Hershiser, who will talk about baseball chapel faith in the national pastime on OUTSIDE THE LINES.

Ley: Our topic on Easter, baseball chapel and faith in the national pastime on OUTSIDE THE LINES. Our guest is Orel Hershiser of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

And, Orel, Travis Leavy (ph), because of a contractual snafu several years ago under the amateur draft, was a virtual free agent, signed for $10 million with the Arizona Diamondbacks. And one of the principle reasons he cited, obviously the money was a factor, but Jerry Colangelo (ph) being a committed Christian. Your view of making a decision on that basis?

Hershiser: Well, I think it's up to Travis. It's his own personal decision. And you take the marriage of working for a committed Christian and $10 million, and that's a pretty good deal. I'd say he made a good decision.

Ley: Rangers manager Johnny Oates has talked quite often about his coming to faith. In fact, he said the moment of revelation for him came during a baseball game.

Let's listen to him talk about getting the word out of one's faith through the media.

Johnny Oates, Texas Rangers Manager: I don't think there's any more people who have a strong faith. I think that they're just willing to talk about it more.

And I think the media has played a part in the fact that - I know when I first got to the big leagues, and anyone who wanted to share their faith, automatically the notebooks closed, and the media didn't want to have to deal with it, didn't want to have to explain it.

Ley: Ever have any of those notebooks close up on you at some point in your career?

Hershiser: Oh, I think so early on at times. I think everybody is looking for their angle, or if they want an in-depth story about how you threw the curve ball or what was the spiritual makeup of the curve ball.

You know, you really want to say, "How did you deal with the pressure?" Well, you would talk about your faith maybe. If somebody said, "How did you throw it?" you would actually have to talk about your finger position and your mechanics and your balance.

So there are all different opportunities. And the more exposure we get, the more angles that we have that the media is covering us, of course, faith is going to be one of the issues that comes up.

Ley: When you see an on-field demonstration of faith, be it a post-touchdown celebration in the NFL or someone making the sign of the cross as they step into the box, it seems we see a lot more of that. What do you make of that?

Hershiser: Their own personal expression either of joy, of gratification, or "thanks for getting me through this tough moment," or fear, or any of the different things that the human emotions bring out. I mean, God created all these different emotions.

And ultimately, a lot of these guys want to reflect the glory back to God or thank him for it, or they can't believe that it's happening. And it's just an expression of an emotion, of faith, of thanks.

Ley: The infamous quote from Bob Knepper (ph) a number of years ago that it was God's will that he'd given up a gopher ball. Then there was the situation in 1986 when the general manager at the time of the Seattle Mariners said that perhaps his club was too soft, too weak, because there were too many Christians on the team. Is that argument pretty well played out you think at that point, that people have pretty well dismissed that?

Hershiser: Wow. You know, the Knepper quote, if you probably talked to biblical scholars, it might have been accurate. It might have not been. I'm not a biblical scholar.

The quote about soft teams because there's too many Christians, I don't think that's happening with the championship Yankees right now. I don't think that when someone has their whole life together, or what they think as their whole life together, with God and their family and their finances, and they lay it all out on the line on the field, and they go for it as hard-core as they can be, I think that they are just saying, "I am free to give everything that I have." So I don't think a player is soft at all.

Ley: You've been around baseball for so long. You had that bad outing recently against the Astros...

Hershiser: Yeah.

Ley: ... And you know how to deal with it as a professional baseball player. But can you describe after having a real rocky ending in the third and a line from Hades, if you will, in the box score...

Ley: ... how your faith would enter into dealing with an outing that you just plum just forget?

Hershiser: Well, you know, it's one day at a time. Those cliches have to be true.

And you know, you thank God for the day, even though that line is really, really ugly. You've got to have an opportunity to have a chance at good and a chance at bad. And so I'm just glad to be out there still pitching, doing what I'm enjoying.

I think God wants me out there still pitching. I don't say that in some dogmatic way. I just believe that he gave me the talent to play baseball. And he hasn't shut this door yet. And I'm out there pitching still. And I'm enjoying my teammates. I'm enjoying the community of Los Angeles. I'm enjoying management.

And even when you have a line like that, you get up the next day, and you go, "Wow, you know, still it's unbelievable. I'm making money. I'm playing baseball. My family is healthy. And let's go get them again today."

Ley: What do you get out of baseball chapel?

Hershiser: Wow. Out of baseball chapel, it's an opportunity to meet with God in a quiet way, to hear someone who's studied the scriptures talk to me more in-depth about the scriptures so it can impact my life. It's a way for me to worship and to thank God for what's going on in my life.

But it's just those 15, 20 minutes. And then it just doesn't stop. I don't see it as some lucky charm or some special rock that I come and sit on Sundays, it's the only thing I do. It's just part of my relationship with God. It's part of a whole.

Ley: Is baseball ever discussed in there as in an analogy? Does the game come into the chapel?

Hershiser: Yeah. Some of the worst speakers use baseball too much. You know, they try and talk the lingo and make it sound like they understand where we're at, when really what we need is we need to talk to God and we need to hear from his word. So we don't need to hear that much baseball lingo.

Ley: What do some of the best speakers say?

Hershiser: Some of the best speakers, I think they're the most accurate and biblically correct people that are right in there, that have analyzed the truth, and can communicate it to us so they can affect our lives.

Ley: Now baseball has a fraternization rule. There are separate services held for each team...

Hershiser: Yeah.

Ley: ... You're discussing the word of God. But you have to do it once for the Dodgers and once for the Reds. Why is that?

Hershiser: That's right. Well, they have sometimes had combined chapels. They do it at the all-star games and other times, the World Series sometimes. But most of the time it is separate.

I think it's best. You know, you will have new, baby Christians or people that are visiting the service that will actually have prayer requests for the baseball game. And you don't want to be praying for a win on both sides in a combined chapel.

Ley: Well, we thank you for taking the time and talking to us about your faith in baseball chapel. And continued good luck to you this season.

Hershiser: All right. Thanks, Bob.

Ley: Orel Hershiser our guest this morning on OUTSIDE THE LINES discussing baseball chapel faith in the national pastime. And we'll continue on OUTSIDE THE LINES right after this.

Ley: Our program last week on the current controversy surrounding Bob Knight drew a large response to our e-mail inbox. And we'll be taking a look at a sampling after we revisit some of the comments made last Sunday by Temple Head Coach John Chaney and Indiana University Professor Murray Sperber.

First, John Chaney responding to my question whether he's ever placed hands on a player.

John Chaney, Temple Head Coach: Absolutely. I have had opportunities where I've had to demonstrate situations where I've put my hands on a player, and in some cases, very often to demonstrate to them in a manner in which it wouldn't be right in a classroom.

Ley (on camera): Let me go to Murray Sperber and ask Murray, you're a tenured member of the faculty in Bloomington, as is Bob Knight. It's an obvious question. But if a tenured professor put his hands on a student, what do you think would happen?

Murray Sperber, Professor, Indiana University: Well, that professor would be immediately suspended. Hearings would result. And if there was a videotape of the professor grabbing the student by the neck, in all likelihood, that professor would lose her, his tenure and be fired.

Chaney: Let me tell you what I know about Bob Knight. I don't break bread with Bob Knight every year or every day. But I do know this, that I've been in his company many times when he could have taken an opportunity to show us where he was a racist.

I think there's black racists, and there are white racists. And I don't think Bob Knight is either one.

Ley: Here now a sampling of reaction, a viewer from Baltimore writing: "The media's systematic conspiracy to take down Knight sickens me. Coach Knight teaches his players right and wrong. When they leave college, they are well-educated adults. The spoiled athletes of today have been pampered and break when reality hits them if they're weak."

From Florida: "I lost all respect for Coach Chaney after seeing the show. I can't believe that he tried to say it is all right for college coaches to put their hands on their players. Would Bob Knight have still been allowed to coach anywhere if he did not win three national championships?"

And this view: "As a coach of 35 years, I was pleased you gave viewers this opportunity to see Coach Chaney not only successfully defend Bob Knight, but expose the pomposity, arrogance, and ignorance of academia professors who try to venture outside their classroom."

OUTSIDE THE LINES, we're online at Type in the keyword "otlweekly," and you will find a transcript there of this and past shows, and video excerpts, and a place to register your remarks as well.

Our e-mail address, And as always, we look forward to hearing from you.

I'm Bob Ley. We will see you next Sunday morning at 10:30 Eastern on ESPN with OUTSIDE THE LINES.

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