"Let my people go"
November 20, 2015 10:38 AM   Subscribe

1971: Fifth grader David Simon offers up a prayer: "Dear God, if you let Mike Epstein hit a home run right now, I will never, ever skip Hebrew school again." And lo, Mike "SuperJew" Epstein did indeed smack one deep into the upper deck. But less than a month later Simon was once again skipping Hebrew School.

It is now nearly half a century since a small boy asked his god to hang a Vida Blue pitch for his hero, and neither team with which he has allied himself has to this moment returned to a World Series. His foregone conclusion: "I gotta get right with God."
posted by zarq (29 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
“Listen,” Epstein says finally. “You’re not serious about this, are you? Because, I gotta just say, you realize this whole thing is a bit, ah, egocentric.”

posted by poffin boffin at 10:44 AM on November 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

This is an awesome article, with some choice quotes:

Any god who actually exists has to be playing for larger stakes than a playoff win or, worse, a five-year contract with built- in incentives. The sight of a wide receiver falling to one knee and crossing himself in the end zone is an affront to any theology that can matter.


BUT THE OLD TESTAMENT God, the jealous God, the unforgiving God of some improbably chosen tribe of ancient desert wanderers—maybe He’s not interested in your modernist sensibilities, or in your hard-won rationalism. Maybe He’s keeping different stats on this world, and judging mortals by different sabermetrics altogether.


“I get why you’re here, but explain to me exactly why I had to make this trip? I did my job. I hit a home run. And God, he did his job, right? You’re the only one here who still owes.”

Plus I got to learn about Kol Nidre, which I had never heard of before, and were I still a religious person would feel the need to say daily.
posted by nubs at 10:58 AM on November 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

I am appalled that an actual professional baseballer thinks that it's just his personal skill that shapes his performance on the diamond. Everyone knows that the combined power of fan ritual is the true determiner of success in any athletic endeavor.
posted by Etrigan at 10:59 AM on November 20, 2015 [9 favorites]

“God,” Epstein assures me, staring at the infield tarp, “is really angry at you.”

this is maybe the best thing I have ever read.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:00 AM on November 20, 2015 [7 favorites]

My official position on professional sports is that they are terrible for all the reasons everyone thinks they are, but baseball is so deliciously weird and quasi-religious and full of bizarre history and ritual and myth, that I don't think I'll ever really be able to leave it behind. This story doesn't help.
posted by padraigin at 11:01 AM on November 20, 2015 [11 favorites]

The baseball curses alone are worth the price of admission.

Curse of the Bambino

Curse of the Billy Goat
posted by dr_dank at 11:05 AM on November 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

i am just staying around for poffin boffin's reactions... (づ。◕‿‿◕。)づ
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:08 AM on November 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I heard a guy on NPR yesterday talking about how he prayed for God to have Darryl Strawberry (the Yankee) hit a home run and he did on the next pitch, and this began his journey of faith. (Or something along those lines.) I wonder how common it is to subscribe to this logical fallacy. I bet gamblers do this all the time, but with dice, roulette, and cards. Lord, if you exist, fill my straight!
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:09 AM on November 20, 2015

Also, I hated Hebrew school too, and I skipped it as often as I could. No amount of baseball glory could make me want to go.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:10 AM on November 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Curse of the Billy Goat

From Wikipedia:
The Curse of the Billy Goat is a sports-related curse that was allegedly placed on the Chicago Cubs Major League Baseball franchise in 1945, when Billy Goat Tavern owner Billy Sianis was asked to leave game 4 of the World Series against the Detroit Tigers at the Cubs' home ballpark of Wrigley Field because the odor of his pet goat (named Murphy) was bothering other fans. He was outraged and allegedly declared, "Them Cubs, they ain't gonna win no more," which has been interpreted to mean that there would never be another World Series game won at Wrigley Field. The Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908, or played in one since 1945.
My question: why was Murphy the good luck goat (Google books) allowed entrance in the first place? Was admission like getting on a train - anyone (and their goat) can hop on board, but someone's going to check for tickets eventually?
posted by filthy light thief at 11:15 AM on November 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

The problem with writing about religion is that you run the risk of offending sincerely religious people, and then they come after you with machetes. So I am going to be very sensitive, here, which is not easy, because the thing about religion is that everybody else's always appears stupid.

For example, if you read about some religious sect in India that believes God wants people to drink their own urine, you don't say to yourself, "Isn't it amazing, the diversity of belief systems man has developed in his never-ending quest to understand and cope with the intricate moral dilemmas posed by a complex and uncertain world?" No, what you say to yourself is, "These people have the brains of a trout."

Meanwhile, over in India, the sect members are getting a major chuckle over the fact that some American basketball players cross themselves before they take foul shots. "As if God cares about foul shots!" the sect members howl, tears streaming down their faces. "Say, is this my urine or yours?"
posted by Wolfdog at 11:15 AM on November 20, 2015 [10 favorites]

The baseball curses alone are worth the price of admission.

Curse of the Bambino

Curse of the Billy Goat


From Japan, the Curse of the Colonel which involves the awesome and terrible power of KFC.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:17 AM on November 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

My question: why was Murphy the good luck goat (Google books) allowed entrance in the first place?

My question: why wouldn't anyone allow Murphy the Good luck goat anywhere he pleases? Just look at his name.
posted by neonrev at 11:19 AM on November 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

nubs, your comment led me to look up the Kol Nidre prayer on wikipedia and its history is pretty interesting.
posted by zarq at 11:21 AM on November 20, 2015

Rock Creek Forest Elementary School,

posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:21 AM on November 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

And we must concede that a serious god in whom real purposes abide cannot possibly give himself over to punishing the random collective of northside Chicago baseball enthusiasts merely because they don’t live in St. Louis.

He's right about this- the Cubs are entirely beyond God's power.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:49 AM on November 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Did it ever occur to you that maybe the Cubs are God's power?
posted by maxwelton at 11:59 AM on November 20, 2015

That's a rather gnostic understanding of God.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:01 PM on November 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

In 1984 I attended the fifth game of the World Series between my beloved Detroit Tigers and the San Diego Padres. Never being particularly religious, I nonetheless made a quick request: "God, If you let the Tigers win, I'll never expect anything else (sports-wise) from you again!". Tigers won and so far as baseball and football, here in Detroit, He's certainly held up His end of the bargain!
posted by TDavis at 1:26 PM on November 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

Some day I want to hear a player who lost a game give an interview and say, "well, I guess God has forsaken us. We gave it our all, but with God against us, what can you do?"

re the Cubs: Could an omnipotent God make a baseball team so bad that not even He could make it win?
posted by Zonker at 1:47 PM on November 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

This reminds me of my own journey in and out of faith... 5th grade, I hadn't done my big project that was due the next morning. There was no chance I could finish it late at night, but there was a chance of snow that night. It was my only hope. I prayed and prayed, with the sweaty fervor of a desperate child, for a snow day. I promised God that I would finish my project if I could just have one more day, just give me that chance!

Lo and behold, I woke up the next morning and a beautiful, heavy snow had blanketed my town. No school! But did I do my project? No, I went out sledding instead.

That night, I had an epiphany - this isn't how things work. The snowstorm was random, and I only had myself to blame for not doing my project. It was at that moment that I gave up on Catholicism, not because it had failed me but I realized I was using religion as a personal crutch. I swore I wouldn't run back to religion to solve my problems for me any more.
posted by lubujackson at 1:47 PM on November 20, 2015

Man. It's almost a shame he's such a fantastically successful crime writer/journalist/etc., because he's got a fantastic way of spinning a baseball yarn.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:49 PM on November 20, 2015

"I'm not an idiot, or a fundmentalist."

posted by mwhybark at 3:28 PM on November 20, 2015

Hot damn, nothing hits me in the feels like '70s-'80s baseball.

When I read the name Vida Blue, I can taste that bubblegum.
posted by Sphinx at 4:51 PM on November 20, 2015

Carlos looked at the leather ball that lay at his feet. He looked at the goalkeeper in front of him. He looked to the heavens and mumbled a hasty prayer. Finally, he looked into the furthest corner of the net and visualized the ball’s path from here to there. Then, he lashed out, striking the ball firmly.

Stefan looked at the midfielder. He looked at the tiniest movements of Carlos’s feet. He looked skyward and offered his own prayer. As Carlos struck the ball, Stefan leapt.

St. Sebastian looked over the scene beneath him. He looked at his report on each supplicant. He looked at the contents of their pleas. He slammed a hand down on the big red button. The game stopped. The universe stopped around it.

St. Sebastian did not look at God. Instead, he looked at the files in his hands. He looked at the other servants. He looked at his own feet.

“Both of them?” came the thundering reply to his petition.

“Yes, my Lord. Both of them. Baptized and confirmed, paperwork in order. Both alter boys in their youth and up to date with their tithing. Both confessed Sunday last and while each has been moderately boastful in interviews since, it’s nothing that approaches pridefulness. Both are in a state of grace, my Lord, and both have asked us to intercede.”

“Well, this is a holy pickle, then. Is there any precedent for this?”

“No, my Lord. Professional athletes rarely maintain a state of grace. They drink a lot, cheat on their wives, and they rarely admit to anything, never mind confess it. But these two are different.”

“Well, if there’s nothing to decide between them, we’ll have to leave the humans to sort it out amongst themselves.”

The referee looked at the ball. He looked at the restless, expectant crowd. He looked at the ball again.

The striker had hit it with the force of God and the keeper had needed a miracle to deflect. And now, here it was, impaled upon a loose bolt in the net supports and slowly deflating. It was neither in the net nor out of the net, and the referee had never seen anything like it.

He looked at the crowd again, both sides having grown dangerously quiet. He looked up and crossed himself as he mouthed a silent prayer.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:09 PM on November 20, 2015 [7 favorites]

For about 15 seconds, then there's just a rock in your mouth.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 7:14 PM on November 20, 2015

And we must concede that a serious god in whom real purposes abide cannot possibly give himself over to punishing the random collective of northside Chicago baseball enthusiasts merely because they don’t live in St. Louis.

I thought only P.G. Wodehouse could turn out a sentence like that. So wonderful. Also, that Epstein was so considerate concerning such silliness for so long should have been seen as a holy blessing.

"Whatever a man prays for, he prays for a miracle. Every prayer reduces itself to this: 'Great God, grant that twice two be not four.' ”
-- Ivan Turgenev
posted by bryon at 11:09 PM on November 20, 2015

I met Vida Blue in 1999. He was nice to me.
posted by 4ster at 11:03 AM on November 21, 2015

This was such a great article, thanks for posting. I was reading it underground on the subway via the increasingly-less-useful Instapaper, which cut it off dead in the middle. As I was sitting there trying not to be annoyed at needing to wait to read the rest of the article, it occurred to me:

"Jewperman." "Superjew" is a'ight don't get me wrong, but "Jewperman" would have been super-awesome. Or jewper-awesome, as it were.
posted by nevercalm at 6:28 PM on November 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

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