Overcoming Adversity: a Baseball Story

In honor of one of the finest days of the year, Opening Day, I want to share a wonderful lesson of how a tragic mistake was turned into a triumph: 

Fred_Merkle_1908In 1908, a Rookie with the NY Giants by the name of Fred Merkle was on first base with another runner at third in the ninth inning of an important game with the Chicago Cubs. Shortstop Al Bridwell, was up to bat with two outs, and quickly hit a game ending single to center field, allowing the runner on third to score the winning run. Merkle, however, was supposed to run to second base so as to avoid being forced out. As was the practice of that day, he saw the run scored, turned toward his dugout without touching second, and headed out of the stadium to avoid the mob of cheering fans who had now flooded the field. Meanwhile, the umpire saw a Cubs player retrieve the ball, touch second base, and now declared Merkle out, and that the run did not score.

Merkle was now the victim of what another umpire called “the rottenest decision in the history of baseball.” He was derided and demonized by the New York press. Fans and newspapers called the play “Merkle’s Boner” and Merkle a bonehead. Disgraced, Merkle’s team wound up tying the Cubs at the end of the season, then would lose to the Cubs in a rematch game to decide the National League winner. The Cubs would go on to win the World Series (this was their last championship win).

But what happened to Fred Merkle? Apparently, his bonehead label never went away. Throughout his life, he was dogged by fans who were angry even decades later. Admirably, Merkle moved beyond his tragic mistake and went on to a wonderful baseball career, eventually playing in five World Series over the next twenty year years. After he retired, he lived a peaceful life as a family man, devoted husband, and a successful businessman.

Merkle could have bitterly quit baseball his first year, or become frozen with fear and fail to play to his potential. Instead, he pressed on, he played hard, and he earned the admiration of his fellow players, manager, and eventually the majority of the fans. In fact, he received a standing ovation many years later from the Giants fans in an old timer’s game. He died at peace with his family, being looked on as successful in the eyes of those who loved him the most.

So what can we learn from this? Though I don’t know where Fred Merkle was spiritually, I am reminded from his life and career that there are principles we can follow when we, too, make bonehead mistakes: 

  • All of us face adversity, pain, and suffering. All of us blow it at times, mistakes are made, and we can all be “boneheads” at times. However, this doesn’t mean that you should feel defeated. Psalm 49:5 says, “Why should I fear in days of adversity, when the iniquity of my foes surrounds me?”
  • Your past does not need to define you. Whatever was in the past, is in the past. Accidents and blunders and even intentional trespasses can be forgiven and renewed (1 John 1:9).
  • Christ loved you, chose you, and died for you. Your identity shouldn’t depend on people, career, or fame. It should always depend on the Creator who loves you and died for you (1 Cor 15:1-3). Never forget that!
  • Jesus renews you for a greater purpose. He gives you a spirit of soberness, and strength, and a sound mind (2 Tim 1:7). Our fallen world is a world of tragedy, true, yet we have a God who is sovereign even over these tragedies. He takes your mess and brings out of it a message. He turns the hurt into help for others.

Whether you make a mistake, are convicted of sin, or feel weighed down by the world, remember these principles. No one is a bonehead, especially considering that we have a God who loves, encourages, and indwells every Christian to worship Him!

Pastor Fran


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