“No mere mortal could have dreamed up the dimensions of a baseball field. No
man could have been that perfect.” – Gideon Clarke in The Iowa Baseball Conspiracy by W.P. Kinsella
If one’s love of baseball spills into the spiritual realms of sensing the ineffable (inexpressible truth) and conjuring manifestations of hierophany (revealed sacredness) – or if one is just plain fascinated by the game’s rich characters and lore centered in the fabric of American culture – John Sexton’s Baseball as a Road to God is a book to read this summer.
Sexton is president of New York University. He was formerly dean of the NYU law school, chairman of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, a theology professor, earned an honors law degree from Harvard, and was clerk to Chief Justice of the United States Warren Burger. He is a rare American college president who teaches a full schedule, including periodic seminars on religion and law.
For the last decade he has taught a popular NYU class titled “Baseball as a Road to God,” blending erudite literature and theology with America’s Game.
Sexton lived most of his life with a chipped front tooth sustained at age 13 in his Brooklyn basement when his friend Dougie exultantly fumbled the Crucifix to which they were praying when the Brooklyn Dodgers beat the New York Yankees 2-0 in Game Seven of the 1955 World Series. Physics drove the head of Jesus into Sexton’s mouth. Sexton then weathered the soul-ripping departure of the Dodgers to Los Angeles in 1958. Years later, discerning it was “the right thing to do” in New York, he raised his son to be a Yankees fan. Baseball gives us generational constancy with institutional memory. It is hope and despair and hope again. It is fathers and sons and daughters and moms.
Baseball is an American story.
The joy of this readable book is its melding of the realism and humanity of baseball suffused with the deepest mysteries of life. It is a book that succinctly teaches the relevant history of the game, fascinates with salient trivia, and entertainingly investigates the spiritual complexities of human faith and doubt, of blessings and accursedness.
I had a field day with the theological aspects of the book, marking notes furiously in frequent disagreement with its focus on “religion” and random human belief rather than on Jesus Christ. I would never connect Christian evangelical believer C.S. Lewis – ever – with modern liberal humanist theologian Paul Tillich, which Sexton does.
But baseball resides deeply in our American psyche and souls, and this book makes a lifetime of baseball memories flow like living water.
Walters (firstname.lastname@example.org) notices that the All Star game is tonight.