The Gospel Truth

Heroes for All Seasons

September 7, 2015
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While Clint Eastwood’s stark movie, Flags of our Fathers, portrayal of the deadly battle for Iwo Jima in World War II was virtually ignored by his Hollywood peers in 2007, it had a strong impact on the general public who revered the heroism that his portrayal of American troops displayed.

Despite its violence, the main thrust of Flags was the home-front struggles of the three survivors in dealing with the instant fame their heroic act brought. Drafted as spokesmen for war bond sales, they quickly adopted the creditable tag line that the real heroes of Iwo were those men who died there.

Based on the book of the same name Flags of our Fathers sparked many a debate on the meaning of hero.

In 1950 my father took me to see John Wayne in The Sands of Iwo Jima. Even at age seven, though I found war movies exciting, my concept of hero was reserved more for the baseball diamond than any tale of sanguinary combat.

The Brooklyn Dodgers were the darling underdogs of the 1950s. While they won a number of pennants (5) they always lost to the New York Yankees in the World Series — except in 1955.

While all the Dodgers were heroes that year, to my adolescent mind, the quiet Kentuckian at shortstop, Pee Wee Reese represented to me everything a hero should be.

He was the team’s leader, and he played the game with the same grace and dignity that my contemporaries in St. Louis must have seen in Stan The Man Musial. (He did not destroy my childhood ideals when I interviewed him in home late one July night in 1972.)

When Reese was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1984, I was there to honor him.

A number of years ago during an All Saints’ Day Mass the celebrant priest labored unsuccessfully for a proper analogy to underscore the Holy Day.   During the course of his painful musings it dawned on me that when the Church canonizes a saint, it could be viewed as the Catholic equivalent of putting a baseball player in the Hall of Fame.

It was St. Paul who first recognized that faithful Christians could easily be analogized as athletes who had fought the good fight and finished the good race.   An English professor at Holy Cross had used those same parallels during my freshman orientation in 1961.

In effect Catholic saints are our spiritual and moral athletes, who have successfully fought the good fight and run the good race. The Church was recognizing that they had played the game of life with the practiced skills of faith, hope and charity.

Their lives still serve as constant reminders that if we only have the athletic discipline of daily sacrifice and loving charity, we will someday break the ribbon of victory in eternity. Many saints also showed a kind of dangerous courage possessed by many athletes to stare death and evil in the face, ultimately paying the full price for their faith in God.

What Yogi Berra, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Mickey Mantle and Musial are to baseball fans, Sts. Joseph, Peter, John Paul II, Theresa, Catherine and Anthony are to Catholics. They are our heroes for all seasons.

After the passage of the Fetal Tissue Use Amendment, I learned that a friend had resigned his position with a prestigious law firm because it had represented one of the principal supporters of the pro-cloning amendment.

I was inspired by his heroic stand in a social atmosphere where apathy is the everyday choice of too many Catholics.

To the point of our mutual embarrassment, I told him he was my new hero.

Had he been familiar with Flags, I suspect, like the survivors of Iwo, he would have said the real heroes of the faith were those who had died for it.

Nonetheless, his principled stand on a culture war battlefield is morally as significant as that tiny volcanic island in the Pacific.

While most of us may never be asked to make the ultimate sacrifice, all of us have to suffer these daily small deaths to ourselves to prepare for, if not the Hall of Fame in the sky, at least for a seat in the stands.

A Big Mac Attack Part II

January 17, 2010

We all know now that McGwire was thinking of quitting, so bad was his pain in the early 1990’s from a chronic heel problem.

The idea of such a gentle giant succumbing to an “Achilles Heel” malady is laden with a rich irony.

Suppose he did quit in 1994?  I doubt I would still be a baseball fan!   Just as the Babe did in 1921, “Big Mac” literally saved baseball for me and I’ll wager millions of other die-hard baseball fans.

He literally took it off the railroad tracks of self-destruction in 1998 before the sinister villain of owner/player greed eviscerated it for all time.

“Big Mac” led a cavalry charge over the hills to save the wagon train.  With a little help from Sammy Sosa, McGwire pulled baseball back from the brink.

For those with short memories…in 1993 Major League Baseball was forced to cancel it annual World Series because the billionaire owners could not get an agreement with their millionaire players.

As a result we were all deprived of parts of two seasons and…the WORLD SERIES.

The last time there was no Fall Classic was 1904 when the National League’s John McGraw refused to play the upstart league’s champion Philadelphia Athletics.

In those 50 years baseball had survived two world wars, a Depression, Korea and Vietnam and several political assassinations.  It was unforgivable.

That’s like someone canceling Christmas because the elves went on strike.  It’s like the Pope refusing to say Midnight Mass in the Vatican because his Swiss Guard had gone on strike.

And believe me baseball has always been my game. Due to my indelible attraction for the game, I later taught what is arguably the first accredited baseball history course in the midwest at Maryville College in 1973-74.

Unlike most of our “professional experts” I have studied the game in its entirety and know its history–even its sordid side.

For me to walk away from a game I have loved and cherished since I first heard Vince Scully’s dulcet tones describe Pee Wee Reese ‘s sterling play at short-stop in 1952, would be tantamount to Tiger Woods forgoing golf and  saying he was entering a Buddhist monastery.  (Maybe he should do just that!)

What McGwire admitted to having done pales in comparison to the Black Sox of 1919, Ty Cobb’s beating of a crippled heckler in 1910 and Pete Rose’s nasty demeanor.

And while I am on Rose a USA Today columnist had the thoughtless temerity of favorably comparing him with Mark McGwire.

I suggest that she read a little history and then maybe she might understand that it was gambling that nearly killed baseball for good in 1920. What McGwire did in the short run at least was very good for baseball.

Those who had suspicions, like writer Ring Lardner did in 1919, should have raised them when baseball was losing its hold on the public consciousness.

Fat chance our keepers of the faith would have further jeopardized their dying golden goose.  It is only under the protective coating of baseball’s boundless success and record attendance–largely due to “juiced” players that they dare rock the boat of baseball history.

So please stop with all the self-righteous, “holier than thou” gum-beating!

About Big Mac’s regrettable appearance before Congress–just what business does the United States Congress have with baseball? Like they are the beacons of honesty and integrity?

Haven’t these people already ruined much of what is decent about American life?  Why do they have to put their ignorance to work on our once great National Pastime? Aren’t these the same people who are trying to destroy the best health care system in the world?

I knew immediately that McGwire refusal to answer their questions was the work of his attorneys. They could not get him immunity, so as they say  “silence is golden.” (I wonder how much gold he had to pay them and if he got his money’s worth.)

Now we find out that they warned him that he could have suffer prosecution or a grand jury hearing if he said the wrong thing.  What would trigger that?

Had “Big Mac” broken the laws of the land or were they referring to his denials as being perjury?  It seems to me all this flap about drugs and steroids–are they the same thing?  Are all steroids essentially the same?  Are they all bad for you?

I have always resented having to learn economics to understand baseball…now I’ll have to study pharmacology!

Too bad it just wasn’t just about sex…. Tiger Woods could have lied his head off in front of Congress and no one would have cared, except maybe Kenneth Starr.

Let Congress investigate golf and leave baseball alone!

I think one could make the case that both his “co-defendants” before Congress who even addressed their questions might have perjured themselves.

Sammy Sosa immediately forgot what little English he knew and Rafael Palmeiro vehemently denied he had used anything.  When he was busted months later for doing what he denied it made his testimony very suspect.

And how can anyone gauge if his steroid use added any home runs to his total?  Most of his dingers I saw cleared the walls by 50-100’.  How far did he really need to hit them? Do you think the Governator could hit a fastball or Lou Ferrigno?

McGwire still had to hit the ball.  Look at his rookie photos with Oakland when he was relatively slender.  He hit 49 home runs, still the rookie record I believe.

Lets face it since 1968 when no one in the American League could hit more than .301 baseball has done everything in its power to add power to the game. If you are looking for the origin of the “untraditional” DH, 1968 is arguably where to start.

To help the batter, ML baseball lowered the mound, outlawed pitching inside.  They also made smaller stadia while batters padded themselves like goalies.

Baseball did everything but make them pitch underhand or better put the ball on a tee.

As an aside to the Maris family who now say that McGwire’s admission means that their late father regains his home run record.

Maris hit his 61 home runs in 163 games.  Babe Ruth hit 60 in 155 games.  Maris got his 60th in his 156th game and his last one in the last game of the 1961 season.

So if McGwire is off the pedestal he stood on for three years, I think so is their dad.

To this with all due respect, get a life.  Without the other “M” in the Yankee line-up hitting in front of their dad, I seriously doubt he would have broken the Babe’s record.  And he had a longer season to surpass the Babe.

And to people who say that they should expunge all their records, thinking that makes as much sense as whistling “Dixie” in a dark alley in Harlem.

And what about Barry Bonds, who looks like he has been filled with helium? He broke a lot of hearts with his 73rd homer run in 2001.

Was he injured?  Rumor has it that he “pumped up” to beat “Big Mac.”  Now I have trouble with that attitude.

From what I understand he has more trouble with the IRS than he does over any home run record.

Look I have studied “Big Mac” from afar for years and think he is an honest, decent, quiet, almost shy kind of giant, who like his mentor and boss, Tony LaRussa does not impress with his communication skills.

I think he is still very family oriented and as he said, he did not want to put them through the anal exam that Congress often pleasures itself with.  I can believe that.  So I am glad that he is coming back to baseball because it was poorer without him.

I hope he can get his reputation back and maybe even make the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown.

I am however, eternally grateful that he did not go on with Oprah to make his teary confession.  That might have been more than I can take!

And finally I have my own “confession” to make. Though I do not list it in my bio, one of my favorite accomplishments was capturing a photo of “Big Mac’s” historic 70th homer on September 27, 1998.  It now hangs in the “McGwire Room” in one of the leading trattorias in Clayton.

About author

After graduating from Holy Cross, Bill Borst earned an MA in Asian History from St. John's University and a Ph.D in American History from St. Louis University. (1972) A former New Yorker, he taught for many years in the St. Louis area, while also hosting a weekly radio show on WGNU from 1984-2006. He currently is a regular substitute for conservative Phyllis Schlafly on KSIV radio. (1320) He is the author of two books on social history, "Liberalism: Fatal Consequences," and "The Scorpion and the Frog: A Natural Conspiracy." He just retired as the Features editor of the Mindszenty Foundation Monthly Report. In his 11 years from 2003-2013 he wrote nearly 130 essays on Catholic culture and world affairs. Many in St. Louis also know him as the "Baseball Professor," because of a course that he offered at Maryville College from 1973-74. It was arguably the first fully-accredited baseball history course in the Midwest.The author of several short books on the old St. Louis Browns, he started the St. Louis Browns Historical Society in 1984. In 2009 his first two plays were produced on the local stage. "The Last Memory of an Ol' Brownie Fan," ran six performances at the Sound Stage in Crestwood and "A Perfect Choice" ran for two performances at the Rigali Center Theater in Shrewsberry. His third play, "A Moment of Grace," ran six performances at DeSmet High School in January of 2011with First Run Theater in January of 2011. He is currently working on a 4th play, "A Family Way," which is a comedy about a happy dysfunctional family. He can reached at