Posts

Babe Ruth’s First At-Bat

On this day, in his major league debut, George Herman “Babe” Ruth pitched seven strong innings to lead the Boston Red Sox over the Cleveland Indians, 4-3. Born February 6, 1895 in Baltimore, Maryland, the young George, known as “Gig” (pronounced jij) to his family, was a magnet for trouble from an early age.

At seven, his truancy from school led his parents to declare him incorrigible, and he was sent to an orphanage, St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys. Ruth lived there until he was 19, in 1914. That is when he was signed as a pitcher by the Baltimore Orioles. That same summer, Ruth was sold to the Boston Red Sox.

His teammates called him “Babe” for his naivete, but his talent was already maturing. In his debut game against the Indians, the 19-year-old Ruth gave up just five hits over the first six innings. In the seventh inning, the Indians managed two runs on three singles and a sacrifice fly – and Ruth was relieved. His hitting prowess, however, was not on display that first night. He was 0-for-2 at the plate.

A lot of us made outs early in life. Perhaps you have struck out several times. So do what the “Babe” did – just keep swinging. Babe Ruth became the most iconic athlete of his century because on this day, 102 years ago, he refused to give up.

White Sox Accused of Throwing the World Series

On this day in history, 97 years ago, the Chicago White Sox, who were heavily favored to win the World Series, were at the heart of the greatest controversy in the history of baseball. They were seriously underpaid and mistreated by owner Charles Comiskey. The conspiracy to fix the games was most likely initiated by first baseman Chick Gandil and small-time gambler Joseph Sullivan.

Later, New York gambler Arnold Rothstein reluctantly endorsed it. The schemers used the team’s discontent to their advantage. Through intermediaries, Rothstein offered relatively small sums of money for the players to lose some of the games intentionally. The scandal came to light when the gamblers did not pay the players as promised, thinking that they had no recourse.

But when the players openly complained, the story became public and authorities were forced to prosecute them. The trial against the players was actually just for show. After a tacit agreement whereby the players assented to not denigrate major league baseball or Comiskey in return for an acquittal, the signed confessions from some of the players mysteriously disappeared from police custody.

As a result of the entire affair, the players were exonerated, but they were never allowed to play baseball again. That’s the difference between baseball and God. When he exonerates sin, we are deemed forgiven, clean, pure, whole, and renewed. We receive all the benefits of heaven as though we never sinned in the first place.

The “Black Sox Scandal,” as it has been known for 95 years, has yet to be erased from the record books or the minds of fans throughout generations. The “Sin Scandal” was settled on the cross.

The Rushmore Report – What the NFL Must Do Next

It took the NFL two years to figure out the whole kneeling for the national anthem thing. The owners have found a compromise that seems pleasing to both sides. Players who wish to protest the national anthem must do so from the locker room. All players on the sideline will stand, or their team will receive a 15-yard penalty. But now it’s time for the NFL to address a bigger problem.

Cheerleaders.

It’s been a long time since cheerleaders actually led cheers. Today’s cheerleaders have been reduced to sex objects for men who become too drunk to read the scoreboard. Then the ladies are asked to appear in public – where it only gets worse. Paid minimum wage, they are supposed to just be happy to have the gig.

But now – thankfully – some of the cheerleaders are speaking out.

They are going public with their complaints. As reported by The New York Times, “Performing at sporting events is only a small part of their job description. They are also required to fulfill what is often the unsavory side of the job – interacting with fans at games and other promotional events, where groping and sexual harassment are common.”

Cheerleaders told the newspaper that team officials with the NFL, as well as those associated with the NBA and NHL, are aware of the problem, but have done little or nothing to stop it. They should. Sexual harassment is immoral and illegal.

NFL owners have done well by banning protests during the national anthem. Now they have a bigger job to do. It’s time for them to stand up and take action to stop the harassment of their cheerleaders. And while they’re at it, they might consider giving the ladies a bump in pay. And unlike the national anthem fiasco, let’s hope it doesn’t take them two years to get this one right.

My Trip to the Hall of Fame

It was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream – a trip to baseball’s hallowed grounds. The city is Cooperstown and the place is the Baseball Hall of Fame. “The world’s closest fraternity” numbers 310 with the latest enshrinements of Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz. There is no place on earth I would have rather been. As a lifelong Houston Astros fan, I have waited since the Kennedy Administration for one of my guys to be enshrined.

With every step through the museum’s halls, I could sense the ghost of Babe Ruth, smell the glove of Ty Cobb, feel the pain of Jackie Robinson, celebrate the records of Hank Aaron, and hear the voice of Russ Hodges as he screamed, “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” But what struck me the most wasn’t the 38,000 artifacts spread overe 50,000 square feet. It wasn’t the plaques that honor Cy Young, Honus Wagner, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, or Willie Mays. It was the 40,000 fans from all over the world who came to celebrate their guy.

Sitting outside in 90-degree heat for five hours, you could see the Braves fans doing the “chop” at every mention of John’s Smoltz’s name. Randy Johnson’s followers came all the way from Arizona. Pedro Martinez had legions of supporters from Canada, the United States, and his homeland of the Dominican Republic. And my man, Craig Biggio, was joined by 20,000 of his closest friends, most of whom made the 1,720-mile trek from Houston.

What I experienced with my fellow Biggio celebrants was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. We recognized each other by our Astros shirts, Southern accents, and constant, deafening chants of “B-G-O, B-G-O, B-G-O!” For three days total strangers became best friends. Ethnicity, age, socio-economic levels, education, political affiliation, and style of Cowboy boots did not matter. We were there to celebrate, adore, even worship one man. That man brought us together. We would have sat in our uncomfortable lawn chairs, baking in the heat, no matter how long the Sunday ceremony lasted.

The same day, all across the land, millions gathered for one reason – to worship the Man. And they do this every week. They come from all walks of life, standards of living, and colors of skin. Some call themselves Baptists, others Methodists, and some Catholics. Some prefer to take no label other than the name of the one whom they worship. For them he is as simple as the ABCs – their Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End, Christ and Creator. Though his voice has not been heard for 2,000 years, neither has it been silenced, as it still echoes through the corridors of time.

As I walked the halls in Cooperstown and took in the majesty of the induction ceremony with people with whom I shared nothing else in common, I felt the presence of the baseball gods. But this coming Sunday I will be a part of a bigger celebration, joined by millions I have yet to meet. And somewhere in the recesses of my spirit and soul I will hear “something like the voice of a great multitude saying, ‘Hallejujah! For the Lord our God, the Almight, reigns.’ Let us rejoice and give him glory” (Revelation 19:6-7). Nothing in this world has the power to unite the masses quite like one man – especially when his name is Jesus.

The Rushmore Report – Five Striking Members of Time’s Top 100 People

Editor-in-Chief for the Time 100, Edward Felsenthal explained how the magazine chose the 100 people on the list. “Influence increasingly knows no single zip code and no minimum age.” The current list, just released, has expected names such as President Trump. But several names surprise. We have chosen to highlight five of the most interesting members of the Time 100.

1. J.J. Watt

Hurricane Harvey brought Watt to an even higher pedestal than he already enjoyed. The historic storm brought 50 inches of rain to the Houston area, damaging more than 300,000 homes. Watt jumped into the recovery effort right away, raising more than $37 million. In the process, he raised the spirits of the fourth largest city in America.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner: “Every few years, a professional athlete touches the heart and soul of a city in a way that has nothing to do with athleticism. Such is the case with Houston Texans star J.J. Watt, who is a star on and off the field.”

2. Bhavish Aggarwal

You may not know this name. Aggarwal is India’s version of Bill Gates. From the town of Ludhiana, which is best known as the world’s largest manufacturing center for bicycles, Aggarwal co-founded Ola, one of the world’s largest ride-sharing companies. This made him one of the richest men in the world at the ripe old age of 32.

Sachin Bansal: “It’s easy to forget the struggles Bhavish faced while building one of India’s most storied startups. From bootstrapping Ola when Indian consumer tech was still taking baby steps to braving regulatory hurdles and fighting off foreign competitors, Bhavish has driven around the block a few times. He is one of the most polite, soft-spoken, genuine men you will ever meet.”

3. Sean Hannity

The most watched host in cable news, Hannity has risen from construction worker to political heavyweight. With the retirement of Bill O’Reilly, Hannity has emerged as the most popular – and controversial – figure in prime time cable.

Newt Gingrich: “Sean Hannity has a remarkable impact between three hours of radio and an hour of TV every day. His fans listen to him and learn from him. One of his biggest fans is President Donald Trump, who routinely watches the TV show and talks with Sean as a fellow New Yorker. Hannity played a major role in helping Trump get the nomination and win the general election. Sean is both a principled conservative and a ferocious opponent of the left and the deep state. He has made and is making a difference.”

4. Carl June

Dr. June has created a treatment called T cell, that trains immune systems to fight against cancer. It has saved the lives of countless children, through a complex treatment plan and induced coma. One such patient is 12-year-old Emily Whitehead, a child cancer survivor, thanks to June’s treatment.

Emily Whitehead: “I was a fun and energetic child. Then I spent two years in a hospital getting cancer treatment, but it wasn’t working for me. That’s when my parents and I learned about an experimental treatment, called T cell. It hadn’t been tried on a pediatric patient before. My parents believed it was the right choice for me, so we transferred to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to enter the trial. After getting the treatment, I went into a 14-day coma and awakened on my seventh birthday. But the treatment had worked! Dr. June saved my life and had a huge impact on my family. Without him, I wouldn’t be here today writing this. Dr. June is my hero!”

5. Roger Federer

Widely acknowledged as the greatest tennis player to ever pick up a racket, Roger Federer is much more than that. At age 36, he’s still winning Grand Slam tournaments, putting his records further out of reach every year. But it is what Federer has done off the court that landed him a spot on the Time 100.

Bill Gates: “Roger and his team work tirelessly to improve the life prospects for poor children – a mission that stems from his childhood visits to his mother’s home country of South Africa and seeing extreme poverty firsthand. Roger knows that effective philanthropy, like great tennis, requires discipline and time. It will be a sad day for all of us fans when he hangs up his racket – but we can take comfort in knowing that he is committed to making the world a more equitable place.”

The Rushmore Report – Tim Tebow Says Parents Homeschooled Him to ‘Instill Love for God’

Christian sports star Tim Tebow has opened up about his experience being homeschooled as a child. Speaking to Olympic medalist Jessica Mendoza on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Tebow said that his parents, Bob and Pam, wanted to make sure he and his siblings were taught to love God above all else.

“They wanted to instill love in our hearts, love for God, love for one another. They wanted us to be able to learn a work ethic, a dedication,” he continued.

Now the two-sports star says he has “a heart to encourage the homeschooled kid.”

He said, “To let them know that they are loved, and they are special, and they might feel different, and sometimes might feel alone, sometimes might feel afraid. There might be those times where you go through that.”

The athlete, who was homeschooled until college, explained that his days were filled with Bible study and doing chores on the farm. He had some difficulties when interacting with children who attended regular schools while playing sports, however.

Speaking of his football days as a teenager, he said, “I was brand new at this place [high school football field] and you could tell that that group just, it had so much disdain, you know, because I wasn’t part of them.”

The Rushmore Report – NBA Broadcaster Tells How He Became a Christian

He has become the voice of the NBA. Now he is the lead studio host for March Madness, as well. His name is Ernie Johnson. He is one of the top sports broadcasters in America. He is a family man. But more than that, he is God’s man. And now he is speaking out – telling how he became a Christian.

Johnson is profiled in the latest issue of FCA Magazine. He tells the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ lead publication how his life was changed at the age of 41.

Twenty years into his studio assignment, working alongside Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Shaquille O’Neal, Johnson credits his most significant success to his relationship with Jesus Christ.

This is how it happened. Twenty years ago, Johnson’s two oldest children, Eric and Maggie, asked him why they didn’t attend church as a family. After some discussion, Ernie and his wife Cheryl decided to give it a try. They began attending Crossroads, a nondenominational church in Atlanta.

The Emmy-winning broadcaster was moved by the first service he attended, when the pastor asked the congregation two questions: Who’s the provider in your family, and are you pursuing happiness or wholeness?

Those questions challenged Johnson. He knew he needed to be a better husband and father. He returned to Crossroads the next three weeks, and then asked the pastor, Kevin Myers, out to lunch. On December 10, 1997, at an O’Charley’s restaurant, he prayed to God and became a Christian. Cheryl made the same commitment a few months later.

Their pastor explained to them that even before they became believers, God was working in their lives. For example, beginning in 1990, they began adopting children out of love, empathy, and compassion.

That same year, Cheryl watched a “20/20” report on overcrowded orphanages in Romania, where thousands of children were being neglected. Five months later, in 1991, Cheryl convinced Ernie to adopt Michael, a three-year-old boy with special needs. Michael eventually learned how to walk and later speak. Two years later, the Johnsons adopted Carmen from Paraguay. Then in 2011, they added half-sisters Allison and Ashley to the family. Cheryl had met the girls through her work with Street Grace, a faith-based organization mobilizing community leaders to end the sexual trafficking of children throughout the United States.

“She has taught me so much,” Ernie said of Cheryl. “I wanted to play it safe sometimes. She had bigger dreams. You have to put other people first. This can’t be all about you.”

As his faith grew, Johnson considered leaving TNT. Should he continue his career after turning his life over to God? Should he try to find a faith-based job? He asked Cheryl what he should do. She responded on his spiritual birthday by giving him a large compass as a gift. Cheryl’s handwritten note with it reminded him to remember the day he found his ultimate direction in life – and to let God direct him.

Johnson ended up staying with TNT. He knew the platform God gave him would provide opportunities for him to share his faith. And God did just that.

Several moments for these opportunities stand out. First, in August 2003, after noticing a bump near his ear, Johnson was diagnosed with stage two Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. During that time, “Trust God – Period” became his mantra. He was candid about his cancer after the NBA’s All-Star weekend, and six grueling chemotherapy treatments later, Johnson’s cancer was in remission, where it has remained since. He returned to “Inside the NBA” in 2006, never missing a show. A year later, Johnson won the Emmy for outstanding studio host.

“God sometimes whispers and sometimes shouts that His way is better than my way,” Johnson said during his acceptance speech.

Years later, Johnson experienced hardship again when his beloved father died in 2011. About a month later, Michael, who has muscular dystrophy, was put on a ventilator to remain alive. Since then, Johnson spends most of his mornings caring for Michael, now 29, at their home.

Then soon after the most recent presidential election, “Inside the NBA” decided to discuss on air the results that left the country divided. In just over two minutes, Johnson’s commentary resonated with many and was shared millions of times on social media.

“I never know from one election to the next who’s going to be in the Oval Office, but I always know who’s on the throne,” Johnson said into the camera. “I’m on this earth because God created me, and that’s Who I answer to. I’m a Christian. I follow a guy named Jesus; you might have heard of Him. And the greatest commandment He gave me was to love others. And Scripture also tells us to pray for our leaders, and that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to pray for Donald Trump.”

Johnson sums up these opportunities to shine for Jesus – and the many more chances that will undoubtedly follow – with one concept.

“The Son of Man came to serve, not to be served,” Johnson told FCA. “Being a servant is where I find myself.”

The Rushmore Report – Sweet 16 Team Loyola-Chicago Inspired by 98-Year-Old Team Chaplain

This year, we have witnessed March Madness at its best. Two #1 seeds went out the first weekend. But perhaps the most compelling story is Loyola-Chicago, a Catholic university founded in 1870, with 16,000 students. Many would say their MVP is 98-year-old team chaplain, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt.

Representing the Missouri Valley Conference, the #11 seed Ramblers have lost games this season to juggernauts such as Milwaukee (not the Bucks), Missouri State, Indiana State, and Bradley (not Cooper). Yet, here they are, two more wins removed from the Final Four. The Ramblers have gone further in this tournament than such historic powerhouses as North Carolina, UCLA, and Indiana.

So what is it about this 98-year-old nun that has inspired the Ramblers? “The way she prays before games just sticks out,” said star player Clayton Custer. “In the middle of her prayers there’s a scouting report mixed in. She tells us who their best players are and what to watch out for. Sometimes she’ll pray for the referee to make the right calls. And at the end, she’ll literally pray that we come out on top.”

Junior guard Marques Townes adds, “She’s the biggest Loyola basketball fan I’ve ever met in my life.”

The nun, who has been the team’s chaplain since 1994, has been inducted into Loyola-Chicago’s athletic Hall of Fame.

Before she was a nun, Sister Jean was a basketball player herself. She once taught grade school, then later joined the staff at Loyola as an academic adviser before being appointed team chaplain.

She is highly valued by the players. “Having her here blessing our team and blessing our coaching staff, giving us a warm prayer before the game, having her bless the team right before the game, it just means so much,” Townes added.

After their first-round upset over Miami, Sister Jean told The New York Times, “We prayed that God would help us. We said we would do our part and make our shots, but needed God’s assistance. We said we were going into this game with great confidence and that we wanted to win this game so badly. We said we would be careful of our shots, careful not to foul.”

Sister Jean lives in a dorm on campus, which also serves as her office.

“Anyone can walk in there, not just us,” said freshman forward Cameron Krutwig. “She’s for the whole university. She’s a celebrity around the university and everyone loves her.”

Loyola-Chicago is set for another upset, as they face off against #7 Nevada Thursday night. As for Nevada’s chances? They don’t have a prayer.

Spring Training

Last week, Beth and I went to a spring training baseball game in West Palm Beach, Florida, to see our beloved Astros beat the Braves, 6-1. The stadium was nearly full and the stars of the defending World Champs were in the game, including Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve. Tickets cost $34 each, parking was $10, and hot dogs were full price. For the day, we dropped close to $100. They played nine innings, kept score, passed out programs, and argued balls and strikes. The fans cheered, booed, and wore their team colors. It was just like every other game – except for one thing.

It didn’t count.

When the preseason is over, they throw away all the stats and start over with the regular season. Spring training home runs, stolen bases, and runs scored count for absolutely nothing. Zero. Zilch.

Here’s the deal. The preseason has one purpose – to get the players ready for the regular season. The preseason is much shorter. It’s okay for players to make mistakes; in fact, it’s expected. In the preseason there will be lots of errors (two in the first inning today), wild pitches, and passed balls. And that’s alright, because in a few years, everyone will look back and not even remember what happened in the preseason. We know Hank Aaron had 755 home runs in the regular season, but even he doesn’t know how many he hit in spring training.

Spring training does serve one purpose. That is when they determine what team everyone is playing for. They have this thing called a 40-man roster and something called spring training invitees. If the Coach invites you to join the team, you get to decide whether or not to sign up. Any sane player does sign up; it would be crazy not to. And so he is on the team. And whatever happens in spring training becomes a distant memory when the regular season begins.

This life is spring training. It seems very real. We keep score, run the bases, and make some good plays. Along the way, we also make errors. Every year about 1,000 players will play significant innings in the major leagues. Every one of them will make an error. The year Babe Ruth set the record of 60 home runs, he also led the league with 58 strikeouts. No one is all good and no one is all bad. What matters is whether or not you are on the team.

The real season, the one that really counts, the one that’s really long, is still to be played. Sure, some of us will end spring training with a higher batting average than others, and will have put more runs on the board than some. But when the regular season begins, none of that will matter. There will be no need for a scoreboard, because by just being on the team, we will have already won. So go ahead and play your spring training games. Enjoy the preseason. But don’t worry too much about wins and losses, because the league Commissioner is going to tear up all the scorecards anyway.

The regular season will be here before you know it.

The Rushmore Report – Which Sports League Is the Most Christian?

When the Philadelphia Eagles upset the New England Patriots to win the Super Bowl two weeks ago, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson was quick to give God the glory. “I can only give the praise to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” he said. His quarterback, Nick Foles, plans to become a pastor. As chaplain for the Houston Rockets, I was amazed that entire teams – the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder – attend chapel. But which of the four major sports – football, baseball, basketball, or hockey – is the most Christian? The answer may surprise you.

Of course, we cannot really say one sport is “Christian” or “non-Christian.” But Ryan P. Burge of Eastern Illinois University has analyzed each sport by an interesting matrix. Burge has looked over the Twitter profiles of each athlete in each major league – Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Football League, and the National Hockey League.

Specifically, Burge analyzed each Twitter account in search of Scripture references. And based on that analysis, it’s not even close. The most Christian sport is baseball.

Burge found that MLB players are the most likely to have Bible verses cited in their bios, with eight percent of the 1,265 accounts having at least one verse.

Next comes the NFL, where about four percent of the players cite Scripture. Coming in third is the NBA, at three percent. And the least Christian league is the NHL, where not a single player cites Scripture in his Twitter account.

Burge speculated as to the reasons for his findings. He attributes the relative strong Christian presence in baseball to demographics. MLB players tend to come from more rural areas and Latino countries, where Christianity is strong.

On the other extreme is hockey, where many players come from non-religious countries in Europe.

What is the most-cited Bible verse? That would be Philippians 4:13, which reads, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Of course, Christians are found in every league, and probably on every team. I suspect this is especially true of the Houston Astros, Houston Texans, and Houston Rockets. And yes, I am from Houston.