01 April 2011

Cubs' Opening Day

Albert Pujols? Seriously?
by Phil Johnson

oday I'm going to recommend a book about Albert Pujols. But I need to preface it with a disclaimer.

I really hate the Cardinals.

A little personal history: I was a casual Cardinals fan for awhile in my adolescence. I grew up in Tulsa, and the Cardinals' Triple-A farm club was based there in the late '60s. So a local radio station broadcast all the Cardinals' games. I listened to a lot of games, and naturally, I more or less thought of myself as a Cardinals fan.

But I turned against the Cardinals during high school because (get this:) I found Harry Caray irritating in the extreme. (He and Jack Buck were the Cardinals' announcers in those days.)

After high school I went away to Moody Bible Institute and stayed in Chicago for most of the '70s. I met Darlene for the first time during the last week of June 1977, and fifteen minutes after meeting her I invited her to come with me to a baseball game that weekend. So our very first date was at Wrigley Field. (There's even a brick in the pavement at Wrigley today commemorating the event.)

Darlene and I were married two weeks shy of the anniversary of that first date, and our first apartment was a block from Wrigley. So you see: no matter how badly the Cubs do—and their bungling frequently exceeds even my worst expectations—we are locked-in, lifelong, die-hard Cubs fans.

All true Cubs fans hate the Cardinals. When you invest your emotional energies in a team who are perennial losers, it tends to stir even stronger (and certainly darker) passions than a winning team would. The Cardinals are the Cubs' closest, oldest rivals, and let's be candid: Cardinals fans are punks. Plus, the Cardinals sent Harry Caray to Chicago. So there's a lot of pent-up, well-deserved hate.

Yet (and in all candor this seriously troubles everyone else in my family) I've always liked Albert Pujols. Not when he's playing the Cubs, mind you. But when he's playing any other team, I love to see him do well. He's a truly great baseball player with the potential to be one of the greatest ever. More than that, I like it that he is bold with his testimony for Christ. But I didn't realize how bold, until I read this in Pujols: More than the Game, by Scott Lamb and Tim Ellsworth:
When an opposing player would get to first base, [Pujols] would ask them, "What do you think is going to happen to you when you die?" or "If you died today, where do you think you’re going to go?" (p. 141)

Scott Lamb kindly sent me a pre-release copy of the book last fall, but dual back surgeries and other difficulties hindered me from giving the publisher an endorsement in time for the book's pre-release publicity. My failure to get an endorsement into the book's press kits deeply gratified the other Cubs fans in my family, but the truth is, I really liked this book. It's a very engaging and well-written look at the personal side of Pujols' life and career. He is as likable as he is athletically gifted.

And he is the consummate baseball player:
When compared to the legends of the game, Pujols stands alongside Stan Musial, Ted Williams, and Joe DiMaggio as one of only four players to have less than five hundred career strikeouts and a career batting average over .330 at the time they hit their three-hundredth home run.

Yankee hero Lou Gehrig posted nine consecutive seasons with thirty doubles, a .300 batting average, thirty home runs, and one hundred runs batted in. Has anyone else accomplished this feat? Nobody except Pujols.

In more than one hundred years of National League baseball, nobody ranks ahead of Pujols in extra base hits (744) within their first 5,000 career at bats. He gets around a lot. (p. 7)

Here's something that makes that even more amazing: Pujols was passed over by most scouts who saw him play in college. He was drafted in 1999 by the Cardinals in the 13th round—the 402nd player picked that year. Most players drafted that late never make it to the major leagues.

But what interests me far more than Pujols' incredible career is his commitment to Christ. Most athletes effusively thank God when they win, and many profess some kind of faith in Christ. Albert Pujols is a serious Christian.

I've spoken at a few Baseball Chapel meetings, and while there are many truly committed believers in Major League Baseball, there are even more who treat religion like a good-luck charm, attending those chapels before important games for purely superstitious reasons. Pujols is not of that type:
Pujols' Christian walk and leadership are best characterized by passion and consistency. "Sometimes he really gets going, and once something hits him, you can tell he's just passionate about it," [pitcher Kyle] Mclellan said. "I think he tries to keep quiet, and then something will come up and he just can't help it anymore. Sometimes when we are on the road, the chapel leader for the other team is busy or there's not a lot of time for chapel. But Albert will be chomping at the bit, saying, 'I'll lead it. Let's go. I'll give everybody the Word.'" (p. 91).

Lamb and Ellsworth don't idealize Pujols' faith, though. He has a temper, and he has been known to shoot off his mouth. The book candidly chronicles some of these episodes (one of the best examples of this is pp. 150-53). The book also includes a chapter on steroid abuse and Pujols' response to that scandal.

If you're looking for some recreational reading to get you into the mood as baseball season begins, Pujols: More than the Game, by Scott Lamb and Tim Ellsworth is this year's recommendation from me.

Yesterday was the season opener for the Cardinals. They lost (at home) 5-3 in eleven innings to the Padres. May that be a harbinger of things to come this season for the team. But I hope Pujols has another career season (except when the Cardinals play the Cubs). And the reason I can say that right out loud is that if he shines again and the Cardinals want to keep him, it will cost them a trainload of money.

By the way, in yesterday's opener, Pujols tied a major league record by grounding into three double plays. And that's an achievement every Cubs fan can applaud.

This intrepid Cubs fan showed up yesterday at Busch Stadium to honor Albert Pujols and celebrate the Cardinals' loss.
This intrepid Cubs fan showed up yesterday at Busch Stadium to honor Albert Pujols and celebrate the Cardinals' loss.

Phil's signature


Dakota said...

Hey man, you're talking to a devout Cardinal's fan. ;) You can't help but love a team with the best fans in baseball and is second only to the Yankees in WS wins. Nevertheless, I love it when the Cubs and the Cards square off for a summer ballgame and provide us with unequaled entertainment. Do you remember the first time Jim Edmonds played in Busch Stadium wearing a Cubs uniform and our fans still gave him a standing ovation? That was priceless.

Doug McMasters said...

I'm glad you are feeling well enough to contribute to the blog, and I appreciate your tip on what sounds like an excellent book.

But "Cards fans are punks"? Hmmm.
Here's a better explanation of the fans in America's best baseball town:


Growing up fifteen miles from the stadium, I've been a Cards fan since I was eight, just after the Harry Carey era. (BTW, St. Louis didn't send him to Chicago, Oakland did. St. Louis fired him for inappropriate behavior.)

I grew to love the sport while sitting in seats given me free from the St Louis Cards for getting straight A's in school. It was such a thrill, and incentive, to receive those tickets. And I'll never forget those warm evenings listening on the radio to Jack Buck in his prime.

I love you still, despite this weakness for the Cubs--a weakness I can appreciate, but never share.


Robert said...

I read an article talking about how Christians were dealing with Pujols and his contract situation. I came away thinking that this guy is totally serious about his Christianity because he puts his time and money into serving God. As a Giants fan, I supported a jerk of a man (Barry Bonds) who was/is totally self-absorbed...God didn't convert me until after Bonds retired, so my perspective has changed greatly. It is refreshing to see a Christian performing at the highest level in sports and giving the glory to God (not just on camera).

Jacob said...

Thanks, I might have to pick this book up based on your recommendation. It's bound to at least be more interesting than watching a baseball game! ;)

donsands said...

What a nice read. Thanks for taking the time to share. Thanks for the review.
Ah, Opening Day. The crack of the bat, and slap of the leather glove.

It's been 13 years since the Orioles have had a winning season. I miss Cal. But things are looking up for the Birds this year! We are in the toughest division in Baseball.

I always liked the Cubs. Don't know why really. Mabe the brick wall and Ivy. The fans are cool. Ryne Sandberg. Ernie Banks.
I hope one of these world series it's the Orioles vs. the Cubs.

Have a great weekend and Lord's day.

Michael Lawmaster said...

Here is a perfect solution for you Phil that will still leave you in good standing with Cub fans and you could actually see him play in person more often...Pujols needs to become a Dodger. :) The Dodgers would get a solid guy and a future hall of famer. $$$ is not an issue for Dodger owners so the campaign needs to start now. lol

By the way, can you recommend any churches in Tulsa? I currently live in South Tulsa.

Solameanie said...

Not really having a dog in the baseball wars, I probably should keep silent. But I have to object to your tone in dealing with our Cardinals brothers.

Also, I have serious moral issues with what goes on during baseball games while children are watching. All of the beer guzzling, spitting, swearing, and players constantly grabbing their nether regions. Hugh Hefner might as well be one of the MLB sponsors. It causes weaker brothers and sisters to stumble as well.

The Emergent Church at least takes my concerns here seriously. I understand that there is an anthology soon to be published by Baker Books taking up the various sins of baseball fans. I understand that's even the one exception Rob Bell has for eternity in Hell - being way too certain about a baseball team. We mustn't be certain about anything.

Johnny Dialectic said...

It's good to be a Calvinist and a Cubs fan. It takes the sting out if you're convinced it's God's will they never get to another World Series, as opposed to being the curse of some Arminian tavern owner.

Phil Johnson said...

Solameanie: "I have to object to your tone in dealing with our Cardinals brothers."

Of course you do. You're a punk, too.

Doug McMasters said...

Proud of you, Phil! You are a real Cubs fan.

Doug McMasters said...

And a note to any taking issue with Phil over his remarks. Please forebear him.

Note: no Cards fan feels his barbs. They are light blows in comparison to what comes from other Cubs fans. We're used to it; Summer wouldn't be Summer without the rivalry. And Fall wouldn't be Fall without the Cubs inevitable failure.

Dave said...

"All true Cubs fans hate the Cardinals."

Is it sad, Phil, that this statement resonates with me just as much as all the brilliant, insightful, Gospel-centered things you have written in your career?

I may need to pray on that.

Oh, and, GO CUBS GO.

Cindy Swanson said...

Phil, as I may have mentioned to you in the past, I'm married to a lifelong, die-hard Cubs fan. Today on my blog I'm re-posting my ode to people like you and him...you might like it:


Phil Johnson said...

Doug McMasters: "But "Cards fans are punks"? Hmmm."

I think This guy is something like the honorary Sunday-school superintendent at the Cards home games. But the St. Louis fans who show up at Wrigley aren't usually quite that refined.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"By the way, in yesterday's opener, Pujols tied a major league record by grounding into three double plays."

You jinxed him with this post.

slamb said...

Thanks for the great post Phil.

As for Mr. Die-Hard Cards fan...


Phil Johnson said...

Scott: "As for Mr. Die-Hard Cards fan..."

Now THAT's an endorsement to treasure. I hope you printed that picture poster-size and put it on the wall of your office.

His hat is the best part of that picture.

Anonymous said...

"When you invest your emotional energies in a team who are perennial losers, it tends to stir even stronger (and certainly darker) passions than a winning team would."

I know the feeling. I'm a Royals fan.

Robert said...

Great review of the Pujols book. As a lifelong Cubs fan, I too cheer for the man when the Cards aren't playing the Northsiders. I also have no memory of our trading Lou Brock to St. Louis for Ernie Broglio.

Phil Johnson said...

Michael Lawmaster: "By the way, can you recommend any churches in Tulsa? I currently live in South Tulsa."

When I lived there in the late '60s, I didn't know of a single church I could recommend. Now there are several--three in Owasso alone:

Grace Baptist (My dad is a member here)
Bethel Baptist (Tom Ascol's brother is the pastor)
The Bible Church of Owasso
Grace Bible Church
Grace Commnity Church (pastored by my college roommate)
Sapulpa Bible Church

Also you might check:
Tulsa Bible Church. They recently got a new senior pastor whom I don't know, but I've heard positive feedback.

There may be more, but those are the Tulsa-area churches I've had some kind of firsthand interaction with.

jbboren said...

Who are you callin' a punk?

Michael Lawmaster said...

Hi Phil!

Thanks for the recommendations and it really is a blessing to have more men of God coming to this error-laden, lost city in order to preach the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Brett said...

If Cardinal fans are punks, weren't you a punk when you were younger?


Rachael Starke said...

((Checks in at Pyro.))

((Notes title and post.))

A post at Pyro about baseball?? A sport where one guy merely has to connect a stick to a ball so that the ball travels somewhere within a mere ninety-degree boundary, before carelessly dropping the stick and running around a couple of bases?

A sport dedicated to vain repetition and obsessive measurement of adherence to a thousand points of law, not to mention godless superstition and greed?

((Checks date of post.))

Ohhhhh. I get it.

Good one Phil.

((Logs off. Checks to see what time the World Cup Cricket final starts. Notes the providential timing of it beginning early Saturday morning, the one day when mother and children can gather sweetly around the computer to learn about a real ball game.))

piluTLight said...

now if he can do something about those shattering marucci brand bats... good read phil

Phil Johnson said...

Brett: "If Cardinal fans are punks, weren't you a punk when you were younger?"


Ask anybody.

Bill Honsberger said...

As someone who has by God's sovereign grace been elected to be a fan of the 27 times World Champions (obviously a sign of our Fathers benevolence in itself!) NEW YORK YANKEES, it brings humility to my soul to hear those whom have been providentially punished by the Lord to become Cubs fans, Cardinal fans or even the devils own - fans of the Red Sux. Maybe Rob Bell was right - maybe hell is on earth?

The Bible Christian said...

Yankees win!

Theeeeeee Yankees win!"

Bill Honsberger said...

Bible Christian - I like how you think. Obviously a man of discernment and character!

Lets Go Jeter!

Bobby Grow said...

I'm trying to figure out if solameanie was being serious, or just a punk?

Good post. I'd love to see Pujols come to the Dodgers, or the Mariners (then I could go see him in person).

Staci Eastin said...

Cardinals fans are punks.

I guess I'll just have to wrap up in my "2006 World Series Champs" blanket and cry myself to sleep.

You were obviously never a true Cardinal fan. Cardinal fans don't fall away. You might have *professed* to be a Cardinal fan, but it wasn't sincere.

Solameanie said...

Shame on you, brother Philip. You should have invited me out to coffee and talked to me privately before denominating me in public as a "punk."

I will now follow Rob Bell's example and charge you with slandering non-Cub fans. I type this as I look across the room at my beloved sister, who has "Go Cubs Go" as the ringtone on her cellphone.

I actually did have a brief moment as a Cub fan. It was in 1984 when they won the Pennant. The secular Illinois radio station where I worked was so pumped up. Then they lost, prompting a co-worker to write an obituary for the Cubs. It was moving. I've never forgotten it. Since then, I've suspected that there has been a Kafkaesque conspiracy to keep the Cubs from winning the world series. But I dare not invest too much emotional capital in it. The last major league game I attended was a Milwaukee Brewers game back in the 1990s. I was traumatized by seeing the Brewers clown slide down the slide into a huge mug of beer. I've never forgotten that either.

That's why I stick to bowling. It's not as traumatizing unless someone hits the reset button when I throw the ball.

Stefan said...

Thanks for this, Phil. It's good to read something a bit lighter here from time to time—but still with a serious note to it.

Man, if Pujols can evangelize while manning a base, he puts me to shame. Or is it just his way of psyching out the opposing team? "You said I'm going WHERE!?"

donsands said...

The Orioles beat the Rays tonight! 4-1 in Tampa.
Us O's fans do hate the NY Yankees BTW. Just thought I needed to say that; for those who think the Yankees are to be esteemed so highly.

Have a terrific Lord's day all. Gal. 6:14

Anonymous said...


...and I was just about to send you a friend request on Facebook.

Staci is right...NO Cardinals fan ever, ever falls away. You never really were one. It's okay to admit it :).

Growing up in St. Louis (and my family having season tickets), and now living in Chicago (and having gone to a Cubs/Cards game there), I must say that your characterization of Cardinal fans is way off base. I've never seen a Cardinal fan pour beer on a Cubs fan in the bleachers, but I've seen the opposite. I can certainly vouch for my behavior.

I think it would be best if you would just come clean and admit that your Cardinal hatred comes from jealousy because the championship score right now is 10 to 2. :)

BTW, I find it more than a coincidence that the Cubs' opening day is on April Fools' Day, don't you?

Oh, well...your Shepherds' Conference sermons are still great! I suppose I will just have to practice forbearance with you. :)

Rob said...

Motion detectors at Gmail, 1996 browsing at Hulu, and Baseball at Pyro. The web was really messed up today...

GW said...

I will always remember the monster homerun Pujols hit off of the Astros' Brad Lidge that effectivly ended Lidge's Astros career. That one hit got in Lidge's head so bad he could no longer pitch in Houston. Then they traded him to Philly and he somehow over came it. Thanks alot Albert!

Anonymous said...

Ahh, excellent post, Phil. I've heard good things about this book - guess I may need to check it out after all. Despite me not really caring about the Cards one way or the other.

Donsands, go O's!! Went to my first game at Camden Yards when I was five...grew up watching Cal, Brady,Alomar, Bordick, Palmeiro, B.J., Mussina... - moved to Tampa when I was 11(still stuck in the AL East!), but the O's are forever my first team.

Sam said...

I've really enjoyed reading your personal stories :)

Bill Honsberger said...

Hey Don I feel your pain. I grew up hating the O's when they had Palmer, Frank and Brooks and all the rest. But now when I think of the O's - yawn - nothing to get excited about anymore.
Lets go Arod!

donsands said...

"nothing to get excited about anymore."?
I beg to differ Bill. The Birds are a young fired up team, with some young arms that can make batters look silly. And we have a manager who knows how to win. So you can start hating us again next week methinks.

I'm very excited this season my friend. See you in New York next week.

Steve Scott said...


I wish I were an opposing first baseman. I'd have a good answer to his question. :-) Cardinal fans might be punks, but they're pretty tame punks.

Was Pujols' all-time record for grounding into double plays the record for Opening Day? Joe Torre holds the all-time record for DP's in a game with four, tying Goose Goslin, I think. Torre followed Felix Milan's four-for-four day.

Anonymous said...

Let's Go Bucs!

2011 World Series Champs!

From a Post-Millenialist in just theology. :)

Dave and Phyllis said...

Just a very belated post-script--for two consecutive games in a row Albert "burned" the Cubbies with a walk-off homer in extra innings! See ya Cubs!