Baseball Has a Religion Too

Williams, Joe


  • Joe Williams describes how sports and an escape from a plane crash have shaped his beliefs that sports reveal and develop character, and that there comes a point when events in life can no longer be changed, but rather pass "into the record" and must be accepted with calmness.
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And now, This I Believe. The living philosophies of thoughtful men and women presented in the hope they may strengthen your beliefs so that your life may be richer, fuller, happier. Here is Edward R. Murrow
This I Believe. Joe Williams, sport columnist of the Scripps-Howard newspapers for the past twenty five years, is also the executive sports editor of the New York World Telegram. When asked the secret of a good sports columnist he said “one who can be a fan and a critic at the same time.“ An avid racing fan, he is part owner with newspaper colleagues of a stable of horses known as the “Rolling Press Farm.” His biggest journalistic scoop was the memorable announcement of Babe Ruth’s resignation from the New York Yankee’s. Here is the creed of Joe Williams.
There is a saying at the race track that you can’t “rule a man off for trying.” I believe in this approach to life. I believe in God. I believe in my country. I believe in basic human decency. I believe there is a right and a wrong way to do things. If I were asked to define Americanism, what made our country what it is today, I would say that it was the American’s willingness and determination to stand on his own two feet. Now I keep a box score on every baseball game I cover. There is a credit column in which hits are recorded and there is a debit column in which errors are listed. But these are too often deceptive. They will give hits to a batter who has been lucky and they will charge errors against a fielder who has been unlucky. This is a small mirror of life itself. These things over a long run even up just as they do in life.
I’ve seen some fielders make errors on plays another fielder would not even try to make. He had his personal record in mind. The fielder who made the errors had the team’s success in mind. He was willing to sacrifice his personal record in the greater interest of the team’s success. There is a kind of religion in that attitude.
Incidentally, I’ve often wondered how it would be, I mean how it would affect the lives of us, if we all kept a daily box score on ourselves. I think what I am trying to say is that I believe in sports as a way of life. It was Wellington, you know, who said battles are won on the playing fields of Eton. I believe it can be said with equal truth that the principles of decent citizenship are born on the sand lots of Toledo, Ohio; Peoria, Illinois; and Southgate, California.
That’s where our youngsters first come upon the religion of sports, an actual application. Here they learn about fair play, sportsmanship and the value of working together in a common cause. And because they are frequently forced to learn by ugly contrast, their instincts and the early teachings they got from their parents are thus sharpened against foul practice, swaggering ways and all that is unwholesome.
Not too long ago I had what was apparently a narrow escape from death. I was the last passenger out of a burning plane, the crash of which had instantly killed the pilot. I believe I am a physical coward, but singularly I felt no fear when I came to and began to seek a way to safety.
Maybe I was still stunned, but I was completely composed. I did not pray, although I believe in prayer. I did not think of my family, although I am devoted to my family. I was neither sure I would survive nor that I would die. I was, I suppose, simply resigned to whatever fate awaited me.
Now they have another saying around the race tracks, “The red board is up.” This means the race is over, the result is final, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. For good or bad, it has gone into the records.
I believe that somehow much of the philosophy of the people I live with, in my profession has rubbed off on me. I don’t know whether this is good or bad either. All I know is that this is how it is with me and I’ve lived a very happy life and I hope a fairly decent one according to my lights.
Those were the beliefs of Joe Williams, sports columnist of the Scripps-Howard newspapers. A family man, he makes his home in Essex Fells, New Jersey.