Heaven and Earth
Thoughts on Baseball, Art and Other Altered States: Mystery


The nameless is the beginning of art and baseball. While the named is the mother of statistics, the nameless is the gateway to the mystery of everlasting hardball truth.

After an impossibly difficult catch in a field position he rarely plays, the
Dodger’s Nomar Garciaparra said, "That's baseball. You can't explain it. You can't figure it out. You find somebody who does and I'll call him a liar."

After several bad canvasses, artist Edgar Degas said, "Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things."

At one point in Bull Durham, the baseball movie classic, Susan Sarandon’s character, Annie Savoy, philosophizes. “I believe in the Church of Baseball. I've tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I've worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I learned that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn't work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology.”

So said Annie Savoy.

Although clear about the metaphysics, Annie was mistaken about the statistics. There are 59 beads fifty nine beads in a Catholic rosary, not 108. Sister Peggy of the Orange County Diocese confirmed it. She even counted her own rosary with me. “59 beads,” she said. “That’s all.” For Annie’s sake, Sister Peggy and I tried to reach the number 108 (subtract three Lord’s prayers and a Gloria—multiply by two), but Annie Savoy’s 108-bead rosary was nowhere to be found in the catechism. That’s the problem with statistics. They rarely embody the truth of the game or the canvas.

There is, however, mystery remaining in a baseball’s 108 stitches.

108 suitors coveted Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, O diss y us. in Homer's Odyssey.

108 sacred stars shine in Chinese astrology and Tao philosophy.

108 minutes is the duration of the first manned space flight.

108 holy temples enshrine Vishnu.

108 is the name of the Italian artist who paints huge otherworldly figures
in public spaces.

108 Joya-no-kane chimes ring in Japan’s New Year.

108 human sins are avoided in Buddhist belief.

108 poses are danced by Shiva.

108 is one to the first times two to the second times three to the third.
One, two, three strikes, you’re out.

108 is the number of stitches in a baseball

It could have been the mysterious precision of circumstance or even a revealing of the unnamed. In any case, on the 108th game of the 1963 season, Dodger outfielder Frank Howard walked. A basketball and baseball All-American at Ohio State, Howard was initially drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors of the National Basketball Association. At a mondo six foot eight inches 275 pounds, he chose baseball and the Dodgers instead—his teammates dubbing him “Hondo” after John Wayne’s mythological big-ass cowboy character from the movie of the same name. Hondo was big, but he was slow. Very slow. Earlier in 1963, Howard was the designated Dodger Stadium photo-op prop at Nun’s Day, where he slowly scrawled autographs and grinned as the Nuns looked skyward in amazement at his hebetudinous immensity. You can bet they had their 59 beads with them.

Be that as it may, in the 108th game of the season, Howard, the biggest and tallest man in baseball, worked a walk on a 3 and 2 pitch and hovered over first base, standing tall and wide against the baseball canvas. No one could have expected what happened next.

“Bennett looks in for his sign. The windup.”

Suddenly Howard broke with the pitch.

The stadium was silent. Even Vin Scully was at a loss. No one had ever witnessed a man so big trying to go so fast. The cadence of his stride was hypnotically slow. Time became eternity in the universe of Chavez Ravine. When Hondo kicked feet first into the air and slid, all 42,108 in attendance audibly gasped. As the umpire spread his arms to signal safe, a human sound of awe-inspired joy reverberated from the stands and swept across the field. Frank Howard had stolen second.

“It's a long season and you gotta trust,” Annie Savoy said still trying to convey the mystery. “I've tried 'em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.”

As the days of summer unfold, let the mind rest in peace.

— Nathan Callahan

First Broadcast July 9 2010

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