Last month –September 28th to be precise – marked the 70th anniversary of Ted Williams' hitting .408 for a season, the last time anyone has hit better than .400. It is amazing that this figure has stood for so long. Ruth's home-run crown transferred to Aaron. Gehrig's iron-man title passed to Ripken. Cobb's career hits number was surpassed by Rose. Everest, K2, and the Matterhorn have all been conquered. Another hitter batting in excess of .400, however, seems as elusive as a manned mission to Mars. Seventy years is a long time.
This batting average drought is meaningful because we are talking about baseball, and baseball has measurable standards. Baseball still uses wooden bats. A 20 win pitcher is still as amazing now as he was in the 1920's. In football things change. A 3000 yard passer would have been as rare as a wild orchid in Point Barrow, Alaska back in the 1950's, but is pretty much the standard today. Chris Hanburger, the Redskin linebacker who was inducted into the Hall of Fame this year was called "The Hangman" because he made his career clothes-lining people. That kind of hit has been illegal for decades. How do you compare Chris Hanburger to Ray Lewis? In football you really cannot compare players, or franchises from different eras. In baseball you can, because in baseball numbers, statistics, standards are everything. This is one of the reasons that steroid use carries such a stain in baseball, and has created little controversy in football. No one argues that Mike Webster shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame because he used steroids. Barry Bonds, however, will likely never make it to Cooperstown because of his alleged use of performance enhancing drugs.
This emphasis on statistics, numbers, and standards is the most appealing thing about baseball to me. It allows comparisons between eras. It connects past, present, and future. It grounds the fan in the history of the sport. Everyone knows Babe Ruth, and Lou Gehrig. How many football fans under the age of 50 know Elroy Hirsch, or Bronko Nagurski?
In this way, baseball is like the Kingdom. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13.8). God is changeless (James 1.17), and the moral life he expects of us has always been the same. It has always been wrong to lie, to steal, to murder, to exploit the weak, to be disrespectful to God. This standard, communicated to the patriarchs directly, to the Israelites in the Law, and to us through Jesus (Hebrews 1.1), ties us all together – connects past, present, and future. We serve the same, changeless God. We obey the same Godly standard. We face the same enemy. We are tied together. This is one of the lessons of Hebrews 11-12.1. The heroes of old knew they were living for us, and now form the cloud of witnesses invested in how successfully we run our race, now that it is our turn. Jesus said of the persecution all followers suffer:
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven will be great, and they persecuted the prophets who were before you in the same way. (Matthew 5.12)
Do we see how the standard connects us, here in our own present to the future (your reward will be great), and to the past (they persecuted the prophets who were before you in the same way)? Do we understand that the fact of the standard – of God's immutability – makes this possible?
We must keep to the standard or we lose everything. God's standards of doctrine and morality are not fluid, they are fixed. Without them we are tethered to no usable past, and look forward to no real future.