Triple Play, or How the Gospel Imitates Baseball

One of the really appealing things about the Mormon worldview is the way that it handles wrongdoing so adeptly.  Our ideas about agency, transgression, redemption, and eternal progress combine to help us see things we do wrong as learning opportunities.  We don’t think about cardinal sins or venial sins; we think about improving, and form Mutual Improvement Associations.  We see bad choices and failure as necessary parts of mortality.  Our restoration scriptures make it clear that the Fall was not an impediment to our salvation, but an important part of it.  We must taste the bitter so that we may learn to prize the good.  We are presented with a challenge and when we master it, all previous failures are forgotten.  Christ’s grace is sufficient, and a loss becomes irrecoverable only when we make a fully conscious, fully informed, deliberate turning away from that grace.  We believe we will be judged according to the true desires of our hearts, so it’s hard for Mormons to blunder their way into hell.

Those are some of the deep thoughts I have had while I’ve watched the replays (again and again) of Eric Bruntlett’s unassisted triple play. Two weeks ago in the Phillies/Mets game, history was made. For only the second time in over a hundred years, a player made an unassisted triple play to end a major league baseball game. With no outs in the ninth inning, and with runners on first and second, the batter hit a screaming line drive up the middle. Bruntlett made a good play by catching the ball (out # 1), then stepping on the base to throw out the runner who had failed to tag for out # 2. He then ran down the runner coming from first base and applied the tag for out # 3. All this happened, as you can see, in a matter of 2 or 3 seconds. This is an outstanding display of some great defensive baseball.

But here’s the thing. The only reason there were runners on base in the first place was because Bruntlett had misplayed the ball on both previous plays. His mistakes earlier in the inning had allowed runners to reach base safely. The odds say that when a team has runners on first and second with no outs, it is about 70% likely that at least one runner will come home safely, and in a sport where batting averages figured out to the third decimal are meaningful, the odds are what you go with. Bruntlett’s errors had him set up to be the scapegoat for a loss, but they also made his triple play heroics possible. He was very likely discouraged, but he persisted and put himself in a position to succeed. His play is a perfect illustration of the plan of salvation.

Sometimes I like to read 2nd Nephi chapter 2. But when I want a visual representation of the ideas in that chapter, I like to crack open a cold one and watch Eric Bruntlett go from goat to hero in the twinkling of an eye. May we all prepare ourselves to do the same.

Triple Play, or How the Gospel Imitates Baseball

Comments

  1. pure genius
    now just work in star wars and figure skating and you’ll be an internet legend

  2. I knew I had a soft-spot for you for a reason, Mark Brown.

  3. A lovely analogy, Mark, and I’m not even a baseball fan!

  4. It’s also apt because the play itself was fairly terrestrial: easy catch/step-on base/tag runner. But the reward was, er, celestial.

  5. Left Field says:

    The first two outs happened so quickly that the umpire didn’t have a chance to call the second out until after he’d called the third. After he calls the tag, you see him point back to second to call out the runner doubled off.

    As I commented when Kent Larsen brought up Bruntlett’s triple on T&S, Bill Wambsganss turned the only unassisted TP in World Series history during the 1920 Series. Last year, my son and I visited League Park in Cleveland and walked out to the exact spot. I love how baseball ties generations together. I can imagine a father and son going to New York in the year 2100 to visit the site of Bruntlett’s triple play. Maybe there’s an Elijah message here too.

  6. Of course baseball is the game we will be playing in the Celestial Kingdom, so there are other parallels.

  7. I don’t know how to work out the analogy, but there’s something of a Restoration after apostasy, or a repentance and reactivation, or at the least a good ol’ camp revival meeting here: Some of us who had drifted away from the excitement of Little League games of our youth, driven out by boring major league play (“15 minutes of action crammed into a three-hour game!”) find ourselves willing to believe in the national sport again, and contemplating ar eturn to fandom.

  8. I really like your scoring of the play. But..”throw” must go.
    Do you feel his putting the two runners on should be considered (as a fan) as part of his unassisted triple play? (I will).
    I don’t feels this was repenance, more like self-redemption (or mercy).
    I don’t think baseball can be played in the CK because everytime the ball is pitched, someone has to make a mistake for the game to go on. (also, there is a lot of stealing and deceit).

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    You know, Mark, I was not even aware that his misplays had allowed the runners on base in the first place. What a terrific analogy!

  10. I suppose that baseball may be the celestial game, but mostly because the games go on for so very long (sometimes seeming like eternity), and mostly comprise standing around with a few moments of action. And when a “perfect game” is when no one even gets to base, how more boring can you get?

    :-)

  11. Left Field says:

    The box score shows an error on Bruntlett allowing Castillo to reach first, but then Murphy is credited with a hit to 2B, sending Castillo to second. Did Bruntlett also misplay Murphy’s hit, despite not being charged with an error?

  12. Left Field says:

    People complain about baseball being slow with lots of standing around, yet the ball is put into play more quickly and more often than in American football. If baseball had the same delay of game clock as football, it would have no effect on the game whatsoever, because the ball would always be put into play long before time ran out. In fact, baseball rules mandate that the pitcher must put the ball in play within 20 seconds when the bases are empty. I’ve never seen the rule applied because it never takes that long. Any sluggishness in baseball is entirely the result of mandated television commercial breaks between innings. And football has those too.

  13. Great stuff, Mark. I particularly liked how you worked in the bit about the run expectation.

    Tangentially, regarding whether baseball is slow, I wonder if for people coming from football, the issue isn’t so much the time between plays as that so many pitches are thrown with no resolution to the plate appearance (i.e., only the count changes). From a football perspective, this might feel like having three quarters of plays whistled dead before they got started. And yes, I do love baseball and I know the count is important and it changes tactics for pitchers and batters, not to mention baserunners and fielders. But these changes can be pretty subtle, particularly if you’re not that familiar with baseball.

    Now back to your regularly scheduled discussion.

  14. Did Bruntlett also misplay Murphy’s hit, despite not being charged with an error?

    Left Field, yes, he should have made that play, even though he wasn’t charged with an error.

  15. And likewise, quite a few football plays end with no change other than the number on the down marker.

  16. Golf is slow! Baseball exists in the logic of the mind as much as on the field. Both for players and the fans.

  17. Great video, and great analogy, Mark.

  18. Molly Bennion says:

    Golf will no longer be slow when so many of you are playing and watching baseball instead.
    Fun post, Mark.

  19. #18: you may play through Molly.(tip of hat).

  20. We’re having a big event at League Park this Saturday, September 12, starting at noon. Come out to join the fun of vintage base ball, former Indians and Buckeyes players and more! For more info, send me an email at russ@leaguepark.org

  21. I like it — goat to hero in the twinkling of an eye. I also liked that you acknowledge that we will be judged by our good intentions.

    And I hadn’t realized that “[t]he only reason there were runners on base in the first place was because Bruntlett had misplayed the ball on both previous plays.”

    Great post, thanks.

  22. Where can I fit my utter hatred for the Philadelphia Phillies into this analogy?

  23. Awesome post. Awesome play.

  24. Left Field says:

    Sounds like fun, Russ, but I live in Louisiana and I’ll be at the BYU/Tulane game that afternoon. What can I say? The Zephyrs’ season is over.

  25. Steve Evans says:

    Mark, I confess – I didn’t read this post until today. But right now, this post is magic to me. Thanks for writing it.

  26. Eric Russell says:

    What if you miss the throw and the runner scores?

  27. Great thoughts to go with a great play.

  28. #26: There are no throws in an unassisted play.

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