The BEST: 2016 Cleveland-Chicago World Series Game 7

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The BEST: 2016 Cleveland-Chicago World Series Game 7 

Summary: On November 2, 2016 the two MLB teams with the longest championship droughts took one another to this dramatic final game seven. The game contains plenty of runs, a comeback by the home team in the 8th inning, and both teams scoring in one tense extra inning. The core drama plays out not just on the field but also on the faces of the players and fans who go from elation to desperation and back. 

Consumption Time: 5 hours 32 minutes 

Cautionary Instructions: Rav Aharon Lichtenstein said, “If the Modern Orthodox were settling for mediocrity in Torah, it is not because they were burning the midnight oil poring over Plato and Milton.” If I might be so bold, it is our over-immersion in society’s spotlights like those belonging to spectator sports. As we seek the good within sports, it behooves us to be constantly aware of our ultimate commitment to the starlight “in another league.”

Why this is the BEST: The uninitiated will ask what does a game involving grown men running to catch a ball have to do with the best that has been thought and said? Rav Lichtenstein writes, “The world of sport is, in a certain sense, trivial… Nevertheless, moral qualities come and do come into play: cooperation, teamplay, an attempt to get the maximum out of yourself, etc. The inherent effort of the person himself, or the loneliness of the long-distance runner in his isolation, are very significant moral elements. While one need not accept the British belief that the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eaton, there is no question that within the essentially trivial world of sports, real moral greatness and real moral degradation can be seen” (By His Light, pp. 42-43).

While tapping into these moral elements common to all sports, baseball reaches for something more. A. Bartlett Giamatti wrote of this:

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”

The Cubs and the Indians and their fans had lived this heartbreak for generations. In this game, every play is invested with the memories of “maybe next years” going back to 1908 and 1948. 

The broadcast attempts with various introductions to convey the meaning of this one game to the lives of the teams’ players and the lives of their fans. Yet, it is the game itself which achieves something beyond that marketing – at moments flirting with what Don DeLillo described as “the deep eros of memory that separates baseball from other sports.” 

Published on September 5, 2019

This is the seventh installment in TraditionOnline’s “The BEST” column, exploring exemplars of the best culture has to offer thinking religious people — click here for the series introduction and links to all entries in the series.

1 Comment

  1. Chaim Strauchler says:

    Baseball has played a unique role in American Jewish and Rabbinic history. In August 1909, The Forward, then a Yiddish-language daily newspaper, printed a front-page guide to the game of baseball, including a crudely drawn ballpark. Eastern European Jews struggled to fit into American society, and generations of them sought acceptance through baseball: understanding it, playing it, cheering it. Abie Rotenbergs’ 1984 song The Ninth Man describes a rebbi breaking through to his students, after hitting a home run.
    Parallels exist between the obsession with rules (and the proper application of their knowledge) in baseball and those of Halakha. As Halakha exists above time, baseball has its own timelessness – the game has no clock. As Bill Vaughn wrote,“It’s the mathematical potential for a single game to last forever, in a suspended world where no clock rules the day, that aligns baseball as much with the dead as the living.”

    Baseball has been a fertile field for rabbinic metaphors: When a student from a program for students with learning disabilities posed a question to Rav Ahraron Lichtenstein about a certain variation in Jewish practice, he smiled and answered, “Are you familiar with football?” The student replied, “Of course!” “Do you know about baseball?” The student nodded. Rav Ahraron said, “Very good. The rules in football are valid no matter where the game takes place. The field is always 100 yards. In baseball, on the other hand, some things change from one place to another. In New York the outfield fence is at one distance and in Boston it is at another.” Rav Ahraron explained to the boys, “A football field – that’s a Halakha, it is always exactly the same wherever you go. A baseball field – that’s a minhag. In every community, the outfield fence can be in a different place.”

    In speaking of Jewish education, Rav Aharon spoke of Brisk. “Brisk was very, very authoritarian… they set a very high standard. It was very demanding, and the result was like “swinging for the fences” in baseball: more home runs and more strikeouts. In almost every generation there were people who paid a price, a price in simple mental health, because they cracked and could not advance. But, at the same time, this environment produced Torah giants.”

    When asked about why he chose to make aliyah, Rav Aharon answered with a metaphor: he preferred to be a player on the field rather than a spectator in the crowd.

    He might have spoken of aliyah as going home, as Giamatti did of baseball, “Baseball is about going home, and how hard it is to get there and how driven is our need. It tells us how good home is. Its wisdom says you can go home again but that you cannot stay. The journey must always start once more, the bat an oar over the shoulder, until there is an end to all journeying. Nostos; the going home; the game of nostalgia, so apt an image for our hunger that it hurts.”

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