Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
Up the road in Ohio County, Kentucky, Beaver Dam native Ray Chapman grew up to be a great baseball player. He was so good, in fact, that he was able to play nine seasons as the Cleveland Indians shortstop. He was renowned at the time for his defense, bunt singles, batting average, and stolen bases, but he is remembered as the only Major League baseball player to be killed on the field in a game. When he played, the baseball could be scuffed and sullied with everything from dirt to licorice to tobacco juice. This not only made it harder to see, but more erratic out of the pitcher’s hand. On August 16, 1920, near twilight at Yankee Stadium in New York City, Yankee pitcher Carl May hit Chapman in the side of the head with a fastball. The errant throw caused fatal brain damage, and Chapman died the next morning. It shook the baseball world.
This tragedy brought both immediate and eventual change to the game. It was because of this incident that umpires began a practice that continues over a century later of replacing a baseball when it becomes scuffed and dirty. The “spit ball” pitch was banned, for similar reasons. While it would take a few decades, the implementation of the baseball helmet is traced back to Chapman’s untimely death. While it would have been better for Chapman, a newly wed and newly expectant father, to have avoided this devastating end, it has likely saved several lives. It’s impossible to know how many might have been harmed by dirty baseballs through the years, but one can find sports articles detailing the likes of Kirby Puckett, Sammy Sosa, Chris Dickerson, and others who may have been spared a worse result by having on the protective helmet.
It is so easy to view tragic circumstances in isolation, especially those that happen to us personally. In light of the many tragedies that can happen in life, I say this with fear and trepidation. But, Scripture has already made that point. Out of various, fiery trials, these can “result in praise and honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:6-7). James said to consider your various trails as a cause for all joy, “knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (Js. 1:2-3). James even says of the ultimate Old Testament sufferer, “We count those blessed who have endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful” (5:11). To make such an application of a man who endured such tragedy is startling! Why does he mention Job? So that we can learn, adjust, and overcome!
Make no mistake about it, we all prefer to avoid heartache, sorrow, and loss. But, when those things come to us, Scripture urges us to adopt a heavenly mindset. See the produce in the pain, the hope on the other side of the hurt. Sometimes, it may be that others witness our faith in the midst of our trial and it may help them in their own walk of faith (Phil. 1:14). Whatever the case, even our own greatest adversity can result in someone else’s advantage. That’s an unintended benefit of suffering.