We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Once Upon a Time, a Long Time Ago

Bill Bergen (1878-1943)
Chasing down something else entirely, I recently came across an article on the NY Times website entitled, "Bill Bergen’s Awesome Record of Baseball Futility," which begins with the wonderful sentences, "Today’s lesson, gleaned from baseball history, is that if you are going to be bad at something, be spectacularly bad. And if you are spectacularly bad enough, people might be talking about you 100 years after you retire."  It turns out that Bergen, who played baseball from 1901 to 1911, was a good defensive catcher who simply could not hit the ball.  He hit just .139, the worst batting average in the history of major league baseball.  Bergen was able to stay in the majors, according to the article because capable catchers were at a premium in an era when stealing bases and bunting were the main way to score runs.  But, if one were to write a history of the greatest catchers of all time, Bill Bergen's name would not appear.  And, obviously, he wouldn't show up on the list of the best hitters in the history of the game.

His claim to fame rests entirely on how wonderfully awful he was as a hitter.  I'm not really sure that the lesson of his life is that "if you are going to be bad at something, be spectacularly bad."  And it doesn't make the least bit of difference to Bill or anybody who knew him personally that he is still being talked about, they all being dead and long gone.  If there has to be a lesson, more likely it is that our strengths can be used to outweigh or at least to balance our weaknesses.  A person of limited abilities thus can still get into the big leagues, make a contribution, and be remembered not only as the worst hitter of all times but also as one very good catcher.  He could only be "spectacularly bad" if he was also actually quite good.

But why ruin the fun of history with lessons?  It may be a useless fact that a hundred year's ago winning ball games depended on the "finer arts" of base running and bunting, but it is just fun to know that it was so—once upon a time, a long time ago.  And fun to know that a Bill Bergen graced our world with his presence.