Each week in The Holy Huddle, Doug Hankins takes a look at the goings on of the sports world from a distinctly Christian perspective.
Legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi quipped one of the better sports adages of all time when he said, “It does not matter how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get up.” Although this saying is probably true in life, it provides a prophetic contrast to the win-at-all-costs mentality that has come to dominate the culture of twenty-first century sports. After all, fans watch sports to see winners.
So what happens when winners stop winning? Or to put it another way: I think the answer is “yes!” And, I think we can learn from the ways in which winners handle themselves in the midst of a downturn.
Albert Pujols: Baseball Job?
As of the first of May, 2012 Albert Pujols has not yet hit a homerun. And the sports blogosphere has been going all chicken little due to the fact that Albert has been one of the most productive winners in the past decade of Major League Baseball. Consider these stats:
- 9-time MLB Allstar
- 3-time MVP (’05, ’08, ’09)
- 2-time World Series Champion (’06, ’11)
- 2001 Rookie of the Year
- #37 in career homeruns
- Selected as Greatest Baseball Player of 2000’s by ESPN.com
- Leads all active players in career batting average (.328), slugging percentage (.617), and OPS (1.037).
In short, there are few others players of Pujols’ caliber in the Major Leagues right now. Consider also this fact — Pujols is also an outspoken, born-again Christian, as he states on his family foundation website:
My life’s goal is to bring glory to Jesus. My life is not mostly dedicated to the Lord, it is 100% committed to Jesus Christ and His will. God has given me the ability to succeed in the game of baseball. But baseball is not the end; baseball is the means by which my wife, Dee Dee, and I glorify God. Baseball is simply my platform to elevate Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.
Pujols is a high character guy, a guy who began dating a woman (Dee Dee) with a daughter from a previous relationship, who married Dee Dee, adopted her daughter (Isabella) despite her down syndrome, and had three more kids. It’s no wonder that he signed with the “Angels” last off-season.
And yet, this slump makes for a fascinating case study in the losing side of winning. It’s like Baseball Job and we are the congregants hoping to learn a story about character and perseverance.
Statistically speaking, here is what we know about Albert through 23 games:
- 0 errors.
- 22 complete games
- 22 defensive assists
- 11 double plays
- A perfect fielding percentage
We learn that Albert is still hustling. While he cannot control the pitches that come his way, he can control his defense — which he is doing well.
We also learn that Albert is nothing but positive in the clubhouse. Joey Johnson of the Tampa Tribune observed that “Pujols [has become] an instant hit with his teammates, who were impressed by his professionalism and work ethic.” Puljos can control his attitude, which appears to be helping and not hurting chemistry.
We also notice the absence of certain elements. To date, we have seen no broken bats, no temper tantrums, no sulking, no lax play on the field, and no venting to the media.
Compare the way Pujols has handled losing with two recent NBA players.
- Celtics guard Rajon Rondo chest bumped a referee after getting ejected at the end of a loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
- Knicks forward Amare Stodemire was so frustrated after a loss to the Miami Heat that he punched a fire extinguisher glass case, injuring his hand in the process, and will now be unable to play in the remainder of the playoffs.
Pujols may not make his way back into top-level form this season or any other season. But Pujols has displayed a type of consistent character that we should strive to emulate. Win, lose, or draw, Pujols is going to sprint out of the dugout to first base, play to the best of his abilities, and try to generate some runs for his team. And he will say “blessed be your name” whether God gives or takes away in baseball.