By Joe Castaneda
This past year I’ve been working my way through Ken Burns’ amazing documentary called Baseball. Yes, it has a lot of baseball in it, but whether you like the sport or not, Burns does an absolutely phenomenal job of wrapping the American story through the game of baseball. The Great Bambino, Babe Ruth, flourished during…the roaring 20s! Jackie Robinson is famous because…he helped America break through the color barrier, starting with baseball. The civil unrest of the 60s and 70s echoed through a sport that still practiced horrible wage discrimination and a continued struggle to accept blacks as equal citizens. From the 1800s to the early 21st century, if you enjoy American history (and certainly if you enjoy baseball), do yourself a favor and dial up Burns’ Baseball on Netflix.
As a baseball fan, one of the more interesting aspects of the series is how Ken weaves the births and deaths of famous players into their context. One of those stories begins in the late 1800s and ends in 1960s, and revolves around baseball’s greatest hitter, Ty Cobb. He died, on this date, in 1961.
Cobb was loved by fans, but lived his life with a deep seeded hatred for almost everyone. He played the game, and lived most of his life, full of fire and venom. He would spike opponents with his cleats when he slid into second, he cursed at umpires, argued and fought with fans and he was always yelling at his own teammates. A longtime member of the Detroit Tigers (he played his last two years in Philadelphia), Cobb epitomized the rough and tough nature of baseball and American culture in his day.
He was a fierce competitor. Today, most of his records have been passed, although still — 100 years since he first began playing! — he is in the top 5 in many offensive categories (2nd in runs scored, 2nd in hits, 4th in number of double, 4th in number of stolen bases). He was relentless at the plate, a pure hitter, and he strove to beat every pitcher he faced. He hated losing, almost as much as he hated missing the ball. His .366 lifetime batting average is still the highest in baseball history! In fact, it’s fairly safe to say no one will do what Cobb did: 23 consecutive season of hitting over .300 at the plate.
While most of us will never excel in baseball like Ty Cobb, all of us will face the same end: our lives will come to completion. On July 17th, 1961, the great Ty Cobb passed away. Less than 400 people attended his funeral (by contrast, Babe Ruth had hundreds of thousands of fans come to his viewing!), and only 3 of those 400 people had ever played with Cobb. None of his teammates or the other players of his day came to see him off.
In an interview right before his death, Cobb said this: “If I had life to do over again, I’d do it a little different. I’d have more friends.” He died by himself. He had divorced two different women, and lived alone with fear and anger. He drank profusely. He was miserable.
Death always makes us reflective. Cobb, reflecting on his life, realized that all his great athletic feats meant nothing at his death. He wasn’t surrounded by people he loved and who loved him, he was alone and a mess.
What will you and I reflect on at the end of our lives? What things are we doing today that we’ll be thankful for in the future? What behaviors, fights or activities will we regret?
I recently turned 40 and had some time to reflect on the “half-way” point of my life. (You can read that here.) I’ve come to realize that as I’ve aged, my life is becoming more and more focused on a few things, instead of spread out over many. I don’t want to come to the end of my life and wish I had lived it differently. Of course we all make mistakes, we all get on the wrong path, we all say things we wish we could take back and involve ourselves with things we wish we hadn’t. But at the end of it all, I want my life direction, my greatest moments and achievements to point to a life that loved God, loved others. I hope people will see that I spent more time on the water with Jesus, than in the comfort of the boat with those that lack the courage and conviction to step out.
What about you? Are there course corrections you need to make? Are you on a path that you already know will not take you where you want to be? Are you in a relationship that is hindering your commitment to the Lord? Do you need to reinvest in your marriage? Are your children eager for you to make them as valuable to you as your work? Are the important things in your life true priorities?
Live today with the end in view.
So go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!