Extra inning baseball book reviews for 2020: Zen and the art of believing that baseball is Buddhism, and baseball is ourselves

Buddha-Fenway-1024x683
Buddha in the dugout/Photo by Gary Baldwin. From Tricycle.org: “Are The Cubs America’s Buddhist Baseball Team?” from 2016 (after they won the World Series. Finally).

“Buddha Takes the Mound:
Enlightenment in 9 innings”

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The author:

Donald S. Lopez Jr., Ph.D.

The publishing info:
St. Martin’s Essentials/Macmillan
$19.95
192 pages
Released today, May 5

The links:
At the publisher’s website
At Amazon.com
At BarnesAndNoble.com
At Powells.com
At IndieBound.org

The review in 90 feet or less

From this rather cosmically whimsical cover, it might not reveal to us that Lopez is kind of a big deal in the Buddha world. Wikipedia kind of big,  if that actually supersedes Encyclopedia Britannica largeness.

200072132The Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan, and part of the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, Lopez received a BA in Religious Students in 1974, an MA in Buddhist Studies in 1977, and a doctorate in Buddhist Studies in 1982 at the University of Virginia. He is married to another prominent Religious Studies scholar, Tomoko Masuzawa.

Lopez is also referred to as the “only public intellectual in the field of Buddhist Studies.” Can we assume most of them are pretty quiet people otherwise?

The takeaway from Lopez adding to the betterment of our humanity, aside from this piece, is the mind-blowing idea that not only is Buddhism integral to baseball, but baseball is Buddhism, and baseball is ourselves.

If only we could spend all day in the on-deck circles talking in circles about this.

Baseball is about suffering and failure. A public display of errors documented in the media. Relief pitchers are rewarded for averting disaster. There are all sorts of connections in the metaphysical world.

Lopez identifies himself as a Yankees fan, born in ’52. His dad was also a Yankees fan, but born in Brooklyn. Lopez said he had his own Bob Turley model Rawlings six-finger glove. Right there, a kid’s definition of life has to be examined.

Lopez also says he’s still unable to watch a replay of how the Yankees lost the 2001 World Series to Arizona on the last hit by Luis Gonzalez. For whatever bad karma this brings, it  is rather thrilling to see it again anyway:

In this book, Lopez delivers ideas “not about things in baseball that seem Buddhist … This book makes a bolder claim: that the Buddha invented baseball with the text of his teaching, whose title might be roughly rendered as ‘The Baseball Sutra,’ presented here for the first time.”

Prepare to have your zen blown off some hinges.

Since an essential tenet of Buddhism is a belief that the Buddha is omniscient, with full knowledge of the past, present and future, Lopez can use the story about when the old Yankee Stadium was demolished in 2008, workers uncovered what appeared to be an ancient scroll in Sanskrit with the title “Dandakanduka Sutra.” The word “danda” translates to staff or a cudgel, and “kanduka” represents a ball used in games — a most accurate translation to “baseball.”

OK, construction prankster. We found it, and we’re amused.

But as Buddhism teaches us about truths, Lopez writes, “I believe Buddhism provides a lens for us to see baseball in a new way, a way that makes us ponder profound questions about winning and losing, about who we are, about finitude and infinitude, about birth and death.”

And then there was this yogi named Berra who meditated at that same Yankee Stadium who once mentioned the existence of an India-themed restaurant that is so crowded these days, no one goes there any more.

Without giving up any more of where this path goes, the reader submits to nine chapters that start with the prologue and end with enlightenment will force you to use your imagination and suspend whatever you grasp as reality to get from page to page.

How it goes in the scorebook

Baseball and religion cross spiritual base paths often, whether or not they’re in the rule book.

Historically or hysterically, our favorite has been a history lesson that aligned with references a story of Genesis — John Thorn’s 2011 triumphant tome, “Baseball and the Garden of Eden.” Even if, upon closer review, it’s far more a metaphor to give the readers a “starting point” for the game and give it some mystical undertone.

From an academic platform, there is also “Rounding the Bases: Baseball and Religion in America” by Joseph Price. We also find in 2004, Allen E. Hye took a look at nine novels – including Kinsella’s “Shoeless Joe” from ’82 and “The Iowa Baseball Confederacy” from ’86 — and dissected them into “The Great God Baseball: Religion in Modern Baseball Fiction.”

We wondered if “Praying For Gil Hodges: A Memoir of the 1955 World Series and One Family’s Love of the Brooklyn Dodgers,” by Thomas Oliphant, which didn’t come out until 2005, could have been included in an update.

From Judiasm, there are biographies of Sandy Koufax, Hank Greenberg or even Moe Berg that lend more substance to their careers. Two of our favorite books on the subject come from 2009’s Howard Megdal’s “The Baseball Talmud: The Definitive Position-by-Position Ranking of Baseball’s Chosen Players,” and Aaron Pribble’s 2011 “Pitching in the Promised Land: A Story of the First and Only Season in the Israel Baseball League.”

71vq+NSmbxL51uaLKneb1LWe’ve seen some far more personal connections. The Gods who come into play, such as in John Sexton’s 2013 “Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game.” Occasionally, it can’t contain itself to one edition, such as Jonathan A. Fink’s 2018 “The Baseball Gods are Real: A True Story about Baseball and Spirituality” and a 2019 followup, “The Road to the Show.” Not to be confused with Jonathan A. Fink’s self-published twinbill through his own Polo Grounds Publishing: “The Baseball Gods Are Real,” that started with “A True Story About Baseball and Spirituality” in 2018, followed up by “The Road & The Show” that came out in October, 2019. The common thread is following the journey of former minor-league pitcher Jon Perrin. The second edition has some reflection about the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani.

In 2006, there was the Christian-based book “And God Said, ‘Play Ball! Amusing and Thought Provoking Parallels Between the Bible and Baseball,” by Gary Graf for Liquori Publications.

But for this one, we turn to the replay officials of higher authority — maybe they’re watching monitors in a church in New York — to see if we can get a ruling on whether or not yelling “Namaste!” can get a player, manager or interpreter officially thrown out of a game.

This is the first time a Buddha-bend book on baseball has caught our attention into the why, how and what if. It would be bad karma, be believe, to steer anyone away from this – in all seriousness. We’re broadminded enough to let these paragraphs enter our aura. We’re likely not classically trained enough to know if knowing any of this will improve our life in the arena of the game, once it is reborn, maybe even in 2020.

But if it involves praying for a better day, we’re behind it.

Willie Davis and Buddhism

164246We smiled when we came across a reference Lopez makes to Willie Davis. The one-time Dodgers center fielder is identified as a Nichiren Buddhist.

We did our own search on this and found a Sports Illustrated story in 1974 that adds more context. Before Davis was traded by the Dodgers to Montreal that off season, he had already been introduced in 1972 to “Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism by Jeanna, a lovely half-Chinese girl who then was his wife. Members of the sect chant for 30 minutes each morning and evening, and these are periods of extreme introspection. Unhappily, after much individual introspection, Willie and Jeanna decided to split. It was another reason why he wanted out of California.”

At spring training with the Rangers in 1975, Davis told L.A. Herald Examiner columnist Melvin Durslag he was at peace because he went back to Nicherin Shoshu, “a Buddhist religious order based on the teachings of a 13th-century Japanese monk. Davis said he spent one to four hours a day chanting. Believers say chanting enables a person to change bad karma and achieve enlightenment. Two months later, Davis and Rangers manager Billy Martin got into a shouting match after Davis interrupted Martin while the manager was berating the team during a locked-door clubhouse meeting.

Eventually, Davis quit the game during the pennant stretch of 1975, while a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, to protect his wages from being claimed by his ex-wife. She later tragically died in Hawaii while hiking with Davis and their children.

He said he found significance in wearing No. 3 — it represents past, present and future. Perhaps the 1965 book, “The Three Pillars of Zen,” also speaks to that.

Video above: Our favorite baseball Buddhist, Willie Davis, on “SportsLook” with Roy Firestone, circa 1986. Davis, at age 46 after having played in a Dodgers’ Old-Timers game, talks about Buddhism, reincarnation, and “if you think there’s a heaven in the sky, you can forget it.”

He played for the Angels and Padres. He went to play in Japan and Mexico. Retiring in 1980, he considered coming back to play professional golf. In 1996, he was arrested for allegedly threatening his parents with a samurai sword.

He died in 2010 while in Burbank, age 69. Peace be with you.

More to consider

The start of an essay on ThisGreatSociety.com

== From Heleo.com: “How a Buddhist Baseball Player Cleared His Mind and Made Baseball History” — The Dodgers’ Shawn Green and his four-homer game in Milwaukee in 2002.

== From a 2010 story at LionsRoar.com: “Batting Practice: On Buddhism and baseball,” comes: “There’s one notable difficulty to being a Buddhist baseball fan: attachment to the outcome of the game.”

== See most posts on BaseballBuddha.com.

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