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Of Mormons and Baseball

By: Saskia T - April 16, 2013

I make it out to the US most summers, but when I don’t, there is one thing I miss more than absolutely anything: a baseball game. I have many fond memories of exciting baseball games in the heat of summer, cheering on my beloved Oakland A’s or San Francisco Giants (we’re equal opportunity Bay Area supporters at my house). And since April is the month of Opening Day, I thought I’d round up something about Mormons and baseball.

In their 2007 book, British Baseball and the West Ham Club, Josh Chetwynd and Brian A. Belton discuss a baseball team called the Catford Saints. The team competed in the 1930s-era London Major Baseball League and was “unconvential” (94) for one reason: as their name suggests, it was an LDS team. The book quotes a supporter named Robert Shearer in saying,

This club comprised of young Mormon missionaries spending a customary period in the field with the object of spreading their message. I got to know some of them and they took to me. I was soon introduced to the Mormon story… I was told the story of Joseph Smith … and encouraged to take part in their evening practices at Hither Green … they played good baseball (94).

If anyone’s interested, the player cited here did not convert, “My whole interest lay in baseball and not with religious conversion” (94). Unfortunately, stories like these are often overshadowed by the infamous baseball baptism programs in Britain in the 1960s. I’m sure most of you know of the ‘program’, in which missionaries were increasingly pressured to deliver better baptism numbers. One mission stumbled onto the idea of playing sports with the kids and thus gaining an entrance into family homes; an innocent and effective strategy which was soon abused, leading to kids getting baptized without parental permission or without even really knowing what was happening. It took years to clean up the records and undo the damage.[1]

Of course, Mormons are far from being the only church to use sports as a tool in evangelism and/or proselytizing. Most of the (Protestant) churches I have attended over the years have sponsored Athletes in Action programs at one time or another along with the traditional VBS-type day camps[2] held most summers. My own proselytizing days are kind of behind me now, but I’d love to hear any sports-related stories you might have.

And, just because I can, I’m going to leave you with this link, giving a whole new meaning to the term “baseball baptism“. (Thank you, Google.)

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1 See Gregory A. Prince and Wm. Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism for details (2005) (p. 241-253).

2 Vacation Bible School, see here for an impression.



10 Comments

  1. Fun story.

    For more on Mormons in Baseball, see Kent Larsen’s Mormon Baseball blog.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — April 16, 2013 @ 9:23 am

  2. I TA’ed a course on sports and gave the lecture on muscular Christianity. One of the themes of the course was that athletics were seen as promoting Christian virtue and morality. Missionaries in India required their students to learn rugby and cricket in the belief that doing so would teach them how to be Englishmen. I am sure that similar ideas abounded in Mormonism in the early twentieth century Mormonism, but I’m not sure to what extent such sentiments still invade Mormon church ball and sports activities. My guess would be a lot.

    Comment by Amanda — April 16, 2013 @ 11:11 am

  3. Though I’m not a baseball person myself, this is interesting. Seems looking at Mormonism through the prism of a popular and potent activity like baseball can, as Amanda points out, prove quite fruitful.

    Comment by Ben P — April 16, 2013 @ 4:38 pm

  4. Nice post, Saskia.

    Ken Cannon has done some good work on baseball in 19th century Utah, and Jessie Embry has looked at the role of baseball and other sports in Mormon proselytizing.

    On Mormon participation in the Muscular Christianity movement, the standard work is Richard Kimball’s excellent Sports in Zion.

    Comment by Christopher — April 17, 2013 @ 4:02 am

  5. Thanks for the link, Edje.

    Since Saskia is an As fan, the three As who are on the team or may make the team this year may be of interest. Eric Sogard is a backup infielder currently coverning 2nd base for the injured Sizemore. Adam Rosales is on the DL at the moment, but is usually a backup infielder also. AND, Shane Peterson is an outfielder currently at AAA Sacramento, but whose spring training was so strong I expect to see him with the team this year. It is conceivable, if unlikely, that the As could have 3 Mormons on the field at once at some point this year.

    As for history and baseball, don’t miss my take on the evidence that Joseph Smith played some form of baseball, and the evidence that members of the Mormon Batallion played the first baseball game in California.

    Comment by Kent Larsen — April 17, 2013 @ 8:36 am

  6. Oops, it looks like Shane Peterson was brought up to the Majors yesterday. I don’t know if he’ll stay, but I thought I should correct the information.

    Comment by Kent Larsen — April 17, 2013 @ 11:28 am

  7. Thanks, Kent. I’ll check out your links, they sound great!

    Comment by Saskia — April 17, 2013 @ 11:56 am

  8. Excellent post, Saskia! By the way, about those “baseball baptisms”, it seems like every returned missionary I have ever spoken with (I heard similar references on my mission) can tell stories about how under some numbers-obsessed prior Mission President things like “pool parties” occurred. Where kids and/or the ignorant were baptized without knowing what was going on. Eventually I came to view those stories the same way I do the story that every mission seems to have about some rebellious Elder winning a surfing contest and getting caught when his picture turns up in the paper and is seen by the President. I guess I’m asking if those “pool parties” ever actually happened or if the stories reflect a common anxiety about people being less than fully converted at baptism?

    Comment by Jacob Smith — April 17, 2013 @ 1:16 pm

  9. Jacob, check out Mike Quinn’s article here.

    Comment by Christopher — April 17, 2013 @ 2:57 pm

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