I love God and country, my family and friends, my synagogue and my writing — and I also really love golf. Two bad knees and rehab after their replacements have put a crimp in my game, but I am slowly returning to the links. This is why Tiger Woods' victory at the Masters after more than a decade of physical and emotional challenges was so inspiring.
Every old guy was happy for him, and I am now officially an old guy.
My friend Tom Friedman, who writes the foreign affairs op-ed column for The New York Times, also loves golf with a true passion and was happy for Tiger. On April 15 he wrote a wonderful piece, "Tiger Woods and the Game of Life." Tom brought up my favorite philosophical/barroom/drinking debate, this deep and profound existential mystery: "What sport is most like life?"
So, dear readers, now it is your turn. This is your God Squad homework assignment for the week. Write to me and tell me which sport you think wins this debate, but please don't even try to suggest that the sport most like life is:
• Polo. Any sport which requires you to buy a horse is not like life.
• Hockey. There are no pads in life and not really that much ice, and though there is fighting in life, there is clearly much more fighting in hockey.
• Tennis, soccer, basketball. In these sports there is absolutely no chance that old slow people can win unless the only people playing are old slow people.
No, the way I see it, there are only really two candidates for the winner of the sport that is most like life. Friedman makes an excellent case for golf in his recent wonderful column. Here is a short excerpt:
"The biggest takeaway for me (of Tiger's victory) is the reminder of the truism that golf is the sport most like life, because it is played on an uneven surface and everything is on you. So good and bad bounces — and self-inflicted mistakes — are built into the game. And so much of success in golf, as in life, is about how you react to those good and bad bounces. Do you quit? Do you throw your club? Do you cheat? Do you whine? Do you blame your caddie?"
Well said. Golf is indeed a possible winner in the debate over which sport is most like life, and Tom has made an excellent case for it — and yet. I have another candidate that I think is the true winner: baseball.
Baseball is the game that is most like life because in baseball, as in life, mostly nothing happens.
Then, in baseball as in life, something unexpectedly happens and you have to be ready for it. If you are ready and you hit, catch or throw the ball properly you are a hero; but if you are not ready, you are the goat. Sometimes you never have an opportunity to redeem your mistakes. But sometimes (actually quite often) you do, but you just never know when your redemptive opportunity will come. You have to be ready all the time.
Baseball is also the perfect replica of life in that it is a perfect combination of individual effort and teamwork. The result of a baseball game depends partly on what you do alone and partly on what you do as a team. Baseball forms itself into teams, and teams bring in supporters who wear their colors and are brought together rooting for the team.
Even if the fans agree on nothing else in life, they agree on rooting for the team. Rooting for the same team binds them together with other fans. But the game is not just different teams, it is also about one game with the same rules for everybody (OK, this is the same in golf and the designated hitter does not fit here). It is the same in life. We have different religions and different countries, but we are all supposed to be fans of the same game with the same rules — the rules of justice and compassion, freedom and charity. Life is not always like that, but it should be, and it must be if we are all going to live together.
If you only get one hit out of three at-bats you are a hero, and that is about the same ratio of successful attempts at living a good life. You just have to be good enough sometimes to make your mark and be proud of how you played the game.
Q.E.D., or "Quod erat demonstrandum" — thus it has been proved. Baseball is the sport that is most like life.