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When I was in college, I visited a nearby law school to hear Madelyn Murray O’Hair, the famous atheist, speak.

I didn’t know what to expect.

Would she end up being articulate, caring, and thought-provoking?  Would she decimate the arguments for the existence of God and convert students to her cause?

As it turned out, there was nothing to worry about.

Her talk was more like a rant … not directed at Christians, but at the federal government … because she believed that her atheist organization should receive tax-exempt status from Uncle Sam.

But in the process, MM O’Hair came off as bitter, vulgar, mean … and utterly ugly.

Since she was the Poster Child for American Atheism, I left the lecture unconcerned about her ability to attract new converts.

But 40 years later, the atheists have regrouped.  They are better organized, have some money, and appear to be growing in numbers.

In fact, atheists have been placing signs in strategic places all over our land, proclaiming:

Nobody died for our sins

Jesus Christ is a myth

On this Good Friday, let me make three observations about this statement:

First, Jesus is not a myth.  He was really born, really lived, and really died.

You can ignore Him … hate Him … mock Him … or worship Him … but to claim that He didn’t exist is purposeful ignorance.

The Bible isn’t the only ancient document that states that Jesus existed.  I have a book called He Walked Among Us by Josh McDowell that documents Jesus’ existence from non-biblical, historical documents as well.

The truth is that many atheists wished that Jesus had never existed.

Why not?

Because they don’t want to acknowledge His Lordship … His church … His influence … or His commands.

Atheists exist, and so did Jesus … so the statement that “Jesus Christ is a myth” is itself mythological … as well as illogical.

Second, Jesus really died.  Again, it’s all a matter of history.

If He really lived, then He really died.

Both Luke and Acts state that Jesus ascended to heaven after His death and resurrection.

He didn’t ascend before He died but after He died.

Jesus of Nazareth died the same kind of death as hundreds of His countrymen … execution by crucifixion.

The Easter Bunny is a myth, so he/she can’t die.

But because Jesus truly walked this earth, He just as truly died … and then was buried.

So the statement, “Nobody died for your sins” might be true … except that the atheists’ intention is to claim that Jesus couldn’t have died for any meaningful reason because He never lived to begin with.

But He did live and die … just as every atheist will.

And that leads me to my last observation about their statement:

Finally, Jesus died for everyone’s sins … whether they receive Him or not.

Jesus died … that’s history.

Jesus died for my sins … that requires faith.

I don’t think atheists want Jesus to exist because they don’t want to acknowledge that they commit any sins … or at least, any sins that might make them account to a higher power.

Most people aren’t atheists for intellectual reasons, but for moral reasons.  They only want to be accountable to themselves.

But they seem to intimate that Christians do commit sins … especially the sin of saying that Jesus lived and died for people’s sins.

Personally, I think it takes far more faith to believe that Jesus didn’t live and didn’t die than to say that He did.

And if He did die, the record is clear: He didn’t die for His own infractions.

Like millions of Christians past and present, I believe that Jesus died for my sins … that He paid the penalty for my offenses against God by offering Himself as my substitute.

He loves everyone … including you … whether you love Him in return or not.

His love extends to atheists … agnostics … the poor … celebrities … your friends and neighbors … and even politicians.

You can’t stop Jesus’ love.  Just as we can do nothing to make Him start loving us, we can’t do anything to make Him stop loving us.

And whether or not you asked Him to die for you … or wanted Him to die for you … He died for you anyway.

And as long as you live, if you ever want to receive that love … demonstrated by His death for you … He will forgive you of all your sins.

So let me rephrase that atheist sign that’s going around:

Jesus died for your sins

Jesus Christ is reality itself

Let me share with you my favorite Easter verses from 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 … and I still have never yet heard a sermon preached on them:

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.

And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again.

If Christians truly believe that Jesus lived … died … and rose again … then believers must not live for ourselves, as atheists tend to do.

We must live for Jesus instead.

How alive are you spiritually right now?

That’s the best reflection of what you truly believe.

 

 

 

Fifteen years ago, I was called to become the associate pastor of a church led by a pastor friend.  If things went well, the plan was for me to become the senior pastor after he retired.

And things went well … most of the time.

I went to the church with one primary agenda:

I wanted to get along with everybody … including the senior pastor … the other staff members … members of the church board … the children, youth, and seniors … and everyone else.

So I worked harder than normal at relationships, and tried not to give people any reasons to dislike me.

As always, my go-to verse concerning relationships was Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

From my angle, I listened well … tried to understand where people were coming from … monitored my speech … and worked hard to address people’s genuine concerns.

And yet when I left that church nearly 11 years later, some people hated me anyway.

Why do some people dislike their pastor so much?

Let me offer 4 possible reasons among many:

First, some people want a different kind of pastor.

On my initial visit to the church, my wife and I were scheduled to meet with the church board for an interview on Saturday morning.

The night before, the church treasurer … who sat on the board … resigned and announced he was leaving the church.

And he hadn’t even met me!

Why did he leave?  Because he wanted the church to hire an associate from a specific liberal seminary … and that was never going to happen in that evangelical church.

Had this individual stayed at the church, he might have caused all kinds of trouble.

Some people will never like their pastor because he isn’t ideal in their eyes …

But if the pastor is going to be faithful to his calling, there’s nothing he can do about it.

Second, some people want full access to their pastor.

Before my first board meeting, the pastor asked me to lead a discussion in the meeting from a chapter in a book the board was reading.

After I asked one question, a board member responded, “Who cares?  Next question!”

I had barely started, and this board member was already on my case!

It didn’t take long to discover that in his eyes, I was a terrible preacher … my ideas were unworkable … and my ministry philosophy was crazy.

And he let others know how he felt.

I tried to talk to him …. suggested we have lunch together …  but there was no interest.

Before I came, this man had full access to the pastor.  After I came, he lost some of that access because of my new position.

This gentleman wanted similar access to me after I became pastor, but he couldn’t imagine it happening … so he strongly disliked me … and eventually left.

Pastors need to be accountable … first to God … and then to the church board … but not to individuals on that board.

And when the pastor obeys God first, some leaders may very well hate him …

But if the pastor is going to be faithful to his calling, there’s nothing he can do about it.

Third, some people take offense at statements the pastor makes.

Last Sunday in Rome’s Vatican Square, the Pope went “off script” and delivered his homily off-the-cuff.  Many people praised the Pope for this approach.

But many pastors prepare a manuscript of their messages because they need structure when they speak.

My best lines often came when I was unscripted … but that’s when I was susceptible to saying stupid things, too.

One time, I made a statement … with passion … about a topic I felt strongly about.  I could have … and should have … said it better.

One couple were outraged by my statement.  They demanded that I apologize to them.

Although pastors are not infallible while speaking, apologizing for what you’ve said in the pulpit sets a bad precedent, especially since someone is always offended by God’s Word.

(How would you feel if your pastor began every few sermons with this statement: “I want to apologize for something I said last Sunday?”)

But this couple wouldn’t let up.  They complained to the church board … but the board supported me.  They then wrote the board a letter … and the board still supported me.

So this couple left the church … and we were all relieved.

Yet even when a pastor speaks the truth in love, somebody isn’t going to like it … and they’re going to dislike the pastor in return …

But if the pastor is going to be faithful to his calling, there’s nothing he can do about it.

Finally, some people violently disagree with their pastor’s decisions.

Whenever I made major decisions as a pastor, I solicited input and sought the approval of the staff and board … but some people still thought I was a dictator anyway.

One time, I wanted to make changes in our Sunday services.  I took my time and asked for input … drew up seven brief guidelines … and presented them to the board for approval.

They were all approved.

But a relative of one of the board members didn’t like the guidelines.  She became angry … and let others know how she felt.

I liked her.  And I met with her … listened to her … explained my position … which she seemed to understand … and asked if she would contact me if she had any other concerns.

She promised me she would … but her disagreement morphed into hatred.  She proceeded to engage in sabotage, eventually leaving the church in anger … and I never saw her again.

Was there anything I could have done to salvage that relationship?

Some laymen might say yes.  Many pastors would say no …

But if the pastor is going to be faithful to his calling, there’s nothing he can do about it.

If you don’t like your pastor … and you’re tempted to spread your feelings to others … please leave your church instead … quietly.

And if you’re a pastor who wants everybody to like you … please choose another profession.

The night before He died, Jesus warned His disciples, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first…. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:18, 20).

The world hates Jesus’ followers.  I get it.

But I will never understand why some Christians hate Jesus’ appointed and anointed servants: pastors.

And I don’t think Jesus understands it, either.

Do you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I first became a pastor in my late twenties, I was appalled at how many pastors in our district were forced to leave their ministries because they were opposed by a handful of antagonists.

As a rookie pastor, I met on a monthly basis with the district minister and other area pastors for lunch, and whenever I heard about a pastor who was forced to resign, I wanted to know why it happened and how he was faring, especially since I had become friends with some of those pastors.  The dominant impression I received was that each minister resigned because “he had it coming” and that lay leaders reluctantly handed out the treatment he deserved.

For example, one pastor in our district told his congregation in frustration that they “didn’t give a damn” about a certain issue, but because the pastor used the word “damn” in a public meeting (not a church service) some leaders believed that he had disqualified himself from service.  But I wanted to know why he used that language.  When I first entered the district, this pastor took a special interest in me, and if he became so incensed that he used emphatic language inside church walls, then maybe some detractors pushed him over the edge.

Another pastor friend was forced to leave his church because his daughter had been falsely accused of an offense and he resigned to protect her.  (The truth came out sometime later.)

But in district circles, we rarely heard about unhealthy congregations.  Instead, the implication was that if a pastor was forced out of office, you could trace his departure to something he did or said wrong.  The very presence of conflict indicated his guilt.  It’s like saying, “Caiaphas is furious; the Pharisees are incensed; Pilate is anxious; the mob is unruly.  Who is responsible?  It must be the fault of that man hanging on the center cross.”

So early in my career, I learned how district leaders viewed pastors who experienced a forced exit.  The pastor was usually blamed for whatever conflict occurred.  Upon hearing the news that another colleague had resigned, I would call that pastor and ask him why he left, and every man was transparent enough to tell me.

Then I’d ask, “How many other district pastors have called to express their concern?”  The answer was always, “You’re the only one.”  As I recall, in my first several years as a pastor, seven colleagues were forced to leave their churches, and every one told me I was the only minister who called, which broke my heart.  I later did a study of pastors in our district and discovered that out of sixty pastors that had departed, fifty were no longer connected to the denomination.  I felt so strongly about this issue that I wrote an article for our denominational magazine titled “Who Cares for Lost Shepherds?”

Why don’t pastors demonstrate more concern for their colleagues who experience forced exits?

Maybe pastors have enough happening inside their own churches to reach out to peers, or they wouldn’t know what to say to a colleague, or they don’t want to become embroiled in another church’s issues.  But my guess is that most pastors don’t want to associate with anyone they perceive as a loser.

If you’re forced out of a church, the perception is that you must be incompetent, immoral, or ignorant of church politics.  There is something wrong with you, not the church, and if you were smarter, you wouldn’t have such problems.

For example, I recently heard a seminary professor refer to a leadership structure he utilized when he was a pastor, stating that he never really had a major conflict with a congregation over two decades of ministry.  Translation: If you handled matters my way, you wouldn’t have any conflict.

But this sentiment seems arrogant to me.

Jesus wasn’t crucified because he was unhealthy but because the political and religious leaders of his day were spiritually rebellious.

Paul wasn’t chased out of European cities because anything was wrong with him but because his hearers were hostile toward the gospel.  (Were all Paul’s problems with the churches in Corinth and Galatia his fault?  Doesn’t he usually place the responsibility for church troubles at the feet of the whole church rather than single out certain leaders?)

It’s popular to say, “If the team isn’t winning, fire the coach,” but some pastors have led their churches to growth and yet are forced to leave because the powerbrokers feel less significant as the church expands.

While a small percentage of pastors deserve termination, the great majority who are involuntarily sacked have done nothing worthy of banishment.  [David] Goetz recommends that denominations keep better records of forced exits to identify repeat-offender churches and suggests that denominations discipline churches that slander or abuse their pastors.

__________

This is an excerpt from my book Church Coup which was published a year ago by Xulon Press.  The book describes a real-life conflict that happened nearly five years ago in my last church ministry.

I wrote the book to describe how a major conflict feels from the pastor’s side and to suggest a multitude of ways that such conflicts can be avoided.

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can buy a hard copy or download the e-book from Amazon.com.  Just click on the picture.

Thanks for reading!

 

According to widespread statistics, 1500 to 1900 pastors leave church ministry every month due to burnout, moral failure, or forced termination – most through forced termination.

And yet according to Alan Klaas – who investigated the reasons why pastors were forced out in various Christian denominations - only 7% of the time do pastors leave because of personal misconduct, while 45% of the time they leave because of a minority faction.

And much of the time, that faction is composed of the official church board, whether they’re called elders, deacons, or the church council.

The scenario usually looks like this:

Someone on the church board becomes upset with the pastor.  The grievance might concern the way the pastor does his job.  It’s just as likely that the grievance is personal.

He or she does not speak with the pastor personally about the matter but talks to one or more board members instead, who add their own grievances to the mix.  In fact, it’s common for personal grievances to morph into official charges.

The pastor almost never has any idea that these grievances are being discussed.

When a few regular attendees step forward with grievances against the pastor – even though the number of dissatisfied individuals may barely reach 5% of the congregation – some board members will conclude, “We must remove our pastor from office.”

The church board then meets in secret … compiles a laundry list of the pastor’s “offenses” … and concludes that the pastor must be evil.

And because the pastor has become demonic in their thinking, any method used to get rid of him is justified.

Even though the Bible specifies how to deal with these situations, Scripture is ignored.

Even though the church’s governing documents usually spell out the process for removal, that process isn’t followed, often because removal requires an unpredictable congregational vote.

Even though the law lays out parameters, it suddenly becomes irrelevant.

So one day, the pastor attends a regular board meeting, and they ask for his resignation.  Or the board calls the pastor to a special meeting, and when he arrives, he’s told that he must resign or be fired.

And the pastor has no idea that his board has been plotting against him for weeks, if not months.

The carnage to follow may ruin the pastor’s career … split the church … divide friendships … and damage the church for years.

Is there a better way to handle pastoral termination?

I believe there is.

Every church needs a small team of fair-minded individuals whose charter is to teach the congregation the biblical way to resolve disputes … including disputes between the pastor and the board.

Let’s call it The Conflict Resolution Group (CRG) for lack of a better term.  They could be appointed by the board or voted into office by the congregation.

The group could be as small as three or as large as seven.  The CRG might be composed of a military officer … or a human resources director … or an attorney … people who must abide by certain operating procedures in their own professions.

The CRG would become their primary ministry in the church.

Those in the CRG would receive periodic training on church conflict prevention and resolution based on Scripture.  They would help to mediate and resolve various disputes within the church.

And if the church board wanted to remove the pastor, the board would have to consult with the CRG first.

Why?

Because too many boards use deceptive and destructive methods to force their pastor to resign … methods the board doesn’t want the rest of the church to know about … including demands and threats.

But under this plan, the CRG would monitor the board to make sure that a pre-determined process was used that would minimize harm to all parties involved.  A couple of CRG members might even attend board meetings, insuring that everyone be on their best behavior.  And CRG members might meet with the pastor – whether he stays or leaves – to make sure that he felt he was treated fairly.

If the board followed a specified process in all their dealings with their pastor, everyone would know that the process was fair.

But if the board refused to follow the process … or they deviated from the process without the CRG’s approval … or they acted without informing the CRG … then the entire board would be expected to resign (as specified ahead of time) and the CRG would inform the congregation that the board tried to circumvent the pre-determined process for removing the pastor.

Let me say this loud and clear: some pastors need to leave their churches for a host of reasons.  No pastor deserves a lifetime contract.

But it isn’t the pastor’s removal that results in massive carnage … it’s the deceptive and dangerous way that removal is carried out … because most church boards don’t want anyone looking over their shoulder when they move to eliminate their pastor.

You need to know: I detest bureaucracy.  If this proposal is just another layer of red tape, then forget it!

But most pastors are accountable to their boards and issue verbal or written reports at every meeting.

Yet while most boards are accountable to their congregations in theory, it doesn’t work in practice – especially concerning pastoral termination – because boards rarely tell the church the real reason why their pastor resigned.

So if a board knows in advance that it will be accountable to a group that’s watching their every move – and if that board knows that any missteps can be reported to the congregation - they will have to handle matters the right way or leave office.

I don’t know whether or not my theory works.  I hope it does.

But I do know this: the way that a typical church board removes a pastor in our day usually results in pain for hundreds if not thousands of people.

In fact, if the process I just described could have been implemented twenty years ago, tens of thousands of pastors might still be in church ministry today instead of sitting on the sidelines with broken hearts.

What do you think of my proposal?

Feel free to comment or send me an email at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org

 

 

 

 

 

I Forgive You Anyway

I think it’s about forgiveness, forgiveness,

Even if, even if, you don’t love me anymore

-Don Henley, The Heart of the Matter

In my book Church Coup, I related the story of Pastor Guy Greenfield who had been forced into early retirement by a small group of antagonists from his church.

As related in his book The Wounded Minister, Greenfield wrote each person who hurt him a lengthy personal letter detailing how he felt about “what they did to me, my ministry, my marriage, my family, my health, and my future.”

Did anyone answer their former pastor?  Not one.  They didn’t want to make things right with him – they wanted him to disappear.

How can a pastor find closure when he can no longer interact with those who have tried to harm him?

The only remedy is unilateral forgiveness.

Let me write a letter to church antagonists and bullies on behalf of those thousands of pastors who have been forced to leave their previous positions prematurely:

__________

Dear Christian Friend,

You didn’t follow Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18:15-17 or Paul’s instructions in 1 Timothy 5:19-21 that deal with confronting a believer/leader who has done offended you.  This made me feel violated … but I forgive you anyway.

You failed to speak to me directly about any of my personal shortcomings or ministry mistakes although you freely discussed them with others.  This wounded me to the core … but I forgive you anyway.

You made false accusations against my character which caused churchgoers to distance themselves from me.  Losing those friendships hurts me to this day … but I forgive you anyway.

You did not provide me with a fair forum where I could answer any charges made against me.  Even a serial killer gets his day in court … but I forgive you anyway.

You ignored the section of the church constitution and bylaws that delineates how to remove a pastor, making up the process as you went along.  In my case, I played by the rules … but I forgive you anyway.

You seemed to have no interest in my restoration, using the tactic of “mobbing” to force me to resign.  Being abused by God’s people stings … but I forgive you anyway.

You didn’t know – and probably didn’t care – that when you forced me to resign, you may have ended my pastoral career.  This causes me unspeakable pain … but I forgive you anyway.

You hurt my family deeply – to the point they’re unsure if they want to attend church anymore – even though they viewed you as their spiritual family.  When they hurt, I hurt … but I forgive you anyway.

You have tried to hurt my reputation – some things you’ve said have been reported back to me – and I cannot understand why.  I committed my life to serving you … but I forgive you anyway.

You probably thought you were doing good by removing me from office, but the way you did it was wrong.  I’m still disappointed that you didn’t follow God’s Word … but I forgive you anyway.

Because I have a lot of forgiving to do, it’s going to take me a while.  Only God can forgive those offenses instantly.

I guess the next time we meet will be in heaven.  I look forward to reconciling with you there.

Sincerely,

Your Former Pastor

__________

I have found that when a forced-out pastor takes his last book down from the shelf … stares for the final time at the worship center … and drives away from the church campus forever … he cannot fathom why professing Christians treated him like he was demonic.  There’s nothing in his theology or experience to explain why he was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced without any kind of process, biblical or otherwise.

But pastors who have been forced out of their congregations can better understand these words of their Master on the cross:

“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Even though they thought they knew what they were doing, we pastors do know what they were doing.

And to each of them we say, “I forgive you anyway.”

 

 

Today is Opening Day in baseball, and hope springs eternal for every fan.

Will the Red Sox repeat as World Champs?  Will the Dodgers go all the way instead?  And how far will the A’s and Mariners and Pirates and Reds go?

I’m not very good at predicting the future.  I’m better at looking back at the past.

So when I think back to 1960 – when my interest in baseball began – I think of players in whom I had a special interest.

Last time, I mentioned 5 of those players: Roberto Clemente, Stan Musial, Steve Garvey, Brooks Robinson, and Ted Williams.

This time, I’ll complete that list.  Here are my Top 5 Favorite Players:

Favorite Player #5: Duke Snider

Songwriter Terry Cashman put out a song in 1981 called Talkin’ Baseball in which he mentioned the names of many ballplayers.  Having grown up in New York City, he and his friends were enamored with the center fielders for the New York Giants, New York Yankees, and Brooklyn Dodgers: Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Duke Snider.

During his song, Cashman kept singing about “Willie, Mickey, and the Duke.”

Duke Snider was a left-handed, power-hitting center fielder for the Dodgers.  As a kid, I read an article where he noted that he had hit 4 home runs in the World Series against the Yankees on 2 occasions.  That impressed me!

Duke Snider Signed Card

When the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, the Duke came along.  For years, he lived in nearby Fallbrook.

He hit 407 lifetime home runs – 40 or more 5 years in a row - and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1980.

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In 1988, I met Snider at a baseball card convention.  The Duke was dutifully signing whatever people put in front of him until I mentioned something I had just read in his autobiography The Duke of Flatbush.

Duke Snider Book Cover

Snider mentioned that he had invited Christ into his life in 1979 and that he and his wife regularly attended worship services and Bible study at their church in Fallbrook.

When I brought this up, Duke stopped signing, brightened up, and talked to me for a few minutes about his faith in Christ.  He and his wife had become involved with The Torchbearers ministry and he told me they had flown to England to receive teaching from Major Ian Thomas.

I can’t remember much else of that conversation, but I’ll always treasure that time … and I look forward to resuming that conversation someday!

Favorite Player #4: Ty Cobb

Ty Cobb hit .367 over his 25-year career, winning 12 batting titles, stealing 892 bases, and amassing 4, 191 hits.

He also made a truckload of enemies.  Some people believe that Cobb was the meanest player who ever lived.

Normally I don’t like players who are rude and inconsiderate.  I knew someone who used to sell newspapers in downtown Menlo Park, California, and he said that Cobb regularly bought a paper from him – and was nasty.  (Cobb lived in nearby Atherton for many years.)

But I have 3 reasons for still making Cobb one of my favorites:

*As a kid, I read his autobiography My Turn at Bat, and learned a lot about base running which I incorporated into my game.

Ty Cobb Book Cover

*His mother accidentally shot his father (she thought he was an intruder), and Cobb worshiped his father.  That wound stayed with him the rest of his life and affected his personality.

*Cobb mellowed somewhat after his playing days and became good friends with Babe Ruth – whom he formerly hated – by playing golf together as documented in the book Ty and the Babe.

Ty and the Babe Book Cover

I admired Cobb because he used his brains as much as his talent, and because I was never a big kid, Cobb helped me learn how to win by thinking, not just by slugging.

Seven years ago, my son Ryan and I took a trip through the South, and we stopped in Royston, Georgia, where Cobb grew up.  We visited the Ty Cobb Museum and his tomb just outside town.

Jim and Ryan Southern Trip 054 Jim and Ryan Southern Trip 050 Jim and Ryan Southern Trip 047Jim and Ryan Southern Trip 038 Jim and Ryan Southern Trip 036Jim and Ryan Southern Trip 059

When I was ten years old, I found a gospel tract at my grandfather’s church in Chicago.  The tract stated that Ty Cobb had received Christ at the end of his life.  While I’ve never seen this bit of information verified, I hope it’s true.  (Mickey Mantle received Christ a few days before his death as well.)  If so, maybe heaven will truly be a “Field of Dreams.”

Favorite Player #3: Willie Mays 

There are many people who believe that Willie Mays was the greatest all-around ballplayer who ever lived.  (Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Bonds are also in the conversation.)

He won 2 Most Valuable Player Awards … hit 660 home runs … and could beat you with his bat, glove, or legs.

Willie Mays Signed 1957 Topps

As a kid, my brother John and I played fast-pitch with a tennis ball in our backyard.  He was the Dodgers … I was the Giants … which meant that I got to be Willie Mays.

Even though I was a Dodger fan, I’d check the box scores every day to see how the Say Hey Kid had done the previous day.

In early 1968, I took a picture of Willie and John inside the lobby of the Grand Hotel in Anaheim.  We have it … somewhere.  I’ll post it if I can ever find it.

I saw Willie in various venues over the next several years, but he became increasingly grouchy.

Willie Mays Signing Autographs

It’s got to be a burden to be so visible … and to be considered by many to be the greatest player who ever lived.  (I’m posing with his plaque at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.)

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I got to see him play in person on several occasions … and plan to tell my grandsons all about it!

Favorite Player #2: Sandy Koufax

Growing up in Southern California, I became a Dodgers’ fan, cheering for Maury Wills, Don Drysdale, Tommy and Willie Davis, and anyone wearing Dodger Blue.

But the greatest Dodger of them all was Sanford Koufax.

Sandy Koufax Signed Photo

He won 5 Earned Run Average titles in a row along with 3 Cy Young Awards.

I saw him pitch in-person twice: a 3-hit shutout against the Houston Colt 45s (now the Astros) in 1963, and a 4-2 pennant-clinching victory against the Milwaukee (now Atlanta) Braves in 1965.

In that 1965 game, Koufax set the all-time record for strikeouts in a season: 382.

Koufax won 25 games in 1963 … 19 in 1964 … 26 in 1965 … and 27 in 1966.  Here is his plaque at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown:

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Every time Koufax pitched, you wondered if he was going to throw a no-hitter.  He did throw 4 no-hitters … the last one a perfect game.  (My brother John and I listened to it on the radio.)

I can still recall sitting in English Class during the Seventh Game of the 1965 World Series.  Koufax had shut out the Minnesota Twins 7-0 in Game 5, and was asked by Manager Walter Alston to pitch Game 7 on only two days’ rest!

In our day, this would never happen with a starting pitcher.

What did Koufax do?  He shut out the Twins 2-0 …  striking out 10 … and the Dodgers were again World Champs.  I bought that game on iTunes.  Best $1.99 I’ve ever spent!

Koufax was a magnetic pitcher but came off as a humble and considerate person.  He was easy to root for because he seemed surprised by all his success.

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When my parents gave me a signed copy of his autobiography one year, it became one of my most prized possessions.

As great as Koufax was, there’s someone I came to love even more:

Favorite Player #1: Nolan Ryan

The first time I saw Nolan Ryan pitch in person, he hit 3 San Francisco Giants in an exhibition game in Palm Springs in 1972.

Like many pitchers, Ryan threw hard but couldn’t control where the ball was going.

He played several seasons for the New York Mets, and then was traded to the California Angels after the 1971 season.

Somehow, Ryan started putting things together in 1972.  Every time I opened the Santa Ana Register, Ryan had pitched another shutout … and struck out a bunch of guys.

In 1973, Ryan threw 2 no-hitters.  He threw 7 in all … the all-time record, surpassing Sandy Koufax’ record of 4.

Nolan Ryan Signed 1978 Topps

After we got married, Kim and I lived in Santa Ana and later in Anaheim.  When Ryan pitched, I listened to every game.  He often had a no-hitter through six innings.

I’d ask Kim, “Can I go to the ballpark?”  (She always said yes.)  Back in the mid-1970s, I could drive to the stadium … park my car in the lot for free … and then walk right in when the ushers opened the gates after the seventh inning.

I always hoped to see Ryan throw a no-hitter in person, but I never did.

However, I did get a game ball from one of his victories.

Ticket Stub May 2, 1979

On May 2, 1979, Ryan defeated the Yankees in Anaheim.  Rod Carew made the final putout for the Angels, and as he approached the dugout, my friend John asked Carew for the ball.

Carew tossed it to John, who ran up the aisle and gave it to me.

In September 1973, Ryan pitched on a Thursday night against the Minnesota Twins.  Many of my friends went to the game that night.

Ryan need 15 strikeouts to tie Sandy Koufax for the all-time record … and 16 to beat the record.

After 9 innings, Ryan had 15 strikeouts … and nothing left in his gas tank … but he got that 16th strikeout on a high fastball thrown past Rich Reese … and he ended up with 383 strikeouts in a single season, the all-time record.

Ryan went on to become a legend.  When he was eligible for the Hall of Fame, he received the second highest percentage of votes in history.

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Whenever I encountered Ryan, he was cordial.  Kim and I once drove to Anaheim Stadium and asked Ryan to sign two posters before a game.  They hung on my wall for years.

Back in 1979, I drove down to Palm Springs and caught an Angels’ exhibition game.  Ryan was just walking around the stands and then exited the ballpark.

Nobody knew who he was.

I followed him and asked him to pose for a picture for me, which he did.  If you see photos of him today, he’s aged a lot.

Nolan Ryan Spring Training 1979

 My father was a pastor, but he was also a big baseball fan.  He used to bring my brother and me packs of baseball cards.  And when Dodgers like Roger Craig, Don Drysdale, and Maury Wills made personal appearances in our area, he drove us to meet them and get their autographs.

When I was at Cooperstown a few years ago, I took a picture of this painting of a small baseball fan asking for the autograph of the great Pirate shortstop Honus Wagner.  If you click on the picture and read the text, you’ll understand why I’ve enjoyed having a connection to these players for so many years.  Thanks for reading!

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Baseball has been in my blood since I was six years old.

Back in 1960, my father took my brother and me to our first game at the Los Angeles Coliseum where we watched the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Dodgers 5-2.  I can still see the right fielders for both teams: Frank Howard for the Dodgers, Roberto Clemente for the Pirates.

I’ve had so many thrills as a fan.  I have been privileged to:

*run the bases at a public open house at Dodger Stadium shortly before it opened.

*attend the groundbreaking of Anaheim Stadium on July 31, 1964 … and I kept dirt from the home plate area for years.

*go to the All-Star Game in Anaheim in 1967 … a game that went 15 innings until Tony Perez hit a home run off Catfish Hunter.

*attend various playoff games and two World Series games.

*see games at Wrigley Field (Chicago), the old Comiskey Park (great park!), Fenway Park, Camden Yards, and Yankee Stadium, among many ballparks.

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When I was 13, I discovered that every player in the American League was staying at the Grand Hotel in Anaheim - only 3 miles from my house – for 3 road trips every year.

All my friends in our neighborhood discovered this, too.

Including exhibition games, Old Timer games, and that All-Star game, I met players like Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Willie McCovey, Tom Seaver, Al Kaline, Pete Rose, and Rod Carew.

Some were pleasant … others were businesslike … and a few were downright mean (like Early Wynn and Elston Howard), but wow, what a great time my friends and I had growing up!

Years ago, I made a list of my favorite players, and recently condensed it to just 10.  I’ll share favorites 10 through 6 today and 5 through 1 next time.

Favorite Player #10: Roberto Clemente

Besides the fact that Clemente played in the first game I ever attended, I admired his flair.  He won 4 batting titles … dominated the Orioles in the 1971 World Series … and ended up with exactly 3,000 hits.

I watched him play at Dodger Stadium in 1966 … and what an arm he had!  An absolute cannon.

On the Sunday before the All-Star game in 1967, I was at the Grand Hotel waiting for players to check in, and Clemente was spotted walking along the road  He looked regal in his blue suit and signed for everybody … maybe 30 people.

Sometime after that, I learned that if you wrote Clemente during the season, he would sign everything you sent him … so my brother and I did just that.

Roberto Clemente Signed CardClemente Drawing

Several years ago, I read most of the book Clemente by David Maraniss, but I can’t finish it because I don’t want to read about Clemente’s tragic airplane death on January 1, 1973 while taking relief supplies to Nicaragua.

Favorite Player #9: Stan Musial

Stan the Man played his entire career for the St. Louis Cardinals, amassing 3,630 hits: 1,815 on the road, 1,815 at home.  How’s that for consistency?

I read a biography on his life as a kid and was amazed at his greatness.  He won 7 National League batting titles and 3 MVP awards.

Stan Musial Signed CardStan Musial Signed Photo

Musial’s last year was 1963, and when the Cardinals came to Dodger Stadium that September, the Dodgers announced they were going to hold a Stan Musial Night on Thursday evening.

I was determined to go, even though I was only 9 years old.  I asked my dad if we could go, and he said no.  But I wouldn’t give up.

Call me stubborn … manipulative … or spoiled … but I WANTED TO GO TO THAT GAME!

So I went to my room and cried … and screamed … and yelled bloody murder.  The neighbors must have felt that my parents were engaged in some radical form of abuse.

They finally relented and our entire family went to the game … but we sat so high up that we couldn’t see much.

I only had two encounters with Musial … and was thrilled to get his autograph at the All-Star Game in 1967 after a meeting of general managers.

He was a classy man … and the greatest Cardinal of them all.

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That’s why this statue of Stan the Man is in front of Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

Favorite Player #8: Steve Garvey

One Saturday in 1972 – when I was 18 – I drove to San Diego with 2 friends.  We visited the Town and Country Hotel because the Dodgers were staying there.

Sometime during the afternoon, Steve and Cyndy Garvey started talking to the three of us.  They were SUPER nice.  This was long before Steve was an All-Star and Cyndy co-hosted a TV show in LA.

We must have talked to them for 20 minutes.  I’ve never forgotten how pleasant they were.

Two years later, Steve Garvey was the regular first baseman for the Dodgers and the Most Valuable Player in the National League … long before he received any bad press.

Steve Garvey Signed Card

I admired Garvey’s ability to hit to all fields … dig errant throws out of the dirt … and hit in the clutch.  He was always a winner.

In addition, Garvey was always great to his fans … signing autographs … posing for pictures … and acting like he enjoyed it … like in this photo with my son Ryan.

Garvey and Ryan

A few years ago, I saw him at a benefit softball game, and told him that I believed he was Hall of Fame worthy.  He sincerely thanked me.

Safeway Baseball Pictures August 20, 2005 012

Steve Garvey remains a great ambassador for baseball.

Favorite Player #7: Brooks Robinson  

To this day, if I ask my friends, “Who were the two nicest players in the American League when we collected autographs?”, they always answer: Harmon Killebrew and Brooks Robinson.  And both were superstars.

Brooks Robinson Card Signed

Brooks was the third baseman for the Baltimore Orioles.  He won the American League MVP award in 1964 and the World Series MVP in 1970.  He was such a great fielder that he was nicknamed “The Human Vacuum Cleaner.”

I liked Brooks because he was always kind and personable with his fans.

Brooks Robinson

In The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, James rates Brooks the 7th greatest third baseman of all-time … and then goes on to write about nice and not-so-nice players … crowing Brooks The King of Nice Ballplayers.

Here’s one that wasn’t so nice:

Favorite Player #6: Ted Williams

Several years ago, my wife and I visited the San Diego Sports Hall of Fame in Balboa Park.  The baseball exhibits focused on two Hall of Fame ballplayers: Ted Williams and Tony Gwynn.

I cried my way through the whole thing.

Ted is a legend in San Diego.  There’s even a parkway named after him off Interstate 15.

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But Ted Williams … whose mother devoted her life to the Salvation Army in San Diego … was a brutally honest but moody man.

In my view, Ted was the greatest hitter who ever lived.  He won 7 American League batting titles … hit 521 home runs (including one in his last at-bat) … and hit .342 lifetime.  He also hit .406 in 1941, the last player ever to hit .400 in a single season.  (Tony Gwynn hit .394 in 1994 but fell short.)  Since he retired in 1960 – the year I became interested in baseball – I never saw Ted play.

Ted Williams Signed Card

On those few occasions I saw him in-person, he had a presence about him.  He was movie-star handsome and plugged all kinds of products.  But he loathed pitchers … as well as sportswriters.

But when kids were around, The Kid changed completely.

In 1969, Ted became the manager of the expansion Washington Senators.  When the team came to the Grand Hotel late in the season, only my brother and I showed up for autographs.

Ted came out late in the afternoon and sat on a shoeshine chair by the pool and starting reading a newspaper.  He scared me to death.

But my brother John … who was 13 at the time … went up to Ted and they started conversing.  Ted looked through John’s baseball cards … many of which were of Ted himself!  Ted probably talked to John for 15 minutes and seemed genuinely interested in him.

I wish I had just one photo of that meeting.

There’s a statue of Ted Williams outside Fenway Park in Boston.  It’s hard to see at night, but it shows Ted’s interest in a boy … just like my brother.

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I’m fascinated by deeply flawed people who do great things, and Ted certainly falls into that category.

Who are my Top 5 ballplayers of all time?  I’ll share that post on Opening Day.

Who are some of your favorite baseball players – and why?

 

 

 

 

 

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