Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Iron Sharpening Iron In the 1961 Home Run Race!

Friendship is essential to our ability to grow as people. This is especially true for those of us who are Christians. As Solomon wrote in Proverbs 27:17 “Iron sharpens iron, a friend sharpens a friend.” Without the benefit of a true friend who will call us out when we do something wrong, encourage us when we are down, and celebrate with us when times are good, we would probably not truly experience all that God has for us in life.

This point is wonderfully depicted in the movie “61” which was HBO’s 2001 made for TV movie about the 1961 home run chase between fellow Yankees Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. Most people (especially die hard baseball fans such as myself) know that it was ultimately Maris who won the home run contest by breaking what was then the all time home run record of 60 home runs hit in a season by Babe Ruth. What many didn’t know (myself included) was that Yankee fans were not really happy that Rodger Maris was the one who would break that record. Yankee fans wanted Mickey Mantle to be the player to accomplish this feat, because he was a lifelong Yankee, and Maris had just arrived as a free agent from Kansas City in 1961.

As the movie unfolds we see that both of these men develop a friendship, and while the media and fans were at odds over who would ultimately break the record held by the Babe, these two men were both supportive of each other, as we see in several scenes scattered throughout this finely crafted film.

Early on in the movie, Mantle is thrown out of a night club because he was drunk, which then leads him to drive while intoxicated causing him to crash his car into a lamppost. The hotel manager where Mantle was leasing a suite for the season informs Maris and couple of the other players who came to Mantle’s aid that this behavior was becoming more commonplace and he wouldn’t be able to keep the press away much longer. Realizing this would be extremely detrimental to the team and Mantle, Maris offers to allow Mantle to come out to the suburbs of New York and share an apartment with him another player. Mantle agrees, and Maris tells him that in order for the agreement to be in place, Mantle would not be allowed to bring any women back the apartment, and his alcohol consumption would be kept in check. Mantle, begrudgingly at first, agrees to the terms.

This would be an agreement that Maris would take seriously, as during one intense scene he confronted Mantle about his reckless behavior and how it was ultimately harming his body and his ability to play baseball. As it would turn out, Mantle would many years after he retired, become a Christian and confess that he was an alcoholic and a playboy during his playing years.

While Maris undoubtly had a positive impact on Mantle, it is important to note that Mantle also was a good friend to Maris. As I previously mentioned, Maris was not the fan favorite to break the home run record, and he actually received nasty letters in the mail telling him to ‘Die Maris Die” and even had someone call his wife and threaten to kidnap one of their children!

During this time of turmoil for Maris, which caused his stress level to be so high his hair started to fall out, Mantle quietly encouraged him to not worry about what the fans said, and that most threats were not likely to be executed. In one great scene closer the end of the movie, Mantle sits down in Maris’ room with him and states that “people are stupid sometimes Rodger” and then tells him to not read his mail, and to focus on striving to break the record, and that he (Mantle) would be his biggest fan, because injuries were getting the best of him and he would no longer be able to stay in the race with Maris.

In fact, when Maris did break Babe Ruth’s record on the final day of the 1961 season, Mantle was in a New York hospital recovering from an infection. He was however, watching the game on TV and cheering Maris on the whole time!

Ultimately I think this story illustrates how a relationship that is Godly makes both people better. One example of a relationship like this in the Bible that comes to mind is David and Jonathan. In 1 Samuel 18-23 the Bible tells us how these two men encouraged each other and that Jonathan though he was the son of King Saul, who wanted David killed, vowed to protect David and spent many a time encouraging and defending David. The Bible tells us there was an instant bond when they met (18:1) and that they were friends until Jonathan was killed in battle (2 Samuel 1:4).

True friendship is rare, especially in the world in which we live today. In our fast paced culture friendship tends to be something a lot of people use to get ahead. More often than not people use each other and then drop each other once there is no more use for the friendship. This is a far cry from the kind of friendships we see in scripture, which are the kind we should most try to emulate. When Christ said in John 15:13 that “the greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends” he meant that friendship should be something we are willing to die for, and thus certainly not something we should view as disposable!

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