Teaching baseball players to sacrifice is hard to do

After my pastor gave a sermon on Romans 12:1-3 earlier this summer, the thought crossed my mind how unpopular this passage would be for professional baseball players.

The context of what the Apostle Paul wrote wasn’t about baseball, but here it is anyway: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”

Pro athletes know a lot of about sacrifice when it comes to working out and training, but sacrificing within the game itself? Not so much. Who wants to be a decoy when you can make game-changing plays?

Years ago, baseball players were taught to be a “living sacrifice” by laying down a bunt to advance base runners and giving the team a better scoring opportunity.

There was a long-held practice of “Get ‘em on, move ‘em over, drive ‘em in.”

That old-school philosophy doesn’t play well in the majors today. Teams prefer long ball more than small ball.

The sacrifice bunt is a dying art.

According to Rob Maaddi of the Associated Press, there were only 1,025 sacrifices in the majors in 2016, down from 1,667 in 2011. The average of .21 sacrifices per game in 2016 was the lowest in baseball history, according to Baseball Reference.

“A lot of managers don’t like to waste outs and they consider a bunt a wasted out,” said Philadelphia Phillies first-base coach Mickey Morandini, who had 61 sacrifices in an 11-year career.

American League teams bunt far less because they use a designated hitter. It’s often embarrassing to watch players attempt to lay down a sacrifice bunt nowadays.

A lot of players can’t bunt because they don’t work on it. Common sense tells me if they don’t work at it, it’s because the team doesn’t emphasize it.

“You gotta want to bunt, you gotta want to get it down,” Morandini said. “It’s a mentality. You gotta understand it’s helping your team win and it’s an important part of the game.”

To be fair, teams know that the data says giving up an out to advance a runner is a bad idea. But failure to get a bunt down in a close game frustrates managers, coaches and fans, and players who beat themselves up over the fact they can’t get a bunt down.

I won’t begin to address the concept of bunting for a hit, and how a well-placed bunt by a speedy player can wreak havoc on the defense.

It’s almost comical how teams dare some batters to lay down a bunt between second and third base. The batter only needs to push the ball in the general direction of third to get a single. But that goes against the all-or-nothing approach to hitting home runs nowadays.

If a Major League Baseball player were asked to write Romans 12:1-3 in the context of today’s sport, it might read something like this:

“Therefore, I urge you, aspiring baseball players, to forget about sacrificing and swing from your heels for the fences. This is what will bring you a big payday and idol worship from fans. Don’t conform to the old-fashioned way of laying down a sacrifice bunt, but when you are asked to bunt, fail miserably until you have two strikes, and swing away to your heart’s content.

“And when you hit that home run, puff your chest out in pride. Think of yourself more highly than you should, because if you don’t, who will? Remember, the bunt is nothing more than a rally killer.”

Baseball wasn’t invented until some 2,000 years after Bible Times, but let me hazard a guess as to one message the Apostle Paul would give pro baseball players today: “Get over yourself. It’s not about you!”