I should probably look this up before quoting it, but I believe someone famous once said that it is not how you start, but how you finish that’s important. Or something along those lines.
These last two weeks have been a little heart-wrenching with perhaps a little punch to the gut for emphasis. Three people died and I didn’t know any of them, yet their stories are known to me and thus I was impacted. One man was cut down in the prime of his life – way too young – and leaves behind a loving, Godly wife and four small children. Another man with perhaps a more checkered past but apparently finding his stride in life died a violent death on his way to work one morning. The third person in this tragedy was a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and friend to many when she was cut down on her way to church one morning.
As I mentioned I did not know any of these people yet that doesn’t seem to change the fact that I walked around in a daze for the better part of the last two weeks, grieving heavily for people I did not know, but felt connected to them for some strange reason. It had everything to do with the stages of life that each was in at the time of death; as one downtrodden but seeming to be pulling it together, another was living the dream and another had lived life to the fullest and then some. I think it is quite natural to look at tragedies in this perspective and then hold it up in front of your own personal mirror to see how you compare.
And it had me thinking of Mickey Owen.
In a mostly pedestrian 13-year major league baseball career, Owen toiled behind the plate as a catcher in the late 1930s for the post Gashouse Gang St. Louis Cardinals before joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1941. Owen hung around for five seasons with the Dodgers before joining the Navy at the end of World War II. After the war he played and managed in the Mexican baseball league before returning to the major leagues in 1949 for a stint with the Cubs for a few years and then completed his career in 1954 with the Red Sox. So a well-traveled baseball man – an international one at that – yet Owen is known for something other than his travels or exploits.
No, Owen is known for being the poster boy for all those who start out blazing, yet finish poorly. Mickey Owen you see, was the goat of the 1941 World Series.
With the Dodgers trailing the Series 2-games-to-1 to the New York Yankees, all of Brooklyn (at least the capacity crowd at Ebbets Field) held its collective breath as their boys looked to even the Series at two games apiece in pivitol Game Four, and in the 9th inning the Dodgers held a 4-3 lead with two outs and two strikes on a clearly overmatched Yankee batter, Tommy Henrich. The Dodgers’ Hugh Casey was on the mound and wasted no time with Henrich, as he broke off a beauty of a curve ball (some later claimed it was a spit ball) that the stunned batter flinched at and ultimately overcommitted, striking out to end the game and tie the Series for the Dodgers. There was one problem though: Mickey Owen failed to catch the ball. As Brooklyn police stormed the field to keep the crowd at bay, Henrich peeked behind him and saw the ball bounding away, so he took off for first base. Owen weaved his way through the crowd of cops and had no chance to get Henrich at first.
As you might imagine, this does not end well.
The Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio singled Henrich to second and then Charlie Keller doubled them both home to open the floodgates. The Yankees took the game and finished off the Dodgers the next day in Game 5 and claimed yet another World Championship.
Mickey Owen didn’t necessarily lose the game or the Series for the Dodgers, but the fact that he, as a professional baseball catcher, failed to block the ball and keep it in front of him as any player who has strapped on the tools of ignorance knows is one of the absolute keys to the position, ultimately finished poorly and as a result his legacy is this lonely, glaring gaffe.
And I don’t want to follow in his footsteps.
In the car on the way to church this last Sunday I just kept telling Samantha that my life simply has to have more meaning than getting up, going to work and coming home burnt-out. I know that I have experienced amazing personal and spiritual growth over the years and I have been blessed with a wonderful family and friends, but I want more. Is that selfish? I know that it certainly sounds selfish, but I really don’t want more stuff. No, what I desire and crave is a life well-lived and a legacy of finishing the race in a memorable and lasting way. Lasting, as in I leave it all on the field and play the game of life with no regrets. I want to give my all to my marriage, my kids, my family and friends. I want to have a positive impact on society. And yes, I want to work hard and contribute to something meaningful.
I have some ideas about how that is all going to work out, but I also know that I need to be seeking God’s will for my life first and foremost, and I have truly felt His calling on my life to truly do something that takes me out of my comfort zone. It’s something where I can help people while being challenged both physically and mentally, while addressing some health issues that have me concerned about my future.
Yes, I will be running the Los Angeles Marathon this coming March as a part of Team World Vision as we aim to raise money that will be utilized to bring clean drinking water to some thirsty souls in Africa.
I am excited and scared. Excited, because it is an opportunity to help people while getting the benefit of marathon training. Scared because, well I’m afraid that I might die. Or not be able to finish. Or make a fool of myself. Or make a fool of myself while I am failing to complete the race and dying.
But I so want to finish the race and I want to do it strongly. And perhaps that is a bit metaphorical because while I am talking about the marathon I am also talking about the race of life. I started strong, sputtered mightily, picked things up a bit and then faltered again. But it is not necessarily about how I did in the beginning or in the middle though, is it?
It’s all about the finish.
You know, Mickey Owen had it pretty rough from a baseball legacy perspective, but you have to take his entire body of work – His Life – before we render judgment.
Following his retirement from baseball, Owen opened the Mickey Owen Baseball School in Missouri and served as an instructor for better than 25 years. The school is still going strong under the name Sandlot Baseball, which proudly boasts its association with the late, great Mickey Owen.
That’s how I’d like to finish.