An article that appeared in the Saturday edition of the New York Times has called into question the methods used by some of the people involved with Baseball Chapel. For those unfamiliar with the organization, Baseball Chapel allows all major league and minor league players of the Christian faith to attend church services at the ballpark on Sundays. Without Baseball Chapel, which has existed for 35 years, most players would not have the opportunity to take part in Sunday worship, since their schedules demand they be at the ballpark early for Sunday afternoon games.
According to a former minor league umpire, Josh Miller, the chapel sessions severely intruded on his pre-game routines. Miller, who is Jewish, felt that the presence of Baseball Chapel made life uncomfortable and inconvenient. “We’d get there an hour before the game,” Miller told Murray Chass in the Times article. “I always stretched and got mentally prepared. You have a guy coming in and preaching to you about something you don’t believe in, it throws you off mentally.”
When asked about the possibility of leaving the room during the chapel sessions, Miller offered Chass the following response. “You don’t want to be rude to them because it might get back to somebody and it could affect your chances [of moving up],” said Miller, who was let go after the 2007 season, his third in the International League. Miller also felt uncomfortable telling members of Baseball Chapel about his religious preferences. “One time this guy found out I was Jewish, and he started talking about nonbelievers and looking at me.”
Frankly, I found most of Miller’s contentions lacking in substance. Having read the entire article, I didn’t find one concrete example of coercion or harassment against Miller on the part of the players or umpires participating in Baseball Chapel. The reference above about how the religious speaker was “looking at him” is probably the closest thing to “concrete,” but the whole “he-looked-at-me funny” argument has always struck me as rather weak. (Also, I wonder if the “non-believers remark” could be interpreted as a characterization of atheists, rather than someone who happens to be Jewish?)
I also don’t buy Miller’s argument about being inconvenienced and having nowhere to go. Baseball Chapel happens once a week, and, I’m assuming, only for Sunday day games (and not night games). There are plenty of places where umpires can go to kill an hour before a game, including the dugouts (probably the most logical place), the bullpen, the concourse, and yes, the stands. I’ve seen umpires sit in the stands before games at the Class-A level (especially in an area of the ballpark that’s not well populated), and assume it probably happens at Triple-A, too. Furthermore, if Miller felt that his chances of advancement would have been hindered by leaving the umpires room, why didn’t be bring up this point earlier, in anticipation of his last performance review? Why did he wait until after his firing to make such a contention?
Does this argument against Miller mean that there have never been examples of coercion or harassment with Baseball Chapel? Of course not. The 2005 incident, in which a Baseball Chapel chaplain apparently led Ryan Church to believe that his Jewish girlfriend was “doomed,” is certainly disturbing. The chaplain should have been called onto the carpet, fully reprimanded, and warned not to do it again. (For what it’s worth, the chaplain was suspended by the Washington Nationals, but not disciplined by Baseball Chapel.) Still, that one incident needs to be measured against the overall good provided by Baseball Chapel, which draws about 40 per cent of major leaguers to its services.
In general, I don’t think this article makes a very strong argument about the alleged tactics of Baseball Chapel, given how vague Miller’s contentions seem to be. And if the article was meant to imply that Baseball Chapel should be discontinued at professional ballparks, then I believe that argument has failed, too.