October 15, 1988 is a day that will not be forgotten by any baseball fan.
It was Game 1 of the World Series between the Oakland Athletics and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The two teams battled all night long, with the Dodgers scoring two runs in the home half of the first inning.
The great Jose Canseco would hit a grand slam to answer in the second inning. The equally great Dave Stewart pitched the first eight innings for the Athletics, who were only one out away from winning the first game on the road. Oakland’s future hall-of-fame manager Tony Larussa called in his current hall-of-fame closer Dennis Eckersley into the game to get the final three outs.
After two quick outs and a rare walk from Eckersly, the Dodgers’ hall-of-fame manager Tommy Lassorda had two hitters available for the final at-bat with his Dodgers trailing by a run with one man on base. The first was the soft-hitting Dave Anderson, whose 10 seasons as a major leaguer netted all of 16 home runs. The second batter on the bench was the National League’s reigning Most Valuable Player, Kirk Gibson.
The reason Gibson had not been manning his normal position in left field that night was the combination of a right knee and a left hamstring that had reduced him to near immobility. He was not in uniform until the ninth inning.
Sports fans know the rest of the story. Gibson worked the count to 3-2, before driving the next pitch well-over the right field fence. His long, limping, fist-pumping trip around the bases is etched into the memories of all who have seen the play, whether in person or on a replay.
Nobody remembers the other guy, though do we? Dave Anderson rarely works his way even into the re-telling of this story. I myself had to scour the internet to retrieve the name of the man Kirk Gibson hit in the place of. I wonder how he felt after the game.
An Unlikely Scenario
What if he was really bitter about not getting to hit in such a crucial situation? What if he spent the rest of his life complaining about a lost opportunity to be the hero? Would that not be absurd beyond belief? Or let us think of another scenario.
Can you imagine the great Dodger Stadium empty, as October 15 became October 16? The stands have emptied. The vendors have long-since cleaned up and traveled home to their wives and children. Even the ESPN trucks have fired up, making the short drive down the 101 to their hotel rooms. Everybody has gone home for the evening, the Dodger fans happy and the Oakland fans sulking in disbelief. Everybody has gone- except Dave Anderson, the light-hitting back-up shortstop.
Dave has taken a bat and returned to his “rightful place” in the batter’s box. In the pitch-black of the night, Anderson swings alone. And he swings. And he swings. With each missed attempt, Dave Anderson, the one who was replaced by Kirk Gibson, grows in frustration. He is weary. He has lost hope.
“How many times,” he sighs, “must I swing before I hit this pitch?”
Too Ridiculous to be True?
Now, were this the case we would have no choice but to classify Dave Anderson as a stark, raving lunatic. What kind of a fool would reject a victory won on his behalf to live an illusion that would be so fruitless? Most likely, we would send nice men with white coats to rescue such a man from himself.
My best guess is that once Gibson homered in his place, Anderson reveled in the victory as if it were his own. He went out with the guys and had a beer. He went home and slept like a rock, knowing that the victory has been won on his behalf. Gibson would be the one to have the ever-enduring glory but Anderson would share in the victory, claiming it as if it were his own.
That is the way it should be, right? Who in his right mind would try to re-win a victory that has been won on his behalf? Who would deny himself the comfort, joy, rest, peace, and completion that has been won for him?
Certainly nobody in his right mind.
What does this story say about us as believers, then? Put yourself in the place of Dave Anderson. When it really comes to the times in your life that matter, you are not the guy, I am not the guy, who needs to be hitting. On our own, one-on-one with the world, the devil, our own lusts, our own consciences, we are not up to the task. The most loving, gracious, and in the end, glorious, thing God can do for us is to provide a pinch-hitter.
The good news is that he has provided a pinch hitter, and like Kirk Gibson, he has won all the victory you need. God is not depending on you to come through in your time of need. He knows our frame. He knows that we are dust. That is why he provided Christ for us. It was Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension that defeated our enemies of the devil, our lusts, and our consciences. The battle has already been won. The law has already been fulfilled by the one who gave it to Moses so many years ago.
Why do so many Christians live life like the insane version of Dave Anderson? We take the bat of our good choices and walk fearfully up to the plate, trembling in terror of our big bad Eckersley de` jour. What will he throw me today- my past sins? Maybe he will throw them at me so hard I will fail. Maybe he will fool me with a change-up, a curve-ball of circumstances I will not be able to handle. What will become of me?
Put the Bat Down, Dave.
And we take swing after swing alone in the dark. How long will it take before we grow weary of striving at the wind? How long will it take before we become frustrated at our failure, resolving to swing harder at our imaginary target? Will this renewed effort end any differently than times past?
All the while, in the midst of our attempts to please God by keeping his law, the battle has already been fought. The law has already been fulfilled by our victorious substitute! There is no victory yet to be achieved, only a win to be cherished. We have seen Christ perfectly fulfill every part of the law, live our lives perfectly in our stead, die in our place, raise to new life, sit at God’s right hand and plead our case.
God is for us.
What more do we need?