Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Thrown out by a curveball


The bishop recommends
An enthusiastic reader, Bishop Jimmy Nunn suggests books he finds influential. Among titles he selected for the Cokesbury display at Annual Conference: “The Anatomy of Peace – resolving the heart of conflict,” “Jim & Casper Go to Church,” and “Back to Zero — the search to rediscover the Methodist movement.”

Fred lay in his bed, nearing the end of his life, in 1939. He held a faded newspaper clipping from the Brooklyn Eagle. Fred read the article one last time.

A deep sense of sadness crept into his heart. He had lived with that unwelcome feeling for nearly 70 years.

The date of the paper was Aug. 18, 1870.

It was his record. He held proof in his hand. He had accomplished what no one had been able to do before him. He had been the first person to demonstrate how to throw a curveball — not the other guy. Why did he not receive the credit?

Professional baseball player Fred Goldsmith, a pitcher, was still clutching that old Brooklyn Eagle article when he was found after his death. According to legend, he died a bitter man, envious that he had not received the recognition he thought he deserved.

Turn back the clock to 1864, when a 16-year-old kid named "Candy" Cummings noticed that he could make a baseball curve. In that era, the catcher stood 20 feet behind the batter and caught the ball on the bounce. Curveballs were impossible to field from that distance, so they were not part of the game.

Two years later, Cummings began pitching in the big leagues.

In the early 1870s, Nat Hicks became the first catcher to move directly behind the batter and catch the curveballs that Cummings threw.

This new position near home plate put him close to the swinging bats. Because Hicks was willing to take on added risk to catch a curveball, the nature of the game changed. The ball could be caught before it hit the ground. The old techniques employed by catchers no longer worked, and the curveball became a staple pitch in baseball.

In 1939, the same year that Fred Goldsmith died, Candy Cummings was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame — as the inventor of the curveball.

Why Cummings and not Goldsmith?

Cummings had Hicks behind home plate; Goldsmith could not use his curveball in a game without an innovative, fearless catcher. The introduction of the curveball required both a pitcher and a catcher.

The story is a parable for the church. It takes a body of believers to fulfill the mission of the church.

Paul reminds us that we all have roles to play in the body of Christ. "Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each of you. We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function. In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other" (Romans 12:3-5 CEV).


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