Marcos Breton

Marcos Breton: For Catholicism or baseball, human flaws test devotion

Published: Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Thursday, Apr. 18, 2013 - 7:45 pm

It's not easy being a Catholic and a lover of major league baseball, two institutions that have lifted me up as they've fallen from grace.

To remain faithful to them is to sometimes be accused of rationalizing priests accused of sexual abuse and ballplayers accused of steroid use.

Clearly, the two cannot and should not be compared equally – but there are parallels in the faith and derision inspired by men of the cloth and of the diamond.

I wish I could pick up a newspaper without reading some turn of the wheel in a sex abuse scandal that has so damaged my church and its followers. On Friday, there was the story of how media organizations will be allowed to argue against the redactions of names contained in secret church files of the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

The files are central to a $660 million settlement between the diocese and church leaders and the alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests. This worldwide scandal has turned so many away from the church, and more than once I've been placed in the position of "defending" the church in uncomfortable conversations – as if I were qualified to do that.

I'm not.

As a long-time baseball writer, I have been looking forward to the day when I would become a voter for the National Baseball Hall of Fame – and that day has arrived.

But my first ballot, the one due by Monday, is littered with men accused of taking performance-enhancing drugs – or men caught doing so.

The most famous – or infamous – of these characters were recently embroiled in court cases that jumped off the sports page to the front page.

Former Giant Barry Bonds, baseball's all-time home run leader, faced federal prosecution, as did Roger Clemens, statistically one of baseball's greatest pitchers ever.

Both largely beat the rap – it's never been proved that either knowingly took the drugs – but now it falls to me to judge their moral fitness for baseball's lifetime achievement award?

That's not my place.

I've tried not to confuse the life-affirming power within each institution and the flawed humans who draw crowds in cathedrals of worship and fields of dreams.

I've never asked for an autograph or thought that a man in a collar was superior to me. When we do that, we are asking to be betrayed and placing too much faith in the humans who move us.

The Rev. Uriel Ojeda prayed over my father the night before he died, but is now facing an April trial in Sacramento on charges of molesting an underage girl. The moment Ojeda spent with my family will remain sacred with us forever, irrespective of his legal fate.

If a jury finds Ojeda guilty then he goes to jail, and rightly so, but I can't pretend that he wasn't there for me when I needed him. The faith was real, even if the individual was human.

In a similar vein, Sammy Sosa gave me one of my biggest thrills when he hit a ball over my head in the summer of 1998 as he and Mark McGwire shattered baseball's single-season home run record.

I've never seen anything like it, as every last person in the ballpark stood and cheered madly every time Sosa came up to bat.

Now Sosa and McGwire are disgraced in the minds of many for being linked to steroids.

But what I witnessed was not a dream – it really happened. The moment was real, even if the individual was human.

There are things that might tempt me to walk away from the church. But I've witnessed firsthand the courageous nuns and priests who tend to the sick and poor in Latin America – sometimes at great risk. I see the good that Catholic charities and charitable Catholics do in Sacramento every day. I just wrote a column last week about how one Jesuit High School graduate donated his kidney to save another based on the words the priests spoke to him on campus:

"Live your life to be a man for others."

I could vote to ban any and all players from the Hall of Fame with any links to steroids – even the ones damned by unproven whispers – but what would that prove? There weren't rules to punish players for using steroids until 2005, when some of the current candidates for the Hall of Fame were already retired. There is no telling how many players used performance-enhancing drugs, no metrics to show with any degree of certainty how said drugs affected competition.

If you vote to keep "all" the cheaters out without knowing who "all" of them are, you're saying the Baseball Hall of Fame – a monument to baseball history – should pretend the last 25 years of history didn't happen.

Maybe some would call that rationalizing. Or maybe it's just facing up to the frailty within the pulpit and the clubhouse – and accepting that history, courts of law and higher authorities than I will judge the accused within them.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Marcos Breton

Marcos Breton, news columnist

Marcos Breton

Hello, my name is Marcos Breton and I'm the news columnist with The Sacramento Bee. What's a columnist supposed to do? I'm supposed to make you think, make you laugh, make you mad or make you see an issue in a different way. I'm supposed to connect the dots on issues, people and relationships that cause things to happen or prevent them from happening in our region. I also write a weekly baseball column during the baseball season. I am a voter in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Yes, I have voted for Barry Bonds - twice. I am a native of Northern California. I am the son of Mexican immigrants. I've been at The Bee for more than 20 years, and I love Sacramento.

Phone: 916-321-1096
Twitter: @MarcosBreton

Sacramento Bee Job listing powered by
Quick Job Search
Sacramento Bee Jobs »
Used Cars
Dealer and private-party ads


Price Range:
Search within:
miles of ZIP

Advanced Search | 1982 & Older