The San Francisco Giants host the Detroit Tigers in the first game of the World Series tonight. The Giants starter, Barry Zito, came to faith in Jesus last year, and at least five other Giants—Ryan Vogelsong, Angel Pagan, Brandon Belt, Jeremy Affeldt, and Santiago Casilla—are also believers.
In 1978 the Giants created a stir because at least eight of the players had given their lives to Jesus. The local press labeled them “the God Squad.”
Interest rose as the Giants made a surprise run for the pennant, finishing in third place. The born-again Christians made key contributions, including pitcher Bob Knepper (17 wins), relief pitcher Gary Lavelle (13 wins) and outfielder Jack Clark (.306, 25 home runs, 98 RBIs).
But in 1979, when the Giants faltered, Glenn Dickey of the San Francisco Chronicle claimed the players’ faith adversely affected their performance:
“The problem with the simplistic faith these players have adopted is that it makes them altogether too comfortable. The born-agains have a tendency to put it all in the hands of the Lord, and the Lord doesn’t seem to be pitching too well or hitting in the clutch this season.”1
In other words, ballplayers who give their lives to Jesus are complacent. The “God Squadders” said otherwise. “The Word of God motivates me above all to be the best baseball player I can be,”2 said Lavelle. Knepper said he pitches “to live up to the ability God has given me. . . . I love the pressure of beating Pete Rose or George Foster or Steve Garvey.”3
Dickey said the Giants were overconfident:
“I suspect one reason is the overabundance of God Squadders on this team. They gave the impression that God would not let them fail. If these players were a little smarter or more sophisticated, they would realize that God takes no special interest in baseball games.”4
Dickey underestimated the depth of their faith. Most ballplayers know that God isn’t rooting for one team over another. They also know that he doesn’t promise them success in every at bat or every pitch. But knowing that God loves them regardless of their performance frees them up to relax and play their best.
As Brandon Belt explained:
I’ve had tons of highs and lows. I’ve been up and down [between the Major Leagues and the minors]. I kind of turned the corner at some point, and for me it was when I realized how much God loves me. We’re going to have failures in everything we do. I’m going to have failures on the field and God’s still going to love me.5
Belt said what really helped him was when he read somewhere that if he were the only person who ever lived on earth, God still would have sent Jesus to save him.
If that’s true for Brandon Belt, it’s true for you too. Have you received God’s gift of forgiveness of sins and eternal life, made possible through Jesus’s death on the cross? The Giants’ God Squad II would agree that that’s much better than any crown on earth, even a World Series trophy.
Here’s what we are handing out at the ballpark tonight:
- Glenn Dickey, “Time to Think About Next Year,” The San Francisco Chronicle, August 13, 1979.
- Gary Lavelle, personal meeting with the author, February 1, 1983.
- Mike Mandel, SF Giants: An Oral History (Santa Cruz, CA: Mike Mandel, publisher, 1979), pp. 242-243.
- Dickey, The San Francisco Chronicle, June 11, 1979.
- Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants Fellowship Day, September 3, 2012