Why the Local Church Needs College Students

In my last post I talked about the need for college students to invest their lives in a local church because the church needs all of its members, the church is a God-ordained institution, and the church exposes students to people of all ages. In this post, I want to look at the relationship between college students and the local church from the opposite direction. Why does the local church need college students?

Last week as part of our Welcome Week activities on campus, our fantastic student engagement team hosted an event that included dozens of churches from the surrounding area. Each one of these churches was interested in recruiting students to plug into their various ministries. They offered Bible studies, college ministries, and even potential jobs as ways for these students to invest in the local body of believers. From my interaction with these churches last week, I believe they see the value in having college students as part of their congregations.

Incorporating college students into the life of the church, however, comes with some inherent challenges. First, students do not typically stay long. No matter how much we joke about the time it might take for a student to graduate these days, the reality is that somewhere between 2 and 6 years will be the average stay of a college student at your church. Certainly some will find jobs in the area after graduation and stay indefinitely, but most will move on to another location after college. Second, most college students are not strong financial supporters of the church. This is primarily driven by their stage of life and access to financial resources. For the most part, whatever money they do have is tied up in tuition and living expenses with little to give to the local church.

Despite these challenges, there are good reasons for churches to actively embrace college students even for the brief period of time they will be around. Let’s look at three of these reasons.

  1. Time and energy. College students have seemingly boundless energy for all sorts of activities. They want to get involved in something that makes a lasting difference, so why not utilize them in the various ministries of the local church. Yes, their time is precious, just like anyone else’s; however, when utilized well, college students can direct their time and energy to the work of ministry and advancing the Kingdom of God. In the last couple weeks of having students back on campus, I’ve met numerous students who spent their summers serving churches and various ministries. Many of these are majoring in subjects beyond the traditional scope of ministry-minded students. This opportunity for undistracted devotion to the work of the Lord is similar to Paul’s instructions to the young, unmarried individuals in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 7:32-35
  2. Passion. A common theme among college students is a great passion for things that are meaningful to them. They take on projects and pursuits with exuberance and work diligently to see them through to completion. As we age, we often get sidetracked by increasing responsibility and the concerns of life that weigh us down. This is where college students can be a great blessing to the local church. First, they can utilize their passion for the things of God to accomplish much in the life of the congregation. Second, they can be a great encouragement for some of us who find our passion and excitement waning to pursue the work of the Lord with renewed vigor. This youthful passion should not be discouraged. Instead, let us encourage it just as Paul did with Timothy when he wrote, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but ratherin speech, conduct, love, faith andpurity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:12).
  3. Opportunity to mentor. One of my favorite experiences through the years has been going back to a former church and having the pastor remind the congregation that I am an extension of their ministry. Their investment in my life was invaluable to me, but they also see it as essential to their ongoing ministry. This is how we should view college students. Although they may only be with us for a season, churches can mentor them and reap the benefits of expanded ministry as they go out to serve around the world. Older church members can invest in the lives of these younger college students and help them grow in their walk with Christ. When they leave a few years later, they will take those lessons wherever they go.

I am thankful that the churches around my college saw value in students years ago when I was new to campus. I am also grateful to see those same churches and many others seek to invest in this current generation of college students.

Why College Students Need a Local Church

I recently arrived back on my old college campus. No, I’m not starting a new degree. I’m back here for a new job. In some respects, it has been a reunion because there are many faculty, staff, and administrators still here 19 years after I graduated. But I experienced another reunion that I wasn’t fully expecting on our first Sunday in town. This reunion was with people at the local church I faithfully attended while I was a student.

On our first Sunday visiting a church, we ran into some old college classmates who had planted their lives in town. We went to the service and acted like typical visitors—sitting near the back in relative anonymity. Midway through the service I realized that the couple sitting in front of us had volunteered in the college ministry 20+ years ago. I whispered to my wife that I knew who they were. At the end of the service, I set out to introduce myself to them and started by saying they probably didn’t remember me. They interrupted me before I even got started and called me by name and asked how I had been after all these years. They wanted to meet my family and proceeded to introduce us to others as their longtime friends. We then ran into several other people who had been members of the church dating back to my days in college.

I had never really thought about this type of reunion as we were preparing to return to Mississippi. We planned to visit the church, and I knew in the back of my mind that we would encounter old friends, but I was surprised by the magnitude of this reunion. All but one member of the staff had come since I had attended the church, and I knew the church had grown quite a bit in those years, but in many ways it was still the same church.

This reunion reminded me of why it is so valuable for college students to be a part of a local congregation. Just this past weekend students moved back to our campus, and churches hosted breakfasts and lunches on Sunday attempting to persuade students to join with them during their college years. But why join a church (or at least invest your life in a single church) for these brief years of college? Why not just hop from church to church based on which one is offering a free meal that week? Why not just jump to whichever church is the first to find the next big trend?

Here are a few reasons why college students need a local church:

  1. The church is a body, and it needs all its parts. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul uses the analogy of a body to describe the church. Every member of the church has certain spiritual gifts, and each member has a specific role to play in the body. We cannot all be the head, eyes, hands, or ears. We need legs, feet, knees, and toes as well. In fact, Paul makes the argument that the “less presentable” members of the body are just as important as the “more presentable” members. College students have specific spiritual gifts that the local church needs, and the church has members with spiritual gifts that can edify, train, and mature college students. This is a two-way street. You will never see a toe running down the street on its own. In the same way, new students shouldn’t try to navigate the Christian life without the rest of the body.
  2. The church is a God-ordained institution. Sometimes I will hear people say that they can worship God from their dorm room or on the intramural field or out in nature. This is true—we can worship God anywhere—but God has commanded us to be faithful to gather with an assembled body of believers, which is the church. Solo Christianity is not a new thing. People were trying to live this way during New Testament days. This is why the author of Hebrews exhorted his readers to “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). Assembling together in the God-ordained institution of the church is part of God’s plan for growing our faith.
  3. The church exposes you to people of all ages. For many students, the college years are time surrounded by people of virtually the same age, particularly if you live on campus. That’s part of the draw of college for many people. And this time in college may provide numerous opportunities for Bible studies, accountability, and spiritual growth among your peers. However, one of these days you will graduate, and you will no longer be a part of that campus. Imagine coming to campus every week for a club or ministry event and introducing yourself to the new group of students saying, “Yeah, I graduated 12 years ago, but I just like to come back and hang out with these people.” At some point the campus leaders will probably ask you to move along because you aren’t in the right stage of life. That isn’t the way God designed the church. In the church, we expect a multi-generational gathering of believers where we can encourage and challenge one another to grow. I discovered just a few weeks ago that the church I attended as an 18-21 year old is happy to have me and my family plug right back in now that I’m in my 40’s. And it’s easier to do so because I was part of this multi-generational family even while I was in college. This is exactly how God intended it.

For new and returning students everywhere, but especially on my campus, let me encourage you to find a local church where you can invest your life. You won’t regret it.

Personal Update

It’s been a few months since anything new has appeared on this site, so I wanted to offer a personal update on what has been happening. Over the summer, we transitioned from SWBTS to Mississippi College where I took a new role as Director of Church and Minister Relations. This is an exciting time for us to “get back to our roots” at MC. Melanie and I met here, earned our undergraduate degrees, and married in the historic Provine Chapel on campus. We are excited about this new adventure.

For the official story about my new job, check out the link below:

Even though my new job does not include teaching ethics, I plan to get back into a rhythm of writing ethics articles. I hope to pick back up with my Ethics and Baseball series soon.

Baseball and Ethics: Being the Best

187px-mike_trout_2018This is the fourth inning in my Baseball and Ethics series. Previous innings are available at the following links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Who’s the GOAT? Who is the greatest of all time in baseball? At this point, you might as well call out to the stadium popcorn hawker, fork over $7 (don’t forget to tip), and watch the fireworks as people fight over who is the best player. This fight might even be better than that time Nolan Ryan pummeled Robin Ventura.

Surely the question of defining who is the baseball GOAT is worthy of consideration. Some of the names that must be included are Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, and Ted Williams. From a more contemporary perspective, names such as Ken Griffey Jr., Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, and Barry Bonds* enter the conversation. To throw in some pitchers, we need to think about Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez.

Why do people like to argue over who is the greatest of all time? First, baseball admittedly has some down time, and we need something to do while watching a game. This is why every square inch of the stadium video screens is covered in statistical information. I never knew how much useless baseball trivia I could store in my brain until I started attending live MLB games regularly. I even used that useless trivia to be the only 2-time winner of the Rangers’ ToppsQ Trivia stadium game last season, including winning the inaugural contest.

Second, people argue over the baseball GOAT because people like to argue. It’s a simple fact. We need something to argue about and we will find almost anything that fits the bill. If you don’t believe me, just look to our elected officials in Washington.

Third, people argue over the greatest because we aren’t entirely certain what makes someone the greatest. Baseball—both past and present—is full of spectacular athletes who have excelled at levels far beyond normal human limits. I laugh when I hear people say they could play the game better than a certain player on the field. The reality is that if they actually could, they would be on the field. Even guys like Bartolo Colon, who looked like he should have been eating his own bucket of popcorn in the stands, are able to perform on the field in ways that the average human cannot.

So that leaves us with the question of what qualities make a player the greatest. Honestly, we can’t really quantify them even though some guy in a sabermetrics lab with sets of data like ERA, WHIP, WAR, BA, OBP, OPS will tell us that he can. At the end of the day, the greatest players simply embody greatness. They are the best.

Looking at the GOAT question from an ethics perspective, we are led to consider virtue ethics. Virtue ethics is a theory that focuses on what it means to be good rather than to do good. Certainly a person who is good will do good, but that is not the focus of this theory. Virtue ethics points us to character traits that embody goodness. As Steve Wilkens writes, “Character ethicists are more concerned with virtue than with virtues. The Greek term areté, usually translated as ‘virtue,’ means something like ‘excellence.’ While we may be able to isolate particular areas of intellectual and moral excellence in a person, the ideal is that they reside in individuals as a package.”[1]

183px-sanzio_01_plato_aristotleDebates about the GOAT don’t just happen in sports; we have a similar debate in ethics. When it comes to virtue ethics, there are significant players who battle for the title of greatest virtue ethicist. The two titans are Plato and Aristotle. While we might consider the GOAT in sports to be a once-in-a-generation player, Plato and Aristotle were alive at the same time. Admittedly, Aristotle was Plato’s student, but in the realm of virtue ethics, it is likely that the student surpassed the teacher.

Plato identified four cardinal virtues—temperance, courage, prudence, and justice. Aristotle defined a way to identify these virtues in contrast to their corresponding vices. We call Aristotle’s approach the Golden Mean. In essence, Aristotle taught that the virtue was found in the middle ground between two extremes, which are vices. For example, courage is the virtue between cowardice and foolhardiness. For Plato and Aristotle, the best person is the one who embodies these virtues. We can call him the ultimate 4-tool player.

This Golden Mean set the stage for other later thinkers, such as Thomas Aquinas, to build on this system. In fact, borrowing from the work of Aristotle and Augustine, Aquinas developed a 7-tool virtue player. In addition to the four cardinal virtues, Aquinas identified the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. In keeping with Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 13, the greatest of these is love.

Back to baseball, virtue ethics is probably best illustrated by the rare 5-tool player—speed, power, hitting for average, fielding, and arm strength. There are few players in the history of the game that can be called 5-tool players. In fact, even the best players may be downgraded in one category to question whether or not they truly fit. In my lifetime, the two players who perhaps most clearly reflect these tools are Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Trout.

Griffey had it all. He was elite at the plate and in the outfield. He was a 13-time All-Star in his 22-year career. He won 10 Gold Gloves and 7 Silver Sluggers. He has a career 83.8 WAR (Wins Above Replacement).[2] No one who watched “The Kid” play doubted he was the best all-around player of his day.

Trout is the contemporary version of Griffey. He is also a centerfielder with elite speed and fielding ability. He is one of the most feared batters today. If there is a knock against Trout, it is his arm strength, but opposing teams still don’t test him often. Trout has a career WAR of 66.1, but he is still adding to that number. Currently in his eighth full season, Trout has amassed 7 All-Star appearances, Rookie of the Year (2012), 6 Silver Sluggers, and has finished first or second in league MVP voting six times.[3]

Griffey and Trout are just good. The stats demonstrate the fact that they can do it all. But watching them play brings further understanding to just how good they actually are. It’s like virtue ethics. We can talk about what it means to be good, but when we see it in person, we know what it looks like.

An asterisk was added to Barry Bonds’* name when listed among the all-time greats because his name should always have an asterisk.

Image credits to Wikimedia Commons.

[1] Steve Wilkens, Beyond Bumper Sticker Ethics, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2011), 130-131.

[2] https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/g/griffke02.shtml.

[3] https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/t/troutmi01.shtml.

Baseball and Ethics: The Natural Way

160px-ron_washington_and_joe_west_28347455274329This is the third installment in my Baseball and Ethics series. Previous installments are available at the following links: Part 1, Part 2.

We are a full week into the season, and baseball has taken over my life. Each evening I watch my favorite team—the Texas Rangers—slug it out with their opponents. Surprisingly, they have taken both of their opening series from teams who were expected to dominate them—the Chicago Cubs and the Houston Astros. I relish the fact that the Rangers are in second place in the American League West while the dis-Astros, odds-on favorites to win the division (and the World Series), find themselves in fourth place. Yes, the season is early, and the game will straighten out the standings as it always does. But for now, I will enjoy the early season returns.

Several years ago, the Texas Rangers had one of the most colorful managers in the Majors. His name was Ron Washington. “Wash,” as he was known around these parts, is a master of the infield, elevating the play of young infielders to All-Star levels. As a manager, Wash was known for his exuberance in the dugout and his head-scratching explanations for the way baseball is played. One of his most endearing phrases that he rolled out to describe the everyday oddities of the game is “That’s the way baseball go.” When asked what that phrase means, Washington described it this way:

It means that the game never changes. There are certain things in baseball that will always happen and if you’ve seen it one time, you will see it again. Always remember that.[1]

Washington’s homespun logic relates to the idea that baseball plays itself out naturally. Even though you think what has just happened is unusual, you have to remember that it is part of the game. You can play the game a thousand times before something unusual happens. But when it does, you have to remember that the unusual is part of the usual. It’s a natural part of the game. “That’s the way baseball go” inspired many people to roll with the punches and see life through a different lens. Washington’s memorable phrase even inspired an update to Merle Haggard’s Grammy Award-winning hit, “That’s the Way Love Goes.”

Speaking of the natural part of the game, today’s ethical theory under consideration is natural law. Natural law can be a confusing theory, just like some of the calls made by umpire Joe West. Steve Wilkens offers a helpful explanation of the theory as he writes, “Natural, in this case, refers to how things ought to be, not how they are. When something functions the way it was designed to work, it functions naturally. . . . The ‘law’ part of natural law ethics tells us that there is consistency in the way the world ought to work.”[2]

le_triomphe_de_saint-thomas_d27aquinThomas Aquinas is the Great Bambino of natural law theory—both in influence and girth. Aquinas was perhaps the greatest theologian of the Middle Ages and one of the two or three greatest theologians of all time. In fact, one could make the case that he was the greatest mind of his day. Aquinas used natural law theory to explain many aspects of the universe from morality to everyday relationships. Specifically, Aquinas believed that we could discern moral truth embedded in the natural law through reason. He states, “It is that all those things to which a man has a natural inclination, are naturally apprehended by reason as being good, and consequently as objects of pursuit, and their contraries as evil, and objects of avoidance.”[3]

From Aquinas’ perspective, our reason is sufficient to determine what we ought to do and who we ought to be because God created us in a certain way. Aquinas does not believe that nature is the ultimate source of our morals because morality is rooted in God. However, God has written his moral law into creation, and we can discover it there.

The epitome of natural law from Aquinas’ viewpoint is to become like God and be united with him. He recognizes that such will not happen in this life due to sin, but he longs for the “beatific vision” of union with Christ in eternity. This is the purpose of natural law—to point us to our Creator. That is the summum bonum (the greatest good). It’s like a walk-off grand slam with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series.

Circling back to baseball, I see the natural law argument applying most directly to the infamous Designated Hitter (DH) debate. After you give your eyes a chance to roll back into place, let me tease this out. The anti-DH folks make the case that the game is supposed to be played by the nine guys on the field. To have a guy come off the bench only to hit for the pitcher is a violation of the purity of baseball. It’s only natural for the pitcher to be required to hit. If he isn’t any good, that’s the fault of the player, not the game.

On the other side of the debate, the pro-DH proponents (also known as fans of the American League) argue that the most natural thing to do is to allow pitchers to pitch and hitters to hit. Who wants a guy up at the plate who doesn’t know which end of the bat to hold? Bring in the DH to make sense of the different elements of the game.

Both sides appeal to natural law to make their case. Of course they can’t both be right, and that shows one of the weaknesses of natural law. Both sides employ reason to make a rational case for their side. Then we are left with the struggle to figure out who is right. This is why the DH debate will never be solved. Both sides have an element of reason on their side. If only the Angelic Doctor were still alive to navigate this debate for us. Despite the fact that he has been enjoying the beatific vision for more than 7 centuries, we might be able to glean a clue from his own life about where Aquinas would stand on the DH debate. He had many nicknames, just like some of the greatest baseball players in history. His most famous one is the “Dumb Ox” because of his size. He was a notoriously large man. If he were alive today and playing baseball, maybe we would call him “Big Papi.” Case closed.

Aquinas-Ortiz

*Image credits to Wikimedia Commons.

[1] Evan Grant, “Ron Washington: OK with viral use of ‘That’s the way baseball go,’” Sportsday, The Dallas Morning News, October 26, 2010.

[2] Steve Wilkens, Beyond Bumper Sticker Ethics, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove: IVP, 2011), 178-179.

[3] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (Notre Dame: Christian Classics, 1981), I-II.94.2.

Baseball and Ethics: The Rule Follower

320px-trevor_bauer_283414824615329This is the second installment in my Baseball and Ethics series. Part 1 is available here.

The baseball season will likely present us with countless controversies about blown calls, rule changes, cheating, and performance-enhancing drugs. But before we jump into the coming controversies of the new season that starts this week, I want to revisit a couple past controversies and apply them to the theory of ethics called deontological ethics.

Rules are at the heart of America’s pastime. There are many times over the course of a season that I see a play happen and wonder which rule applies. Some of the most misunderstood baseball rules include the infield fly, interference by a runner or batter, obstruction, and the balk. I even wonder sometimes whether umpires fully understand the rules.

One of the strangest plays where almost no one on the field understood the applicable rule came in Game 5 of the 2015 American League Divisional Series between the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays. Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin hit the hand of the Rangers’ batter Shin Soo Choo as he was throwing the ball back to the pitcher. The ball rolled down the third base line while baserunner Rougned Odor raced home to score. It took nearly 12 minutes to sort out the rule with the umpires, both managers, a video review, and an official protest by the Blue Jays. The rule that applied in this situation is 6.03(a)(3).[1] Watch the video.

 

 

When we talk about rules and ethical theory, the perennial champion is deontological ethics. This theory might as well be the Yankees, and its most famous proponent—Immanuel Kant—is Babe Ruth. Kant’s deontological system of ethics speaks to rule-followers everywhere. Rules, duties, and obligations are virtually synonymous with this theory just like bubble gum and sunflower seeds are with baseball.

Kant’s system centers around what he calls the categorical imperative. A categorical imperative is a command that has no exceptions. It is absolute in its application.[2] While there are three main variations of the imperative, I want to focus on the first. Kant describes the first version of the categorical imperative this way:

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.

192px-immanuel_kant_28portrait29
Immanuel Kant

This is what Kant means. The only rules that should be implemented are those that we would want to be universal. For example, you may want a rule that allows you to lie when the circumstances would benefit you. But in order to implement that rule, you must make it universal as well, giving everyone else the right to lie to benefit themselves. Thus, chaos could ensue and many people could be harmed by the rule. Therefore, such a rule is not in keeping with the categorical imperative. By contrast, making a rule that requires truth-telling would fit the categorical imperative. While there may be times that telling the truth is difficult, it maintains order in society as a universal rule. From a baseball perspective, the categorical imperative is like the basic rules of baseball that extend from Little League to Major League. They are the essence of the game.

When taken to its logical end, Kantian deontology would not have a long list of universal rules, but those that exist would be absolute duties. Everyone is bound by those duties in deontology, and to violate a duty would damage the stability of society. Think of it as having nine players in the field, running the bases in a counter-clockwise direction, and needing three outs to move to the next half of the inning.

How exactly does deontology connect with baseball? Besides the fact that baseball has tons of rules that function as a list of duties that must be performed, I think a recent controversy best illustrates the categorical imperative. In May of last season, Trevor Bauer, a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, made headlines by accusing several pitchers for the Houston Astros of using a foreign substance to increase the spin rate of their pitches.

 

Before getting lost in the right field corner on this one, I need to make a couple things clear. First, I carry a great disdain for the dis-Astros. I’m a Texas Rangers fan, so I am inclined to believe everything that Bauer says and more about the team from south Texas. Second, spin rate is a complicated subject. But to put it simply, the higher the spin rate on a pitch, the more movement it will have, and the harder it is to hit. Basically, Bauer was accusing the Astros pitchers of using pine tar to create higher spin rates and improve their pitching performance. Part of this controversy also stems from the fact that Bauer was prohibited from using a non-sticky medical grade glue to cover the stitches on his finger in a playoff game the year before. Bauer wanted the MLB to enforce a consistent universal rule.

And here we have the connection to Kantian deontology. Bauer (who has a pretty cool Twitter handle by the way—@BauerOutage) was making a case for a categorical imperative. He wanted a maxim that would be universally applied across the game. The Indians pitcher might not be baseball’s next great philosopher and ethicist, but he was certainly invoking the ideas of Hall of Famer Immanuel Kant to make his point.

*Image credits to Wikimedia Commons.

[1] http://mlb.mlb.com/documents/0/8/0/268272080/2018_Official_Baseball_Rules.pdf.

[2] Steve Wilkens, Beyond Bumper Sticker Ethics, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2011), 117.

Baseball and Ethics: The Utilitarian Player

247px-ben_zobrist_in_2017_28cropped29

The most wonderful time of the year is almost upon us. No, it’s not Christmas. The Major League Baseball season starts in less than two weeks. For the next six months I will spend most of my evenings watching all or part of a baseball game. It’s the national pastime. It is what life is supposed to be like.

This spring I want to engage in something a little different. Over dinner last night a friend inspired me to think about my academic discipline of ethics in terms of baseball players and ideas. I teach ethics for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and I am specifically teaching a seminar right now that deals with ethical theory. I am always looking for a new way to illustrate these theories so students can better understand them. This time around, I’ll try it with baseball. So here is the beginning of my series on Baseball and Ethics.

jeremy_bentham_by_henry_william_pickersgill_detail
Jeremy Bentham

Utilitarianism is perhaps the most commonly employed ethical system around us. You could call it the ultimate utility player. Here is utilitarianism in a nutshell (roasted peanuts, of course, since we’re going with a baseball theme). Utilitarianism bases the morality of an action or set of actions on the principle of utility—the greatest good for the greatest number. Jeremy Bentham, the starting pitcher of utilitarianism, states, “By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency which it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question.”[1] Bentham goes on to offer further definition of utility as “that property in any object, whereby it tends to produce benefit, advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness.”[2] After Bentham pitched a number of exceptional innings for his ethical theory, John Stuart Mill came into the game in relief of the starter and posted good numbers with his classic pitch, Utilitarianism, first published between 1861 and 1863.

In essence, utilitarianism requires that the person making a moral choice participate in a form of calculus to determine the results of any action and then quantify the consequences on a scale of utility. The action that produces the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people is the most moral choice. Think of this moral math equation as a form of moral sabermetrics.[3] Once we know how one choice stacks up statistically against the other, we can make an informed decision and anticipate a certain set of results.

So how does utilitarianism connect to baseball? I like to think of utilitarianism as the ultimate utility player. This is the player that can maximize good for the greatest number on the field. He may not be a slugger or a Gold Glove winner, but he makes things happen for the team, and every team wants a guy just like him. Let me give a couple of examples. Ben Zobrist is currently just that guy. He’s listed as the top second baseman for the Cubs right now, but he’s played second base, short stop, and various outfield positions. He’s won two World Series championships (2015 with the Royals and 2016 with the Cubs), and he won the World Series MVP in 2016. He’s even a switch hitter. You just figure something good is going to happen when Zobrist is in the game.

800px-joseoquendocards2013Another example from my childhood is José Oquendo. He played most of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals. In 1988, he played all nine positions on the field.[4] Oquendo played 12 seasons in the majors and then went on to serve as a coach in the Cardinals system for another 21 years. Despite his lifetime .256 batting average, he continued to play for the Cardinals. You don’t stay in the big leagues for 12 years if you can’t play. His versatility and ability to make good things happen earned him the nickname “Secret Weapon” from his manager Whitey Herzog.

Great utility players like Zobrist and Oquendo stay in demand because they bring good results for the team. They are not usually superstars, and they don’t play to pad their personal stats. They generate the greatest good for the entire team. They are the ultimate utilitarians.

*Image credits to Wikimedia Commons and Wikipedia.

[1] Jeremy Bentham, Principles of Morals and Legislation, in The Classical Utilitarians: Bentham and Mill, ed. John Troyer (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2003), 9.

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://sabr.org/sabermetrics

[4] https://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Jos%C3%A9_Oquendo