What Would Happen if a Major League Pitcher Drew an Atheist Symbol on the Mound Before a Game?

Michael Vines, a St. Louis Cardinals fan, recently noticed that there were Christian symbols on the mound when Adam Wainwright was pitching:

For what it’s worth, while that symbol near the bottom left looks like a Jesus Fish, it’s actually the number 6, in honor of Cardinals legend Stan Musial.

But there’s no doubt about that cross.

Vines doesn’t get why religious symbols of any kind should be allowed on the mound:

… [Vines] told us that his gripe is not with the fact that they are Christian images, but that he belives there shouldn’t be religious symbols of any kind on a baseball field.

“How come nobody’s mentioning this?” he says. “It’s totally inappropriate.”

Vines argues that there are “plenty of Major League Baseball players who don’t want that in their face…. There may be Christian Cardinals who don’t like it.”

Vines is Jewish but says he would not want a Star of David on the mound either.

Most commenters online don’t seem to care. Hell, they didn’t even notice it was there. Still, just think about what the reaction would be if a pitcher etched out the “Scarlet A” or the word “atheist” on the mound. What if it were a Muslim symbol? Would people be reacting the same way?

Shouldn’t there be some rules against overtly promoting religion at a game?

To play Devil’s Advocate, though, how is Wainwright’s mound cross any different from a player thanking God moments after hitting a home run?

David Brown at Big League Stew writes:

Good for [Vines], really, but the St. Louis Cardinals might be getting carried away with the “Saint” in St. Louis. (Hey, and maybe the “Cardinals” part, too, now that you mention it.) Religious references are not uncommon in a heavily Catholic city like St. Louis, but you won’t (or shouldn’t) find the cross on, say, the Arch. Of course, that’s public land. Busch Stadium might be privately owned, but it didn’t get built without tax breaks. Legally, as Vines points out, that gives the public “skin in the game.”

It’s not a surefire legal victory here since sports leagues are privately-owned, but why risk alienating non-Christian fans?

The NCAA rewrote the rulebook to prohibit religious messages after Tim Tebow referred to Bible verses on his eye black. Why can’t Major League Baseball do something similar here?

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Tainda

    It’s a baseball game, not a school. It’s also in dirt and no one can see it but those right by the mound, I’m sure. If someone doesn’t like it, all they have to do is kick their foot a few times around it.

    While I get very upset when schools and governments proselytize, this sort of thing doesn’t bother me at all.

  • flyb

    Some players also wear cross pendants around their necks and Barry Bonds used to wear cross earrings. And as tattoos become more “in” on the diamond, there may be players sporting religious imagery on their arms or necks. Many players do the sign of the cross before every pitch when they are batting.

    MLB moves very slowly with its rule changes, so even if they decided to ban the drawing of religious symbols in the dirt it wouldn’t be tomorrow. Also keep in mind that MLB players in general are very superstitious and might be ultra-resistant to anything that may change their routines, religious or otherwise. The MLB players’ association is a powerful group.

  • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

    “If someone doesn’t like it, all they have to do is kick their foot a few times around it.”

    Imagine the uproar if a pitcher were seen to kick dirt over the cross, though. Conservative Christians would scream in rage, I’m sure. Kicking dirt over the atheist A, on the other hand, would probably be applauded.

  • 7Footpiper

    I’m about as atheist as they come but I can’t help thinking that asking MLB to do something about this is just a bit too much. If we get “up in their grillz” about religious imagery all over the place we risk firing up the religious rights war machine more then it already is.

  • Deus Otiosus

    Not for nothing, but baseball players are notoriously superstitious. Are we really going to get our collective panties in a bunch because some dude drew something in the dirt?

  • Gus Snarp

    Meh. Who cares. He scratches a cross in the dirt on the mound before he pitches. There’s no government involvement here.

  • flyb

    Players wiping out other players’ dirt drawings has led to beanball wars in the past, so players mostly respect anything in the dirt created by another player.

  • Tainda

    So true!

    I would make it look like an accident. Ooops, my bad

  • Gus Snarp

    It occurs to me that this has probably been done by some players for years, maybe decades, but nobody noticed because they didn’t have giant hi-def televisions.

  • cryofly

    What is an atheist symbol? Is it a huge ‘A’?
    I thought we do not explain our lives by symbols and icons?

  • flyb

    I remember a game in the late 80′s or early 90′s, before hi-def, obviously, where the TV announcers noticed that the first basemen were playing tic-tac-toe. One player started the grid and marked his X. Then the player on the other team marked his O when he came out. And it went on from there. I don’t remember who won the game (of tic-tac-toe).

  • http://benny-cemoli.myopenid.com/ Benny Cemoli

    Busch Stadium might be privately owned, but it didn’t get built
    without tax breaks. Legally, as Vines points out, that gives the public
    “skin in the game.”

    Now that has to be the one of the funniest things that I have ever read in my life. I would love to see Vines try that argument in court just to see how fast a judge dismisses the case. Tax breaks don’t mean the public has any “skin in the game”.

    If you don’t believe me then ask your local church, synagogue or mosque for their opinion or any private company that receives tax breaks to build a business in a community for that matter.


  • Michael

    I think it was Mark Grace and Will Clark…

  • KeithCollyer

    storm in a teacup, nothing to see here, move along

  • James Jackson

    I think in our battle to win hearts and minds, or to at the very least coexist peacefully with theists, we have to draw the line somewhere. This is not a battle worth fighting.

  • Spark

    The circular logic here is strong. Yes, what would be the reaction if he drew an atheist symbol? I’m sure most of us think it would be one of consternation at a minimum. And why is that? Because the large majority of Christians (not even the just the militant ones) associate atheists as bad people – exactly because of shit like this being made into a big deal.

    Talk about shooting yourselves in the collective foot…

  • Greg G.

    Kudos to him for honoring Stan the Man! Who is the lowercase T for?

  • Tainda

    for two

  • compl3x

    I think the point is WHY would someone draw an atheist symbol? There is no superstition attached to atheist symbols that I am aware of. Hell, most atheists I know don’t like atheists symbols. (Ex. the scarlet A)

  • JET

    It’s about as important as my son refusing to wash his socks during a tournament. Harmless.

  • JKPS

    I care about this as much as I cared about the Tebow thing – which is to say, not at all. I have coworkers who display religious symbols and verses in their cubicles, and while it bothers me slightly, it doesn’t offend me and I wouldn’t want to see them take their decorations down.

    I don’t understand why a sports player acknowledging their religious beliefs, or lack thereof, should matter to me.

  • Gideon

    Consider the distinction between formal rules and informal customs. Unless the informal custom of “don’t distract everybody and draw attention to yourself” stops being enough, there doesn’t need to be a heavy-handed rule. It’s like no crying in baseball: the league doesn’t need to make a formal rule about it because that’s already the custom that the players follow.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Isn’t that a superstition in itself? :)

  • Charles Raymond Miller

    I can’t get excited over this at all. The reason being that if a MLB game (NBA, NFL, NHL either for that matter) takes place in a privately owned park it is legally permissible.

    Now here is the interesting part. It would be legally permissible to have an opening prayer or High Mass at the beginning of the game or even at half-time. But that is not being pushed at professional sporting events – It’s being promoted at public school events, including sports contests where it is not legal.

    Which raises the question, why are Christians so bent on defying the law? It seems they pass up so many opportunities where they have a perfect right to worship and pray.

  • Randay

    What happens to the opposing pitcher who might use his foot to scrape it out because it is obnoxious or to destablize his counterpart? Maybe even draw 666 on the mound to annoy him more.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Professional sports in the US is already nearly a religious exercise. Rising awareness, decreasing Christian privilege. Someone who finds it annoying will draw something else and more awareness will be raised.

  • Matt D

    I see people squatting in the dirt and drawing religious symbols as quite appropiate.

  • Blacksheep

    Why is “Vines” getting so many quotes here? He’s identified as a “St Louis Cardinals Fan” – but there are thousand of fans, all with presumably differing opinions on lots of things. It’s the player(s) who put the symbol there, the actual guy doing the pitching. Who cares if a Muslim player scribbles a crescent in the sand before pitching? (It would make no sense for an atheist to draw an “A” in the sand, what would be the point – other than to make a point?).

    besides, baseball players do all sorts of religious and superstitious things – why not be offended by all of them?

    This is not an example of the government making laws that put one religion above another.

  • Blacksheep

    That’s an excellent point.

  • eric

    Agree. I can’t see any reason to get upset about this…with one exception: if I were a Cards fan, I might be somewhat ticked off that the pitcher was worrying about drawing symbols in the dirt and saying prayers and stuff intead of worrying about pitching and batters.
    The thing to remember about folk like Tebow is that the problem (of overtly religious professional sports competitors) tends to fix itself: when your religion starts to interfere with your playing, you go away.

  • eric

    That kinda gives me an idea. Instead of brushing it out (which one of the earlier posters said was generally not done), just come out and draw an “S an” around it. Or if one is feeling mischevious, an “Sa an” around it. :)

  • eric

    The answer is pretty obvious: corporate owners have far less tolerance for shennanigans than civil service administrators, and proselytizers know it.

  • Conspirator

    Yes, what would the point be? If you are an atheist, what do you gain from drawing that symbol? This guy might think drawing that cross brings him luck on the mound, he might see it as asking for god’s blessing/protection while he’s pitching. It’s most likely a superstitious move by him, not proselytizing.

    Any atheist that believes the atheist symbol brings them luck or anything like that doesn’t really understand what it is to be an atheist.

  • Guest

    Apparently you haven’t been to a professional sports game in a while, or ever. Every professional football game I’ve ever been to has started with an Xian prayer. Most college ones as well. God Bless America is sung at many sporting events as well. You should get out more.

  • Bob Becker

    It’s an often noted fact that pitchers having control problems, who couldn’t find the plate with radar and a searchlight, sometimes become avid groundskeepers between errant pitches, smoothing dirt on the mound, moving a little pile of it from here to there, as if that was the problem, that’s the reason they just walked the nine batter on four pitches. Perhaps this pitcher was seeking divine assistance for his hanging curveball that just travelled downtown by drawing the cross.

  • Guest

    Surprised anyone took notice since this is baseball we’re talking about. If I were pitching and saw this on the mound, I’d use my cleats to scruff it out. See what they do then.

  • Guest

    Mine looks like the Chicago Blackhawks logo at the moment.

  • Guest

    It is the groundskeeper that does it, before every game. Not the pitcher.

  • Guest

    and where did you get that nugget of information? I’ve never heard or seen anything to corroborate that theory.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    This is a trivial act during a trivial pastime, and it trivializes the religion that becomes more trivial every day. If he wants to scribble his magic rune in the dirt, why should I give a rodent’s rump?

    Maybe it sets up a field of ectenic force that helps him control the ball after it leaves his hand. Uh huh. Keep on trivializing until your religion is indistinguishable from the background noise of public woo.

    If anything, there’s a potential for entertainment value here. Things like this sometimes escalate, building on themselves. Imagine the hilarity if eventually the dirt artist renders a drawing across the whole mound of Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling scene of God touching the finger of Adam.

  • Charles Raymond Miller

    We must not go to the same event’s “guest”. But the point remains, if it’s legally permissible those organizing the event can do as they wish. Now you you have an actual point to make?

  • WallofSleep

    Athletes and sports fans are known to be a superstitious lot. Many rituals and totems involved.

  • buttercup

    is there a symbol for atheism. if not, lets get going on that.

  • Hat Stealer

    Are we going to ban soccer players from crossing themselves too? This is hardly anything worth getting uppity about.

  • ShoeUnited

    I don’t think there should be. If some pitcher wants to waste 80 minutes recreating the sistine chapel on the mound that’s really their thing. It’s all superstition in a private organization. Now if the organization started handing out bibles and voting most pious player of the year we’d have something to be upset about, but I don’t think this quite makes that leap. Nothing more than some pitcher kissing a crucifix before throwing the ball.

    There are a lot of christians in this country and this small time stuff isn’t really worth the hassle. So they drew a few lines in the dirt, so what? As long as other people aren’t getting upset about other symbols I say they spend 2 nights making a collage in the sand with castles for all I give a crap about.

    Baseball’s boring anyway, but I didn’t care too much that Tim Tebow wore those silly numbers on his face tape or thanked jesus for every game. I don’t see the sports leagues exclusively endorsing any one religion, and the nutters are gonna nut. I say let them have their freedom of expression so long as the leagues don’t take up the banner and say “this is what we are” outright or implied.

    I’d put this even further down on “things we ought to fight” than “In God We Trust”.

  • Redflord

    There’s the scarlet A. Which just looks like an A if it’s not scarlet. Or not drawn in the same font. It’s not very good, really.

  • Guest

    Oh My god (remember that post) – he drew in the sand and you “freak out”!


  • Tjaart Blignaut

    Maybe as a form of protest, or a declaration that you are not superstitious.

  • Gus Snarp

    If I were a Cards fan, I’d want them to keep doing exactly what they’re doing since they’re on top of a very tough division. But since I hate the Cards, maybe this should be banned so everyone can get pissed off and stop playing well…

  • UWIR

    Of course, the symbol for Christianity looks like a lower case t.

  • DG

    What would happen? Probably not much of anything, since it’s not a government institution.

  • Matt Saito

    Vines is obviously a progressive jerk, who probably spends more time fighting against things he does not believe in than the things he does. Cards GM has ordered the stop of this now. Whats next? Players need to take the cross off their necks? No more sign of the cross before or after an at bat? Can’t thank God, during an interview? Get real.
    Dear Vines, Grow up.

  • cryofly

    I am sorry. But I am in the process of erasing the logo of MN Twins from my memory.