Just another generic do-gooder on a Baltimore pro team

At this point, I have just about decided that the editors of The Baltimore Sun sports section have banned the use of the word “Christian” in stories about local and national athletes. Several times a year (for an imperfect survey, click here), the newspaper that lands in my front door prints a sports story that, from beginning to end, is full of religious themes, yet stops short of printing a few crucial facts.

Consider, for example, this profile of Jemile Weeks, who is competing for a second-base slot in the Baltimore Orioles line-up. This is very ordinary sports-page stuff, although it is pretty obvious what Weeks is from a rather unusual family (and I’m not talking about the fact that his big brother is the better known pro Rickie Weeks).

The X-factor in his family? The only word that leaps to mind is “ministry.” Note the hook at the end of the opening anecdote.

In early December, Jemile Weeks’ baseball career was thrown upside down. He was traded away from the only organization he had ever known, the Oakland Athletics, and sent to the Orioles for one of the franchise’s most popular players, closer Jim Johnson, in what was immediately deemed a salary dump.

Although the 27-year-old second baseman viewed it as a new opportunity, the external pressure was once again descending on Weeks, a 2008 first-rounder who grew up playing in, and around, the shadow of his All-Star big brother, Rickie.

But Weeks didn’t have time to get caught up in the hoopla; he was too busy trying to figure out how to feed 1,000 people and how he could borrow a bounce house or two.

Feeding the 1,000? What is that all about? As it turns out, the event is linked to a charity near his old stomping grounds in Orlanda, Fla.

Spot the key word in this summary of the roots of this project:

A month before the deal, his offseason schedule got particularly complicated when he announced at a periodic family meeting — yes, two pro ballplayers and a community-relations professional sister still have occasional family meetings with their parents — that he wanted to host a community event for charity near where he grew up in Orlando, Fla. Never mind that Weeks had never attempted such an event or that Christmas was a month away. That was what he wanted to do. And so it was going to happen.

“With my own hands, I reached out to people I know and my sister did, along with my mom’s church,” Weeks said. “I just phoned friends. I got the bounce houses and the food, pizzas and ice cream, and asked for live performances from people I knew.”

Simple as that.

Now what, precisely, does the phrase “my mom’s church” mean? Also, what does it mean — a few lines later — when the story notes that the event featured the work of an “inspirational rapper”?

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About those steroid whispers and slugger Chris Davis

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If you have been following major-league baseball this year, then you probably know a little bit about Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis, the guy with 37 home runs at the All-Star Game break. If you wish, you can check him out tonight in the All-Star Home Run Derby (while pondering the question of whether Texas Ranger fanatic Bobby Ross Jr., will cheer for Davis or against him).

Now, here are a few basic facts that are highly relevant to the Twitter trouble that surrounds “Crush” Davis.

Davis is 6-foot-3-inches tall and weighs about 230 pounds. Those numbers have been roughly the same during his years in the minor and major leagues and, throughout that time, he has been known as a guy who could hit the ball about 450 feet without working up a sweat, while striking out at an even more rapid clip. He has always been a high contact-to-damage-ratio guy.

There are reports that Davis came into camp this year 10 to 15 pounds lighter and it certainly appears that he has improved his speed on the base paths, as well as his ability to hit baseballs that are pitched down and away. He has, as a left-handed hitter, developed quite a knack for hitting opposite-field golf shots (as opposed to monster blasts) into the first few rows in the stands. He is no longer trying to tear the cover off the ball during each and every at bat. His strike outs are way down and he’s batting .315.

What does this have to do with religion?

Actually, these are the kinds of numbers that matter when a slugger is being accused of using steroids. It is rare, you see, for people to lose weight and gain speed while using steroids that allow them to hit moon shots.

The religion angle — tune in any Baltimore talk-radio station or hit Twitter — is that @ChrisDavis_19 is a Christian who, especially since he got married a year or so ago, has become quite outspoken about his faith and even the possibility that he could end up working in some form of ministry.

Religion and steroid chatter? That’s a volatile mix.

As a Baltimore guy who closely follows the Orioles, I find it interesting that the religion angle of this story is EVERYWHERE when it’s addressed by the public, yet the key news story addressing this topic in The Baltimore Sun did not include any references to faith. Is Davis lying? Is his faith a sham? If one assumes that he is using PEDs, and some people do, then this would also mean that this born-again slugger is a hypocrite or worse.

It’s impossible to separate these issues. Right? However, The Sun team managed to completely skip the religion angle. Here’s the opening of that story:

Orioles first baseman Chris Davis understands that there are going to be whispers, and that those will grow louder if he continues his torrid home run pace.

He is, after all, a muscle-rippling power hitter with video-game home run totals. He knows the steroid accusations are inevitable and will accompany his pursuit of home run records this season.

“I think it sucks that guys in our day and age have to answer for mistakes that guys have made in the past. But it is part of it,” said Davis, who has 33 home runs in his first 92 games for the Orioles this season. “That’s what happened when Major League Baseball started addressing the issue. We knew we were going to have to deal with it.”

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Faith, family, fastballs: Dale Murphy’s Hall of Fame bid

He’s a man of character with old-fashioned values. He’s adored by his wife and eight — count ‘em, eight — children. He’s an all-around nice guy beloved by baseball fans.

That’s the picture of Dale Murphy painted by a relatively in-depth ESPN.com story on the retired Atlanta Braves star, who is making headlines as he appears on the sport’s Hall of Fame ballot for the final time.

Murphy’s “character” comes into play at the very top of ESPN’s 1,700-word feature:

There was a time, as recently as five years ago, when Dale Murphy grudgingly accepted his meager Hall of Fame support without protest or complaint. The voters had overwhelmingly decided that Murphy, while a terrific player at his peak, faded too quickly to merit a place in the baseball shrine. And Murphy, true to character, smiled and conceded that the electorate might be justified in its skepticism.

But 15 years in Cooperstown’s waiting room have a way of changing a man’s perspective. Murphy, who is making his final appearance on the ballot this year, has gradually warmed to the “Big Hall” school of thinking. With all due respect — and an acknowledgement that it’s a bit “self-serving” to promote his own cause — he thinks there’s room for a plaque with Dale Murphy’s name in the museum on Main Street.

“If you’re going to take the smaller Hall of Fame approach, it gets pretty exclusive. For the overall good of the game, and the marketing of the game and where it’s headed, I think it’s OK to expand this thing. I would love to see guys like Alan Trammell, Jack Morris, Lou Whitaker and Gil Hodges in the Hall of Fame. I don’t think it hurts the standards of the Hall of Fame. I think it enhances it.”

Next, readers learn about an improbable campaign to persuade baseball writers to support Murphy’s candidacy:

The chance of Murphy improving from 14.5 percent to the requisite 75 percent plurality six days from now are roughly equivalent to the Houston Astros winning the American League West in 2013. But long odds can’t stop the people most profoundly affected by Murphy from stating his case until the last vote is tabulated.

And no, we’re not talking about former teammates, Atlanta Braves fans or Bob Knepper, who got dinged for a 1.358 OPS and eight home runs in his career by The Murph.

Over the past month, baseball writers with a Hall ballot and an open mind have had a little something extra to ponder thanks to a smorgasbord of Tweets, blog posts and other testimonials from Dale and Nancy Murphy’s eight children, who range in age from 19 to 32 and talk about their dad in a way that seems downright old-fashioned. If the Waltons had access to wireless technology on the foot of that mountain during the Great Depression, this is how they might communicate their love for their father with the world.

At this point, I began to wonder if ESPN would address the elephant in the room — the holy ghost — related to Murphy? His Mormon faith, after all, plays a crucial role in his life.

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