Jesus at the Bat

In sports, there's a well-known phenomenon referred to as "the curse of Dr. Z." Every year, Dr. Z, Sports Illustrated's renowned football analyst, predicts which team is going to win the Super Bowl, and that team is then featured on the cover of the magazine. And every year, without fail, that team not only loses the Super Bowl, but its chartered plane crashes into a mountain, and everyone in the organization -- coaches, staff, players, everyone -- dies a horrible, fiery, agonizing death. We've all seen the photos. And still, Dr. Z persists. His lack of respect for human life is as appalling as it is cavalier.

And now, as our beloved Colorado Rockies have discovered, sports has a new curse to contend with: the curse of USA Today.

On May 31, the paper ran a piece speculating on how the Rockies had seemingly transformed themselves from losers into winners. It's ironic that USA Today decided to show the Rox such love now, since a few months ago, its preview of the baseball season profiled every one of the thirty major-league teams except Colorado's. Our bad, said the editors. Fuck you, said What's So Funny. Because What's So Funny has known since last season's All-Star Game that this young Rockies squad had something. They went on a tear the second half of last year, and anyone who couldn't see the burgeoning murderers' row of Helton, Holiday and Atkins, and possibility in pitchers like Francis and Jennings -- well, they just needed to have their weasel eyes examined. When the Rockies added some stability to the bullpen this off-season, it should have been clear to anyone that they had the formula to produce wins. But it took actually producing those wins and lingering around first place in the National League West for two straight months before people suddenly took note and started wondering how the organization could have turned itself around. Never mind good scouting, an excellent farm system, the smart acquisitions -- there had to be some other explanation. USA Today was happy to report that it had the answer. And the answer was Jesus.


Colorado Rockies

Or, as the French say, l'answer c'est le Jésus.

"Behind the scenes," the article informed us, "they have quietly become an organization guided by Christianity -- open to other religious beliefs but embracing a Christian-based code of conduct they believe will bring them focus and success."

Uh, come again?

"You look at things that have happened to us this year," General Manager Dan O'Dowd confessed to USA Today. "You look at some of the moves we made and didn't make. You look at some of the games we're winning. Those aren't just a coincidence. God has definitely had a hand in this."

Well, no wonder things are so fucked up in Darfur. How can God help those people when he's busy guiding the Rockies? Quit your bitching, world, we'll relinquish the Big Fella once we've clinched a playoff spot.

As it turns out, though, God decided to divert his attention elsewhere long before the post-season. Because the same day the Rockies publicly proclaimed that divine inspiration was guiding the team's transformation, God smote the Rock. Actually, God started smiting them the day before, because God sees all and knew of the article's impending publication. That day, the Rockies lost to San Diego 0-2. The next day they lost to the same squad 2-3. Then they lost to Florida 2-4 -- at home. The next day they lost to Florida 0-13. 0-13! Losing to the Florida Marlins by thirteen runs should almost count as a win, it's so difficult to do. But it didn't, and neither did the team's 3-4 loss to the Marlins the next day. And what happened next? The Rockies lost again, this time to the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates. A six-game losing streak that started as the article was on the press. Did God have a hand in that, Mr. O'Dowd?

No. Because here's what led to the six-game slump: an embarrassed baseball team. Baseball is a game of self-proclaimed knuckleheads and idiots -- fun-loving, mostly simple guys who booze and carouse and play jokes on each other and slap asses with towels in the locker room. Sure, probably every Iowa farm boy in the league is a good, God-fearing Christian, nothing wrong with that, but none of them boasts about it to the media, telling tales of God driving his winning season. It's too dour and serious. The high-nineties fastball is what drives the season -- the hot bats, the rally caps, the bad haircuts, knuckleballs and chew. The power of baseball lies in the fun, not the Bible.

After that USA Today piece came out, many of the players talked about how exaggerated it was, insisting that the Rockies are a bunch of ballplayers driven by character, not religion. Todd Helton went so far as to confess that he reads his copy of Maxim delivered to the clubhouse every month, particularly the articles about hunting and driving around on ATVs and having hot rookies fall off ATVs and end their season and then make lame excuses like falling down the stairs carrying groceries.

There are two things you don't discuss at the dinner table: religion and politics. And baseball, in all its glorious nostalgia, is America's dinner table. The Rockies made the mistake of mentioning God, and now they've suffered the USA Today curse. Fortunately, the Rox are still a great team that can bounce back, because the curse of USA Today is not as severe as the curse of Dr. Z. There are no horrific plane crashes in the team's future -- unless, of course, they hire back Denny Neagle as a pilot. That guy has a tendency to get distracted behind the wheel.


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