|O YOU REMEMBER how much a comic book mogul paid for Mark McGwire's 62nd home run ball? Do you recall how much Luis Gonzalez's discarded gum went for in an online auction? Do you have any idea how much retired athletes make signing thousands of autographs?|
I can't give you exact numbers without doing some research, and at the risk of being tabbed a lazy reporter, I'm not going to do that research. Don't have to, because I know how much money exchanged hands in the aforementioned transactions, and many others like it -- too much.
When I stop to think how much money man is willing to spend on autographs and memorabilia, it both amazes and saddens me. I don't have a particular problem with putting a few dollars down on something cool like an old Stan Musial card (Gonzo's gum, though, is wack). But there is a growing national obsession with sports mementos, especially milestone baseballs, which the steroid era has produced at an alarming rate. (Coming soon, No. 756! Oil up your gloves and grease up your lawyers!)
This obsession says, as much as anything, how deeply humans want something to worship. I've said it before, and so have a lot of other people: Every single person worships something. Deny that if you will, but it's an incontrovertible truth. Whatever you hold most dear -- your job, your children, your valuable baseball card collection, God -- is what your are worshipping. That is a very uncomfortable thought for me, because I'm well aware of how easily skewed my priorities can get.
When man isn't worshipping God, he's basically worshipping man. He's worshipping what man does, what he is, what he creates. Well, man can't actually create, because he's using Someone else's raw materials.
But man sees himself as the end of all things, the master of his world (what a laughable, easily dismissed notion). Man places high value in accomplishments, especially athletic ones it seems; it's what he lives for. That's why man finds the past so valuable, because the present is so fleeting, so impossible to apprehend (like a greased pig, if you will). If man doesn't have the past to hold on to, then he has nothing, because though he believes himself the controller of his own destiny -- there's an old coach's cliché -- he knows enough based on life's experiences that the future is anything but certain.
God is all about a certain future. The Old Testament points ahead toward the promised coming of Christ. The New Testament points ahead toward the promised coming of a new Heaven and new Earth. Our eternal future is secured by God's promise of salvation, and it allows us to let go of the fragility of worldly things. I think a tattered Bible is much more treasured than a shrink-wrapped autographed picture of Michael Jordan that sits on a shelf.
As I said, this whole subject is uncomfortable for me, and one of the Bible verses that makes me squirm most is Matthew 6:21: "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." That is, what you treasure most, you worship. It's either God or mammon.
Brad Locke (email@example.com) is a sports journalist in Tupelo, Mississippi.
More columns by Brad Locke