You don't often pick up a book about baseball and learn powerful lessons about faith and forgiveness. But then, Utah's own Vernon Law was not your average major league player.
When author John Moody first approached Law about writing a book about his life, and especially his part in the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates' World Series championship, Law was a little confused. "He asked, 'Has anyone written a book about you?' " Law told me last week. "I said, 'Why would anyone want to do that?' "
Why, indeed. Read a few pages into "Kiss It Good-bye: The Mystery, the Mormon, and the Moral of the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates," and you'll understand.
If you're a fan of the game, you already know the story of that World Series a half-century ago. You know how the Yankees were the glamour team, and how Pittsburgh second baseman Bill Mazeroski shocked them with a game-winning home run in the bottom on the ninth inning of the seventh and final game. You have enduring images in your mind of the film showing him waving his hat as he crosses home plate and disappears into a mob. You may even know that a few hundred Pittsburgh residents still gather at the site each year on Oct. 13 to listen to a tape of the radio broadcast and celebrate all over, again and again.
But you probably don't know what happened to Law, the Pirates' best pitcher. You probably don't know how he had struggled days earlier against drunken teammates who, celebrating their upcoming trip to the World Series, had ripped each other's ties, shirts and undershirts off and were trying to get at Law. As a devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Law had been through the temple, and he did not want anyone ripping his temple garments.
He warned his teammates, but they kept coming. Finally, in the struggle, he felt his ankle pop. It was an injury that, in the long run, ended his career. He overcompensated for it with his pitching motion and hurt his shoulder. In the short term, it led manager Danny Murtaugh to lift him early in that seventh game, even though Pittsburgh had the lead. That allowed the Yankees to come back, and it set the stage for Mazeroski's home run. Mazeroski made it to the Hall of Fame in large part because of that feat. Law, whose career was trending toward greatness, never made the Hall. His shortened career cost him money, as well.
But there is no bitterness in the man. That becomes the focus of Moody's study, even as he finally reveals the mystery of who was mainly responsible for the injury.
Forgiveness is powerful medicine. It's a hard thing for those mired in bitterness to even contemplate, yet it seems such a small thing for those who embrace it.
"It's not hard for us to forgive," Law said, as if he doesn't understand the fuss. In the book, Moody lets him expand on that.
Just about everyone will encounter someone in life who wants to take advantage of them, hurt them or offend them, he said. "Now, what to do with these people? Should we forget and forgive, or do we try to get even, destroy their lives, or do we let the Lord judge these people and their actions?" Law uses the scriptures as his guide. "I really was blessed to just be able to play again the game I loved and to once again be able to compete. … For that blessing, I'll ever be grateful."
Moody told me he wants readers to understand that life wasn't necessarily simpler in the 1950s and '60s. Modern athletes can't use that excuse. "Americans in the '50 and '60s had challenges," he said. "A hard clear-eyed look at how they confronted those challenges is worth examining 50 years later."
He wrote the book because Law was his boyhood hero, and because the hero, in this case, lived up to the image. "My hope is that more boys and girls can find such heroes of their own."
It's a great read for anyone who relishes a crack of the bat in spring. It's also not a bad read for Easter.