Monday, February 4, 2008


Should a Clubhouse Be a Chapel? (NYT)
The highlight of Josh Miller’s eight-year minor league umpiring career came last June, when he was the plate umpire in Roger Clemens’s final warm-up start before he resumed his major league career with the Yankees.

The lowlight of Miller’s career — besides being released at the end of last season, that is — was the discomfort he experienced throughout his career over participating in baseball chapel services every Sunday morning.

“From Day 1 it was uncomfortable,” Miller, 31, said. “I was in extended spring training, and on Sunday there was a knock on the door. I thought it was a joke. This guy was coming to preach to us in our little locker room. He had two little handouts that said Baseball Chapel and prayer of the week.”

Baseball Chapel, an evangelical group, has existed for 35 years and supplies Sunday morning chapel leaders to all major and minor league teams. “Our purpose is to glorify Jesus Christ!” its Web site,, proclaims.

“They preach to you,” Miller said in a telephone interview. “Some are more overbearing than others. At the end they ask if you have anything ‘you want me to pray for.’ The other guys would say ‘our families, safe travel.’ I’d say nothing. Then they would pray. It was very uncomfortable. They’d say Jesus this and Jesus that. At the end they’d say ‘in Jesus’ name.’ ”

In chapel services for the teams, players have the option of attending or not. Umpires may not realistically have that option.

“The players go to a separate room,” Miller said of the chapel services for the team. “For umpires, they always came to our room. They didn’t want to mix players with umpires even though they often mix the teams.”

The Sunday routine left Jewish umpires, like Miller, in a difficult position. With the umpires’ locker room as a setting for Christian prayer, they could not avoid it.

“Minor league locker rooms are small,” Miller said. “It’s not like I could hide.”

The chapel sessions, Miller added, intruded on pregame routines.

“We’d get there an hour before the game,” he related. “I always stretched and got mentally prepared. You have a guy coming in and preaching to you about something you don’t believe in, it throws you off mentally.”

Leaving the locker room was not an option for various reasons, Miller said.

“You don’t want to be rude to them because it might get back to somebody and it could affect your chances,” he said. Citing one umpire evaluator as an example, he added: “He’s a very religious guy, so I was really uncomfortable leaving. He’d ask, ‘Why are you leaving?’ I’d tell him I’m Jewish, and who knows what that would do. It was something I didn’t want to have to deal with.”...

At times, Miller said, he would advise the chaplain he was Jewish.

“Half the time they’d forget and pray in Jesus’ name and pray to Jesus,” he recalled. “One time this guy found out I was Jewish, and he started talking about nonbelievers and looking at me.”

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