Right Field

A Pair of Cardinal Rookies

When the two new U.S. cardinals-elect are formally invested in Rome next week — Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York, and Edwin F. O’Brien, former archbishop of Baltimore — count on news reports getting their passion for baseball high up in the story.

Zounds! Human interest!

In an institution bedeviled by sex scandal and a swirl of knotty social questions, it certainly doesn’t hurt to come on as a couple of regular Joes who just happen to wear a miter. Archbishop O’Brien is an out-and-out Yankee fan. Archbishop Dolan grew up in St. Louis rooting (prophetically?) for the Cardinals and was a regular at Brewers games while he was archbishop of Milwaukee, before coming to New York. He is diplomatically a mite cagey about his current preference, presumably in pastoral fear of inflaming local prejudice, but his fandom is unquestioned. Archbishop Dolan is so devout, in fact, that he sometimes even breaks out in baseball jokes.

Heard the one about the two nuns and the three Protestants?

Taken from an account by Dolan’s biographer, the National Catholic Reporter’s Vatican correspondent, John L. Allen Jr., it goes like this:

These two nuns, in full habit, are at the ballpark with a couple of schoolkids in tow. They’re on the third-base line, crunching peanuts and Cracker Jack, when the three Protestants behind them try to take the mickey out of them. 

“I was planning to vacation in Ireland,” wheezes the first, “but, you know — too many Catholics.”

“Yeah,” replies the second. “I was thinking of Rome — but too many Catholics.”

The third is about to pack for Mexico, when one of the nuns whips around and turns the screw. “Why don’t you just go to Hell?” she snaps. “You won’t find any Catholics I know of there.”

The archbishop is credited with a robust sense of humor, but you can see from the joke that he’s always on the job, even when he’s laughing. Still, he cut his eyeteeth on the classic style of the old Cardinals, a vastly different brand from what is on display today. So, in mitigation, he’d surely hold the poor Protestants harmless, understanding that they, like most knowledgeable fans, were babbling in tongues, bored out of all conscience by the devil’s brew of what passes for baseball these days — the molasses grip of three-hour games, the deadening cult of Johnny One Note designated hitters.

Lace the mix with other everyday excess — maddening video scoreboards, cacophonic intro songs for the players, beer-belly fisticuffs in the stands — and you can argue that the Prods were not really needling the nuns so much as just trying to get the address of a good  exorcist.

At age 61, Archbishop Dolan is rated  a comer, a new, more approachable voice in a church lately clocked as slow on the bases. That lively sense of humor will certainly help him detox the abundance of headaches crowding the ecclesiastical plate. Big question: Can this busy, dedicated fan spare the odd Ave for the troubled shade of Abner Doubleday? One can hope. Never has the old sinner needed one more, God knows.

— Richard Phalon, a New York freelancer, has coached at the New York Times and Forbes. He learned how to hit a curveball playing for St. Anne’s grammar school in Jersey City.

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