Our 2019 Children’s Books of the Year stand out from an increasingly troubling crowd
As we approach baseball’s postseason I remember serving two decades ago as first base coach of a team with 11- and 12-year-olds. One task was to remind players who got a single or a walk to keep their heads in the game—which meant not wandering off first base and falling victim to a pickoff play. The problem: Sometimes my mind wandered, and twice during the season a player under my charge headed back to the dugout sputtering.
That sad memory is one of the reasons I liked The Matheny Manifesto (Crown, 2015), written by St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny with Jerry Jenkins. Matheny had a solid major league career and then briefly became a youth league manager who gave parents a document telling them to be silent at games and explaining that he would teach their children not only to play baseball but to think about it.
The Matheny Manifesto offers practical advice for youth league managers and coaches. At many youth baseball practices eight players stand around getting bored while a coach hits ground balls to one player at a time. Matheny’s advice: “If you’re hitting on the field, have one group work on base running while another is hitting off a tee or hitting soft toss into a net. If you have a fourth group, they can be working on their defense and picking up the batted balls. In an hour and a half, the boys should be exhausted from hustling all over the field and from group to group.”
Matheny’s book is also part-memoir, with good passages about playing for the University of Michigan when former Tigers catcher Bill Freehan was head coach. Freehan let Matheny, a catcher, call the pitches, and that was great preparation for a major league career. Freehan also told him, “From now on, every elective class you have will be Spanish,” which was great preparation for managing. Matheny writes about the courtesy major league catchers and umpires extend to each other: When a foul tip bangs off a catcher’s mask, the ump may dust off home plate to give the catcher a moment to recover. When a foul tip smacks the ump hard in his chest protector, a polite catcher walks to the mound and conferences with his pitcher.
Matheny writes, “I am, without apology, a Christian. … I have a responsibility not to be ashamed, even if it has become clear that it is no longer politically correct to be vocal about one’s beliefs.” When to speak up is a judgment call. For example, when New York Mets player Daniel Murphy criticized homosexuality this spring and a Mets spokesman quickly said Murphy would only talk about baseball from now on, I asked Matheny to comment on that, and he declined to do so.
That was disappointing but consistent with what Matheny writes about those who quickly speak out: “While I may admire their boldness, I am simply not that type of person.”
Alister McGrath’s The Big Question: Why We Can’t Stop Talking About Science, Faith, and God (St. Martin’s, 2015) is a good book for atheists to read, but he misses the big question for Christians: Yes, we believe in God, but will we stick with the biblical account of how God acts, or will we go with what seems reasonable to us?
McGrath positively quotes Darwin contemporary Charles Kingsley, an Anglican believer in evolution, saying it is “just as noble a conception of Deity, to believe that He created primal forms capable of self-development,” as to stand with the Genesis saga of creation: “We knew of old that God was so wise that he could make all things; but, behold, he is so much wiser than even that, that he can make all things make themselves.” Clever, and it’s good that both Kingsley and McGrath believe in God, but do they believe the Bible? —M.O.