Many Catholics lead baseball’s defending champs
By Brian Caulfield, FFG Editor
The nail-biting drive from 10½ games out in August to World Series champion in October had many calling the St. Louis Cardinals a miracle team last year. Although God does not take sides in baseball, the fact is that the team with the Catholic name has many serious Catholics leading the way.
Matt Slater, director of player personnel for the club, said that he respects the faith of all people, but he is strong in his Catholicism. “I rely on my Catholic faith every day,” he said. “It is the backbone of everything I do. It gives me inner peace, it gives me strength to go on with the ups and downs of a baseball season, and the ups and downs of my life.”
Other Catholics in front office positions are General Manger John Mozeliak, Assistant General Manager Mike Girsch, traveling secretary C.J. Cherry and trainer Greg Hauck. Not surprisingly, Mass is offered in the Cardinals’ clubhouse whenever there is a weekend game, so that front office staff, players, stadium workers and even those from the opposing team can fulfill their Sunday obligation. The Mass is coordinated by Catholic Athletes for Christ, which works with a number of professional teams to provide chaplains and the sacraments for players and other personnel.
The team’s chaplain, Father David A. Walter, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, is a walking encyclopedia of Catholic connections on the Cardinals. Noting that Sunday Mass has been offered in the clubhouse for more than 20 years, he said, “The significant fact is that neither the archdiocese nor the priests went to the team to ask if they could offer Mass; it was the Cardinals’ management themselves who came to the archdiocese and asked if a priest could be assigned to say Mass.” He added, “We are dealing with some very good practicing Catholics at the highest level of the ball club. What is also wonderful is that those who come to Mass are from the front office, the players and the stadium staff, the ticket takers, the ushers the maintenance crew, everyone together. Even players from the opposing team. There is the understanding that when we are there in the room for Mass, everyone is a Christian, equal before God.”
The Catholic roots of the team reach back across decades. Stan Musial, one of baseball’s all-time great hitters, who played out his whole 22-year career with the Cardinals (1941-1963), was known for never missing Mass, despite constant road trips. He even once asked for a pay cut when he didn’t perform to his own expectations. Another noted Catholic is Hall of Fame manager Red Schoendienst, who led the club to the 1967 World Series over the Boston Red Sox. More recent World Series heroes include pitcher Jeff Suppan, who won Game 3 to help the Cardinals to the 2004 title, and shortstop David Eckstein, the MVP for the 2006 World Series. In 2004 Suppan attended the first meeting of the Vatican’s newly formed Office for Church and Sport in Rome.
One of the more famous Cardinal fans is himself a newly elevated cardinal –Timothy J. Dolan, who grew up in Ballwin, a St. Louis suburb. Though he is seen sporting a Yankees cap since he was named archbishop of New York three years ago, the cardinal still holds his first home team in his heart.
Slater, 41, has worked in major league front offices since his freshman year at Jesuit-run Marquette University. He called the Cardinals “a very religious group of guys” that also has a Christian Bible study group.
Born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, he went to Catholic schools all the way up to Marquette, where he said the Jesuit ethic of being “a man for others” touched him deeply. “I realized that we are not here just for ourselves, that there must be a sense of service and justice in your life,” he said.
He and his wife, Thomasine, have been married for 13 years and have three children. They live in Chesterfield, a suburb of St. Louis.
As director of player personnel, he is involved in trading, cutting and developing players, and has a major role in setting the final 25-man roster. It could become a cut-throat, every-man-for-himself business, he admitted. Yet he seeks to bring the Catholic view of the dignity of the human person into his work. Professional players possess immense God-given talents that must be nurtured and developed, he said, but they are also human beings with personal problems, families, pasts and futures that must be respected.
“I try to let my Catholic faith permeate everything I do,” Slater said. “That means the willingness to listen, and trying to have a humble heart.”
After a stunning championship season, what can we expect from St. Louis this year? Slater noted the loss of superstar Albert Pujols to free agency, but added that the Cardinals “have always known how to do our best with the talent we have.”
(Homepage photo from AP Images)