October 8, 1986
By R.B. Scott
If the pundits covering big league baseball have more credibility than other louts, layabouts and drunkards, over the thirty choke-prone days of September and The American League Championship Series, the sturdy left arm of Boston Red Sox ace Bruce Hurst may have hurled him off the mid-winter trading bloc and straight into hell.
This saintly southpaw, whom the August headlines trumpeted as “Too Mormon,” insinuating that he was “too sweet,” and “too kind,” and “too churchy” to win the big ones, had, by early October, skidded so far down the slippery slope of apostasy that the wordsmiths on the copy desk were forced to coin a new, even more trenchant non sequitur: “The Mean Mormon.”
All summer long allusions to Hurst’s religion figured prominently in descriptions of his pitching prowess, as if “Mormonism” should, for some reason, be held accountable for his fast ball, sinker, slider and E.R.A. if not the occasional high heater aimed in the general direction of his opponent’s head.
Locals steeled themselves to such wacky hyperbole over the winter when the Celtics and its contingent of Mormons –Danny Ainge, Fred Roberts and Greg Kite – were in the headlines, always as “Mormon This” or “Mormon That.”
By Labor Day every proper Bostonian who could read English understood that if the headline writers were to be believed, there was nothing mean about Mormons. Not one thing. They are cheek-turners, good Boy Scouts, and obliging neighbors who regularly trim their hedges in summer and sand their sidewalks in winter. The only things they relish killing are keg parties, poker games and, apparently,sports championships.
Then along came Brother Bruce, arguably the most prominent Mormon backslider in town: first he leveled the Angels (can the irony be lost on anyone?). But for a stunning gaffe by an instantly legendary first baseman, Hurst’s plowshare-turned-weapon-of-an-arm would have beaten the ‘Amazins as surely as David’s stone felled Goliath. And, un-saintly Hurst would have been named the Series’ Most Valuable Player.
Mormons do not get their funny underwear in a knot when journalists aim religious clichés at them. Adapting P.T. Barnum’s famous taunt they might say: “I don’t care what you say about me, just make sure you spell the name of my religion correctly.”
Nor would any of them write chastening letters to the editor pointing out that in these civilized times and in this painfully liberal commonwealth headlines like “Mean Mormon” and “Too Mormon” are as offensive as “Jousting Jew” and “Crusading Catholic.” Mormons are accustomed to such absurdities. But they might point to the long roster of accomplished Mormon athletes: Merlin Olsen (Los Angeles Rams) Marc Wilson and Todd Christensen (Los Angeles Raiders); Eric Hipple (Detroit Lions); Danny White (Dallas Cowboys); Steve Young (Tampa Bay Buccaneers); Robbie Bosco (Green Bay Packers); Dale Murphy (Atlanta Braves) and Johnny Miller and Mike Reid (PGA Tour). And, the list goes on and on and on.
Shouldn’t it be quite clear by now that the Powers-That-Be in Salt Lake City have officially blessed this un-Mormon-like thing called “winning?” It's good for the church's world-wide missionary effort.
Way back in 1960, when Pittsburgh Pirate Vern Law won the Cy Young Award – the coveted annual prize given to the most feared pitcher around-- he was so good that his devout Mormon parents out in Idaho may have worried their faithful son had become a Presbyterian.