Religious symbols and baseball

As we learned during the Tim Tebow years, religion and professional sports makes some people pretty nervous.

The latest brouhaha? See if you can spot the religious symbol.

UniWatch

Check behind the mound in St. Louis. There’s a cross and what some insist is a number 6, in honor of Cardinals great Stan Musial, allegedly put there by a member of the grounds crew for each game, according to Riverfront Times. The “6″ could also be a fish, another Christian symbol.

Paul Lukas at UniWatch picked up on it today:

A cross on a mound makes me uneasy too. Part of it is that I don’t think the mound should be used as a billboard, period. But if that’s how it’s going to be used, it should only be for team- or league-oriented messages or symbols (like, say, the “6″ for Musial, which at least is a Cardinals-oriented thing). Putting a religious symbol there seems like a particularly bad idea, especially when it’s being done by a rogue groundskeeper. What if the groundskeeper were Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, or pagan, and had inscribed one of those symbols on the mound? For that matter, what if he had inscribed a political symbol, like a Democratic donkey, a Republican elephant, or a Nazi swastika? All of these strike me as equally inappropriate. For one thing, endorsing a specific message or agenda sends the implicit signal that you’re excluding all co-existing messages and agendas. How is a non-Christian Cardinals fan supposed to feel when he or she sees that symbol on the mound? Also, the mound is where a couple of specific players work. Why should a non-Christian pitcher (whether he has a different faith or no faith at all) have to pitch on a mound with a Christian symbol?

It’s worth noting that there’s no shortage of religious symbolism in sports. Players routinely cross themselves, point heavenward to give thanks, wear religious pendants on their necklaces (or on other jewelry), and have religious-themed tattoos, all of which strikes me as fine.

Somewhat more problematically, Billy Martin wore a cross pin on his cap while managing, and so did his protégé Bucky Dent — not good, because you shouldn’t be adding symbols to your uniform. Same goes for that cross symbol on Troy Polamalo’s jersey. And don’t get me started on “God Bless America.”

I’m sure some of you will think I’m being anti-religion here. But this isn’t about being for or against religion; it’s about whether certain categories of messaging are appropriate on the field of play. I think the cross on the mound fails that test. Now that it’s been brought to light, I hope the Cards instruct the groundskeeper to stop doing it.