Paying Forward Our Mistakes

Joe Black had come a long way. In 1952, Black was a 28 year-old rookie pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers who was having a stellar season. Just a few years prior, African American ballplayers were not even allowed in the major leagues, and now Black was on the mound for Game 7 of the World Series against the mighty New York Yankees. It was do-or-die, winner-take-all for the championship.

In the top of the 6th inning with the game tied at 2–2, Black faced Yankees legend Mickey Mantle, whom Black had retired twice already by pitching him mostly inside. This time Mantle had a plan. He backed up a step without Black noticing, then when Black threw his inside pitch, Mantle crushed it for a homerun to break the tie and ultimately win the Series for New York. It was a devastating blow for the young pitcher.

Fast forward nearly a half century later to Game 7 of the 1997 World Series. The Florida Marlins were trailing the Cleveland Indians in the 7th inning when Marlins slugger Bobby Bonilla was about to take his third at bat of the game. Up to that point Bonilla had been unable to hit anything off of Cleveland pitcher Jaret Wright. Right before Bonilla left the on-deck circle, he heard an old white-haired gentleman in the crowd call for him to come over. The man told Bonilla that he noticed that Wright had been pitching him inside. “Back up a step,” the man said. “The pitcher won’t notice the change in position and when he comes in tight, you can get the barrel head of the bat around and on the ball.”

Bonilla agreed to try it. After all, his team was being shut out and they only had three more innings before their season was going to be over. Wright indeed threw the first pitch inside, and Bonilla blasted a homerun into the right field stands. The Marlins rallied after that and eventually went on to win their first ever championship. When Bonilla crossed home plate, he pointed victoriously to the white-haired gentleman. The man was Joe Black.

I love that story because it illustrates a great truth: our past mistakes can be used to help others. Too often we shudder or feel shame about some of the stupid decisions we have made in our lives. We know that God offers forgiveness but we would just as soon forget about the sins of our past, or we see them only as a tool for self-improvement. While we shouldn’t let our past mistakes define us and while we certainly should allow for them to affect personal change, we can also use them to help show others how to make smarter decisions.

My personal past sin is porn. It was a struggle that I was embarrassed about and content to leave in my past. It was certainly not something I wanted to tell people about. Instead God called me to use it. There are plenty of other men who struggle with sexual temptation and He knew that I could utilize that to come alongside of others. So I started a group at my church for other guys who face this same struggle.

Joe Black used the lesson learned from a 45 year-old mistake to help a fellow ballplayer capture the championship that he failed to win. What lessons from your past can help those around you today? And more importantly, are you willing to be transparent enough to share those?