by David Sisler

In the news this week were three stories about life and death which are all too familiar commentaries about, well, life and death.

In 1996 major league baseball players hit a record 141 grand slam homers – load ‘em up, knock ‘em in. On Tuesday, August 22, a new major league record for grand slams was set when Cincinnati Reds outfielder Alex Ochoa hit his first career slam in a losing effort against the Philadelphia Phillies. With homers dominating the game and pitching duels either fan-yawners, or simply non-existent, you may understand the plight of Detroit Tiger slugger, soon-to-be free agent, Juan Gonzalez.

Before the start of the current campaign, Gonzalez rejected a $123 million offer that would have been the largest in the history of baseball. I remember when Barry Bonds left the Pittsburgh Pirates to sign with the San Francisco Giants. Someone calculated that Barry would earn about $15,000 for each plate appearance. Just think of it – go zero for four days and make more money than the President of the United States. Bonds' multi-year, $8 million deal seems today like minor league pay compared to what Gonzalez turned down.

Gonzalez nixed the deal, not because it wasn't enough money, but because the outfield fences at Detroit's Comerica Park are too deep. The 398 feet distance to the power alley puts right-handed hitters at a disadvantage, he whined. So to keep his slugger (?) in Detroit, owner Mike Ilitch may just move the fences in.

Life lesson number one: don't try to improve or better yourself at your job, or in school; blame others for your poor performance. I don't need to practice my swing or strengthen my arms, just move the fences in so I can reach them. And if I threaten to take my toys and play for someone else, the folks who sign my paycheck will cave in. Lower the standards! It's the American way!

Speaking of Barry Bonds, the California Supreme Court ruled Monday that prenuptial agreements are valid even if only one party had a lawyer. That decision may save Barry millions of dollars. On the way to the altar, Bonds and his then soon-to-be wife, now used-to-be wife, Sun, stopped at Barry's attorney's office. There they signed a prenuptial agreement which eclipsed Sun when their marriage ended in divorce court. Now just to be sure you understand, Barry and Sun signed an agreement – before they were married – which said, if they divorced she could not get any of his "future earnings."

Life-lesson number two: plan to fail. You gotta love pre-nups. They publically declare, "This marriage is guaranteed, warrantied, and certified to fail." We will plan in advance for failure. We will not plan in advance for success. And if we do say, "Until death do us part," it will be like the title of the autobiography of the late North Carolina State basketball coach Jimmy Valvano: They Gave Me a Life-time Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead. With prenuptial agreements and no-fault divorce, is it any wonder that half of all couples who say, "I do," don't?

And finally, the world watched this week as 118 Russian submariners died on the ocean floor, while their nation's rescuers failed for days to open their submarine's emergency escape hatch, and a Norwegian crew did it in hours.

Old style-Soviet lies were the order of day after horrifying day. The Kursk sank on Saturday, but officials said it sank on Sunday when they announced it on Monday. The vessel did not sink, they said, but "descended to the ocean floor." "Contact with the crew has been established," they said, but solid contact was never confirmed. "Air is being pumped from the surface into the ship," they said, but it never was. "Everyone on board is alive," they said, but we now know that the second explosion, which sank the Kursk, killed most of the crew.

Russians properly criticized President Vladimir Putin for staying at his Black Sea resort instead of flying to the sight of the disaster, but what they may ultimately remember when next they vote for president is that offer after offer of help was refused until death was guaranteed for the men of the Kursk.

Life-lesson number three: I can do it all by myself, and the possibility of waiting too long to ask for help does not exist. That deadly lesson was learned 150 meters beneath the surface of the Barents Sea. Spiritually, you cannot save yourself. You need Jesus of Nazareth. You can wait too long to ask for help – dead men cannot receive salvation.


Published in The Augusta Chronicle 8/26/2000

Copyright 2000 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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