Friday, March 18, 2016

How The Church Helped Ruin The Life Of A Promising Baseball Athlete

The world made more sense to Danny Thomas when he was on the baseball field. Not always enough sense, but when things were going well, it was a respite from his demons. When he struggled on the diamond, however, his problems overwhelmed him. A longing search for inner peace eventually put him out of step with the game. He sacrificed his career for his God, but found religion to be no more of a permanent fix than baseball. In the end, there was no fix for Danny Thomas. 
Danny Thomas bounced around a lot as a kid, from Birmingham to Mobile to southern Illinois and to the rough outskirts of East St. Louis. He described his mother as a “religious fanatic” who dabbled in all kinds of faiths before settling with the World Wide Church of God (WWCG), a sect of Fundamentalist Christianity that had been founded in the 1930s as an over-the-air radio church. For a time, Danny joined his mother in the church, but lapsed when its decree that no member shall work between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday interfered with his baseball schedule.
His newfound inner peace came at a cost. Having rejoined the WWCG, Thomas was now forbidden to work between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday, when he was expected to meditate and attend church services. It was standard practice for teams to play Friday nights and Saturday afternoons, which meant Thomas would be unavailable for two games every week. Factoring in scheduled Saturday doubleheaders, Thomas estimated he would miss 40 games per season because of his religious convictions. “[The Brewers] were quite surprised,” Thomas said of his declaration. “They asked me to reconsider and I did. I thought about all the things I’ve been through and whether I should go back and become the old me or not. I decided there is something more important [than baseball] and said I couldn’t play on my Sabbath.”

Read the entire story here:  The Strange Story of the Sundown Kid:  Troubled Milwaukee Phenom Danny Thomas


Anonymous said...

But your newspaper clipping said he hanged himself in custody after being arrested for rape. I fail to see how this is related to Christianity or any other religion. It hardly seems fair to blame a persons poor character on his church, unless the church condemns character development.

Byker Bob said...

It seems that there were mental imbalance and perhaps some other problems that preexisted his WCG experience, and were independent of the WCG. It is difficult to really know all we might need to know in order to form an accurate opinion just from a very brief newspaper article. But the bottom line is this. A religious system that was called "the truth" and "God's true church" failed to center him, and apparently was of no help. Armstrongism has often been taken to task for its inability to recognize and properly help people who are mentally off balance, and possibly even mentally ill. Seeking help from trained professionals who might actually be of assistance is not only forbidden, those professionals are discredited in members' minds even as they are taught that the church and ministers have all the answers. Off balance people are often seen by both Armstrongites and others as being disruptive, and people do give up on them, eventually. So, Danny Thomas's story becomes Bobby Fischer's story, Terry Ratzman's story, or that of any of any other troubled person who ever looked to Armstrongism for healing of the soul. The indictment against WCG is that its leaders claimed to have all of the answers we all need, and this turned out to be not only a false claim, but also most certainly not even any sort of benign placebo. Armstrongism was unable to deliver as a viable solution, it stood in the way, either allowing the disease to progress unchecked, or further complicating the maelstrom, and making it worse.

We must also remember that this experience, this narrative, played out against the background of Armstrong's fearsome and false 1975 prophecy, and its failure, and aftermath. That, in and of itself, caused mental imbalances amongst members, providing anxieties with which normal humans should never be required to deal. Rape involves a tremendous amount of rage. Whether Thomas's final acts provide any insights into the underlying pathology, or who or what he held responsible, it is difficult to say. But, at the very least, this story involves another failure for Armstrongism.


Anonymous said...

The question is, "Did Armstrongism make Danny Thomas a better person?" The clear answer is no. Was it his failure or the failure of the WCG? I think both.

Black Ops Mikey said...

And no one mentions his drug abuse. We took him and his family to a steakhouse during the Feast of Tabernacles. We had him over to our home during that week. At the restaurant, he told us about his addressing the Y.O.U. and explaining to them that the (recreational) drugs he took got to him so bad that he couldn't even put one wooden block on top of another.

His behavior through the week was bizarre to say the least. Behind our home, there was a stream and the salmon were spawning. He jumped into the stream and tried to catch the salmon bare handed. He couldn't of course. He had his shoes and socks on, by the way -- it was part of his being impulsive.

Then, during the lunch hour between services, he stopped in at the office of the Seattle Mariners down town. One of the young ministers was with us and he was swayed by Danny. Of course, no one in the Mariners' office would see him. But that was all a part of his naivete and immaturity along with poor impulse control. He was, however, a hit with church teens (parents of teens, take note -- not forgetting the other example, the one of Chuck Harris).

It's hard to say what his real problem was, but the drugs didn't help. It was a lesson to me though, one I've tried to benefit from: Avoid crazy people if you can -- never knowingly engage with them, and when you find someone is nuts, quietly and quickly divorce yourself from any contact with them.

It won't necessarily keep you sane, but your chances are a lot better when you're not sucked in to someone's utter madness.

I don't believe that this story of Danny could have turned out any other way.

Byker Bob said...

Drug use. That is some useful news that the article seems not to have mentioned. So the question becomes, did he realize internally that something was wrong with him and therefore self-medicate, or did the particular drugs which he took initiate the mental problems? Either is possible, or something in between. Self-medicating could have exacerbated some problems that therapy and correct medication may have controlled.

Again, we have an era-specific set of circumstances. This was a time when drugs were part of the culture, and nobody really knew the long-term effects until famous people began spinning out of control. In the 1970s, marijuana and cocaine were considered to be non-addictive. Naive ones would smile and ask, "Did you know that Sigmund Freud used cocaine?" Some people would take just about anything that was offered to them. Quaayludes were being abused, marijuana was being laced with angel dust, there were uppers and downers, drug cocktails of coke and heroin, and methamphetamine raised its ugly head. Long-term usage of some of these were known to cause schizophrenic, or psychotic breaks.

People who performed for a living, and always had to be "on" were especially susceptible to the allure of drugs. This is a topic that is fresh on my mind. As I mentioned in another post, I recently found a live concert CD of Humble Pie, which was one of my favorite 1970s groups. The concert was their live performance at Winterland in San Francisco, recorded for the King Biscuit Flour Hour. They were at their prime. Steve Marriott, who was often called the greatest white soul singer was at that time backed by black ladies, vocalists who had worked with Ray Charles and Ike and Tina Turner. Thank God that I had left WCG in time to see the Pie in concert at the Long Beach Arena during this same time! But, Steve Marriott (and the others) consumed a lot of alcohol and cocaine. Tensions caused by drug use broke up the Pie, and made it so that he could never duplicate his peak efforts. Ultimately, he ended up with not only drug and alcohol problems, but also fought schizophrenia. He died, nearly penniless, in a house fire caused by a dropped cigarette while under the multiple influences of alcohol, valium, and other substances in 1991. I was shocked when I read his obituary in Rolling Stone at the time. What a sad, sad waste!

It generally requires more than one factor or condition to sink a large ship, or to derail a train. Singular events can usually be corrected. Same with the downward spiral of a human being. In the case of Danny Thomas, it appears that WCG, the organization to whom he looked for spiritual guidance and life-coaching, a church which has always claimed to have all of the answers, was ill equipped to stabilize or assist one of their talented but tragically flawed members. This, while John Travolta was crediting Scientology for helping him remain stable, and his life in perspective during his early acting career in the TV program "Welcome Back Kotter".


Anonymous said...

“How The Church Helped Ruin The Life Of A Promising Baseball Athlete”

The official position of the WCG under HWA was that illegal drugs, rape, and suicide were all technically wrong and should not be done. It was felt that not doing such things would be best for everyone.

Some people reject what HWA and the WCG taught and choose to get into illegal drugs, rape, and suicide. Then, others blame HWA and the WCG for the person choosing to do what HWA and the WCG had told them NOT to do.

Some of the things that went on in the WCG and in the WORLD could, however, drive some people to do a little bit of drinking, in moderation of course, and that would be understandable.

Baseball is really just another one of many silly games anyway. If someone becomes an overpaid baseball player he will probably just waste the money buying more illegal drugs and renting prostitutes until he meets his untimely demise. It is not like the world will be missing out on anything of value without these useless, overpaid, drug-addled, screwed-up game-players.

What I really need now is someone useful like a rancher to rustle me up a roast beef cow and a farmer to grow me some mashed potatoes. Hopefully, no useless, overpaid, drug-addled game-player will screw up either the rancher's or the farmer's daughters and keep them from doing their chores.

Black Ops Mikey said...

Herbert and Garner Ted Armstrong -- indeed, most of those at headquarters and in the ministry of the Worldwide Church of God -- absolutely could not help anyone overcome their problems with alcohol and drugs because the Armstrongs (all of them) were alcoholics -- boozing alcoholics -- and so were many of the ministers and administrators. In fact, boozing was encouraged and it was not a little and not in moderation. The 1970s were particularly bad. The entirety of that little cult was absolutely toxic, could not help people with their problems and was completely evil.

Dale Hampton was one of those who came to local church areas to tell his story and to encourage those who were alcoholics to follow his example and get off the sauce. In Seattle, he estimated that about 20% of the adults there were alcoholics.

By 1983, Dennis Luker issued the challenge to the Seattle congregation: If you say you can do without it, prove it. He and Glen White (who was a recovering alcoholic) attempted to set up programs to assist people in turning back the plague, but it wasn't really that successful -- and why should it be when Herbert Armstrong himself was boozing it up at the top of the cult?

With the diaspora of the pseudo Jewish cult church corporate into the dysfunctional splintered sects as they are today, virtually no progress has been made to clean up the ministry or the members. Sure, there may be fewer people who are boozing alcoholics, but we can credit society and social media as well as just personal choices unrelated to cult itself for personal choices and changes.

No one wants to admit it, but Gerald Flurry, the six pack prophet -- with his online DUI -- is not really unique. In 2006, the minister at the Feast took us to dinner and consumed 3 full glasses of wine even before the main course. I've watched leaders of the cult drink alcohol and watched them exhibit the energizing effect that alcohol has on alcoholics whose livers (and other internal organs) don't process the alcohol properly or, we would say normally.

I don't personally give alcoholics a free pass -- ever. Not since the end of 1999, when my former boozing manager boss was found dead in his apartment. He was drinking at work early in the morning (he called me one morning at 2:00 A.M. and wanted to know if I would go party with him -- and left it on my voice mail at the corporation where I was working). The director finally gave him an ultimatum: Either he quit drinking or he would have to leave his job. He chose to leave his job. There were alcohol related incidents where he was stalking a married woman in the accounting department. This was inconvenient because her husband was a Sheriff's Deputy. He had a restraining order and could not come within 100 yards of the County-City building where he once worked. While I was working for him, we went to lunch and I rode in his Cadillac. After I watched him down 5 martinis for lunch at the Italian restaurant, I went back to the office with a data clerk in her Toyota -- I wasn't going to ride with him -- I would have walked first.

So you Armstrongists either think it's a joke or you downplay or excuse the Armstrongs and the ministry in the WCG for their absolutely abhorrent behavior -- but there is no excuse for those who proclaim God's Law, God's Law, God's Law and the Ten Commandments publicly, and yet don't even begin to make an effort to keep them in their own lives. There should be a special place in Hell for such people and maybe there will be.

I am very sure that none of the ministers even attempted to help Danny Thomas, but I'm pretty sure they probably couldn't because they had problems of their own.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with most if the posts. The ministers role was and is to teach Christian morality. They are not trained life coaches, psychologist, psychotherapists or psychiatrists. This becomes obvious after coming to church for a short time. His family and friends should have encouraged him to seek professional help. Many do the equivalent themselves by reading self help books. At the end of the day, we are all responsible for our own lives. The church should not be used as a punching bag for peoples personal failures, as some appear to be doing.

Anonymous said...

What so many are ignoring is the fact that he was forced to stop doing the one thing he loved because the church REQUIRED that he not play baseball on Saturday. He was stopped from doing the one thing he loved because the church gave more credence to being legalistic judaizers keeping a day that is NOT required for Christains. He also had a pastor that enforced this and who also had no training in psychological help for a person who was obviously struggling. He is one more sad tragedy in a long line of suicides that are a direct result of the false teachings of the church. So yes, the Worldwide Church of God contributed to his deat

Anonymous said...

11.32PM I had to stop having Saterday guitar lessons (hence no more lessens) when I joined the church. But I did not as a consequence, take drugs, become an alcoholic or go rape a woman. In the last two years of high school, I spent just about all my free time studying. The character I built has served me well. People who by contrast, have lived a lazy lifestyle, get no sympathy from me.

Anonymous said...

ANON 9:35, although I agree with you that ministers are not life coaches, psychologists, psychotherapists, or psychiatrists, you are missing one very big part of the picture. The church strongly discouraged any kind of help from any of these professions. Even to this day splinter groups speak negativity on such practices. Self help books are looked down upon. Yes we are all responsible for ourselves, but that isn't how it works in any of the ACOGS. Peoples' personal demons were and are used against them all the time. My guess is the reason why they weren't used against Danny as they would've been someone else simply came down to money.

Connie Schmidt said...

"Baseball... been berra berra good... to me."

-- Chico Escuela, Saturday Night Live

Byker Bob said...

Dale Hampton's program ended up being scuttled by the church, just as it had begun to have a positive impact.

One of the aspects of Armstrongism that made the movement the tragedy that it was and is, is that shallowness was officially encouraged. Other denominations did encourage further education of their clergies so that at least if they recognized problems beyond their own training and abilities, they would refer members to outside resources and professionals in the surrounding community, some of whom they got to know and trust personally, because they had used their resources on a continuing basis previously. This included professionals similar to those already mentioned.

The basic problem that prevented this in Armstrongism was their misinterpretation of the substitution axiom. "If two quantities are considered equal, then they can be freely exchanged in an expression, and the results will remain the same." How many times have we heard "God's Church", "God's ministers"? "Take every word that has been spoken by Mr. Armstrong or any of "God's" ministers as if it had been spoken by Jesus Christ Himself." The problem is, the church, and God were taught as being equal to one another, but when freely exchanged, the results most certainly did not remain the same! In the majority of cases, very bad fruits ended up being produced by this type of thinking. WCG (as equated with God) was made into a one stop authority for every aspect of life, and a complete solution to all problems, no outside help required. That was the illusion promoted by HWA to preserve his absolute authority, an illusion which spawned many needless tragedies.


NO2HWA said...

Herb was the one that went into a fit when he saw the alcoholism/addictions booklet that the church produced. It had on had its cover a picture of WCG ministers along with other clergy from other churches standing together in unity to help stop addictions. Armstrong, and thus the church, was embarrassed by this.. How could God's specially chosen people have addictions? Only the weak, heathen , sun worshippers/so called Christians, who were ignorant of the kingdom could be addicts. God's mini remnant could never be so debased.

The other tool that the church used as a weapon of control is by tacking "God's" in front of everything. When it's "God's church" or "God's ministers", it allowed no room for members to questions and challenge.

I am in charge of the new members exploration class at the church I work at. We have three classes a year for 7 weeks with 50-70 people in attendance. I tell every single group I have ever led that just because the minister says something from the pulpit does not mean you have to agree with it. Take what you have heard, mull it over. Use what works for you and discard what doesn't. Its much more rewarding to live in the questions than it is to have the answers. We have hundreds a year that come from fundamentalist churches every year that are sick of being told what is true and what to believe.

The law and legalism is an illusion that is used to control the membership in the church. It has caused untold suffering with thousands of people over the decades.