During my earlier days in baseball, if anyone had told me that one day I would exchange a bat and the dugout for a Bible, golf clubs, and attendance at a women's Bible class, I would have laughed it off as the joke of the year.
Yet beginning in 1971, when I was on what you might call a "sabbatical leave" from baseball, all this came to pass. I'd been fired as manager of the Cleveland Indians after a losing year that had resulted in low attendance at the gate and a squeeze on money.
Everybody in baseball knows that firing is part of the game, but it's not something you ever get used to. At that same time, I was struggling with some deep family problems too. Underneath I was hurting and plagued with bouts of depression.
The golf clubs came first. With two and a half years remaining on my contract and a steady income, I decided to submerge myself in a game I'd played at intervals during my professional baseball career. My wife Jackie and I happened to live on a golf course in Miami, which made playing golf easy and convenient. Before long I was on the fairways five or six days a week. With all that practice I got better and better and drove myself to become the best amateur around. I knew I was neglecting my wife and our children, Lori and Rusty but, caught up in my golfing mania, I couldn't help myself.
Secretly I was glad when Jackie started attending a Thursday morning Bible class at our church. Each week she came home excited about what she was learning and enthusiastic about the Bible teachings. I began to notice an upward swing in her outlook and a perking up of her spirits.
After a few weeks, she began inviting me to go with her.
"Any men in the group?" I asked
"Then I'll just play golf."
Jackie didn't give up easily. Almost every week, she'd invite me again.
"Any men there yet?" was my stock question.
When she'd shake her head no, I'd pull out my golf gear.
This went on for awhile, until one morning I started feeling guilty. I was surprised to hear my own voice, "Wait for me. I'm going too."
Jackie didn't say a word when I wore my golf clothes and sat in the back row. If the class went on too long, I figured I could slip out to the golf course without being noticed. Naturally, I felt uncomfortable about being the only man in a group of at least 100 women, but I stayed for the entire session.