In the Shadows of Greatness


Driving northeast from Waco, Texas, at approximately the 30-mile marker, you will come to Hubbard, Texas, with a population of 1,761 according to the 2019 census. In Hubbard, on April 4, 1888, one of the greatest baseball players of all time was born. He became known as “the Gray Eagle.” 

Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Cy Young, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Mickey Mantle ring out to true baseball fans as some of baseball’s most outstanding players in history. But there is one player that falls among the greats who played in their shadows, one the average baseball fan probably never heard of, yet to the baseball purists deserves every bit to be listed when the names of the greats roll call. His name was Tristram (Tris, Spoke, the Gray Eagle) Speaker. 

As a kid, he fell off a horse, sustained a concussion, and broke his right arm so severely that he had to learn how to be left-handed. In high school, while playing football, he injured his left arm to the point that doctors were considering amputating it. They didn’t. He recovered and moved on to become one of baseball’s greatest center fielders.

Tris played up close so that no balls would fall in front of him. He was so fast he could run and catch balls hit over his head. He even had a few unassisted double plays as a centerfielder catching a low fly ball and beating the runner back to second to tag him out. His position became known as “where triples go to die.”

His lifetime batting average was .345, sixth on the all-time hitting average list. He holds the outfield record for assists. He still possesses the major league career record for doubles, 792. He is fifth in career hits, sixth in career triples, and eighth in career runs. He is one of only two men to have 50 doubles and 50 stolen bases in a season. He hit over .380 five times. In over 10,000 times at-bat, he had fewer than 300 strikeouts. The most he ever struck out was 25 times in a season. 

When it comes to the church, some of the most significant workers are those in the shadows of others. In the Bible, we read most of Peter and Paul as they spread the church, but there were the others who also gave their lives to spread the good news, some we know, while others’ names faded from the minds of men centuries ago. Yet, many of these unknowns were just as instrumental in spreading the gospel as those who were well known.

Today we often forget that most of the Lord’s work takes place by the unknowns. Everyone knows who the preachers and ministers are. They know the leaders that make the decisions. On the other hand, few know that sister Ann takes food to the shut-ins or that brother Bob visits the hospitals every Tuesday. They are the quiet servants. They are the ones who serve because they love the Lord without pay or acknowledgment. Every church has them; all we need to do is open our eyes and look. As the decades pass, the names of preachers and leaders will be on church history lists and reunion plaques. Still, the names of the silent servants become forgotten as buildings get facelifts and memories of those who walked old hallways fade away.

But to God, their memories live on, unforgotten. These silent servants are the ones that God loves so much because they give not for praise or money, but out of their love for Him, much like the widow in Mark 12, “But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.”

In 1937, “The Gray Eagle” entered the Baseball Hall of Fame. May we never forget those who serve in the shadows.

Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ

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