By BEN DENSON
As the World Series rolls around every American Jew asks themselves the age-old question: are there any members of the tribe in this years Fall Classic? For this year, the answer was no. Owners and General Managers do not count (sorry Fred Wilpon), but if they did count we wouldn’t even have to ask the question. Jews and athletics are often thought as antonyms, but there are exceptions- as we can see with America’s pastime. So who are the greatest Jewish Baseball players of all time?
I am biased towards players from my lifetime since I’ve actually seen many of them play, and contrary to popular belief Rod Carew is not a Jew.
Out of the roughly 160 Jews who have played in the MLB since it began in 1876, very few have made a dent in the sport. Let’s see the ones that we (kinda) remember.
If he won four World Series, it would have been enough. If he were a seven time All-Star, it would have been enough. If he were a three-time Cy-Young winner, it would have been enough. If he didn’t pitch game one of the 1965 World Series because it was Yom Kippur, it would have been enough. If he led us out of Egypt, it would have been enough. While Sandy Koufax was actually not the messiah, many thought he was. Considered the greatest pitcher of all-time, this selection was obvious. It’s hard to find a better all-around pitcher in the history of the MLB. Need I say more?
Brad Asmus played from 1993 to 2010 for a handful of teams. Seen of as more of a journeyman, Asmus is on this list mainly for his prowess as a defensive catcher. The Dartmouth grad stayed close to his roots with an Ivy-League Degree, but he never felt particularly Jewish until he entered the MLB. Along with managing the Israeli National Baseball Team, he has proven to be a more than capable skipper for the Detroit Tigers the last few seasons. Can he cement his legacy by being the first Jewish manager of this millennium to win a World Series?
The Hebrew Hammer wins this one hands down. One of the greatest hitters of all-time, Hank Greenberg helped create the concept of a modern power hitter. With 331 career home runs and 1276 Runs batted in, Greenberg represents a generation of MLB players whose careers were stifled by World War II. Had he not taken four years off of his career to serve in the Air Force, some say he would have reached 500 home runs and 1800 RBI’s. Nicknamed “Mo”, as an anti-Semitic reference to the prophet Moses, anti-Semitism is, arguably, the reason for Greenberg’s eighth ballot into the Hall of Fame. Nonetheless he made it to Cooperstown, and is the best hitter on this list.
Current Detroit Tigers second-basemen Ian Kinsler really can do it all. The thirty-three year old four-time all-star continues to produce, hitting for both power and contact. He is also the all-time career stolen base leader among Jewish MLB players, with 197. Hopefully he can make a dent in future post-seasons with fellow boychik, manager Brad Asmus. Be sure to watch Kinsler play near-flawless second base, while being one of the most dynamic current MLB players.
One of the more sparsely played positions by Jewish MLBers, I had to dig deep into the baseball almanac for this one. Playing primarily in the 1940’s, Cleveland Indians Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau clinched eight All-Star appearances. He also managed the Indians to their last World Series victory- in 1948- one for posterity, perhaps?
It’s hard not to choose a .304 career hitter, six-time all-star, and NL MVP winner, but it’s very easy to bar someone from this list for cheating. Ryan Braun (plays both 3B and OF) is a cheater, as he joins the likes of Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and the rest of the steroid generation. Say it ain’t so Ryan. Since Braun’s suspension due to violating the MLB’s drug policy, he hasn’t been the same player- looking like he may be missing something… testosterone supplements perhaps?
Kevin Youkillis, “the Greek god of walks”, dabbled with third base on the Red Sox, Yankees, and White Sox during a nine-year career. A true mensch, Youkillis was a core part of the 2004 and 2007 championship Red Sox teams. He is forever immortalized in baseball history for helping break the Curse of the Bambino against the Yankees in 2004, and humorously enough, playing for the Yankees a few seasons later. Youkillis is a reliable option for third base.
Besides Shawn Green, not many others can grace us with their presence on this list. In terms of strictly talent, most Jewish outfielders seem like they should have finished their bachelor’s degree instead of trying for a batting title.
One of the better players (on this list) not be in the Hall of Fame, Shawn Green is second behind Hank Greenberg in career Home Runs and RBIs among Jewish players. Never a superstar, he proved to be a reliable power hitter. A steadfast middle-of-the-lineup batter, Green enjoys embracing his Jewish roots by giving to charity, going to synagogue, and cooking homemade kugel. Green is a Nice Jewish Boy- the kind of guy Yentle would marry.
Honorable mention to former journeyman, Gabe Kapler. The other “Hebrew Hammer”, ironically, always flaunted a mammoth Magen David tattoo during his thirteen-year career. Sacrilegiousness aside, this makes him almost as cool as fellow Yid Amar’e Stoudamire.
Owners, GMs, agents, and all other business like positions aside, it’s a special day when the rare boychik actually steps on the diamond. But hope spring eternal each and every spring. Stay hopeful and maybe we’ll see the next Ryan Braun-without the cheating part. Grab a schnitzel, schmooze with the whole mishpocheh, and take pride in the Jewish pastime of kvetching over some baseball.