Dan's Dugout: Jewish Power Surfaces in World Series • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Jewish Power Surfaces in World Series

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The 2017 World Series shows why baseball is America’s National Pastime.

Like the country, the game is a great melting pot.

People of different colors, origins, and faiths not only get to play but get to etch their notch in baseball history.

In Game 4 of the Dodgers-Astros World Series, for example, history was made in the ninth inning when a pair of Jewish players on opposing teams hit home runs.

Joc Pederson hit his second World Series homer Saturday night

Joc Pederson hit his second World Series homer Saturday night

First, Joc Pederson connected with two men on, padding a 3-1 lead Los Angeles had taken only moments before. It his second home run in four Fall Classic games and followed a roller-coaster season that included a return trip to the minor leagues.

Then it was Alex Bregman’s turn. The Houston third baseman, whose parents are lawyers who belong to the oldest synagogue in New Mexico, hit a solo shot in the home half of the inning after fireballing Dodger closer Kenley Jansen had fanned the first two men. It was his second homer of the showcase series.

The exploits of the Jewish stars are the latest examples of recent historical milestones by minorities in the majors.

Earlier this year, Ivan [Pudge] Rodriguez became the first Puerto Rican picked for the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

After the season started, Bartolo Colon inched closer to Juan Marichal’s mark for wins by a Dominican pitcher and the Dennis Martinez record of most victories by a Latino pitcher.

Houston second baseman Jose Altuve, the shortest man in the majors, won another batting title and should add the American League MVP award in a few weeks.

Jose Altuve is the front-runner for American League MVP

Jose Altuve is the front-runner for American League MVP

Nearly 70 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color line, many of the game’s mightiest marks have fallen to members of minority groups.

Hank Aaron, and then Barry Bonds, became the career home run leaders.

Aaron racked up more extra-base hits, total bases, and runs batted in than anyone else while appearing in 25 All-Star games.

Roberto Clemente became the first Latino to reach the Baseball Hall of Fame.

And Sandy Koufax became the first man to win the Cy Young Award four times.

Which brings us back to the original topic of Jewish contributions to the game.

Although they are a tiny percentage (less than 1 per cent) of the U.S. population and just as few in baseball, Jewish players have left a legacy larger than their numbers.

A s a Pirate in 1947, Hank Greenberg helped Jackie Robinson overcome racial hatred

A s a Pirate in 1947, Hank Greenberg helped Jackie Robinson overcome racial hatred

Two of them, Koufax and Hank Greenberg, actually reached the Hall of Fame [Rod Carew, a Panama native, married a Jewish woman and wore a chai around his neck, but never converted].

Beyond Pederson and Bregman, the most prominent Jewish players active today are Ryan Braun and Ian Kinsler, who have played in the All-Star Game. There are others, though, including up-and-coming rookie lefthander Max Fried, a blue-chip Atlanta prospect now starring in the Arizona Fall League.

Despite the paucity of names, it’s still possible to pick a fantasy all-time, All-Jewish team:

First base – Although Mike Epstein called himself Super Jew and once hit 30 home runs in a season, Greenberg is the overwhelming choice here. In a war-interrupted career, he won two MVP awards and once challenged Babe Ruth’s single-season record of 60 home runs. He finished with 58 because prejudiced opposing pitchers wouldn’t pitch to him in the final week. In 1947, his final season, Greenberg was instrumental in helping Jackie Robinson cope with the torrent of prejudice hurled his way. His one-year tenure in Pittsburgh promoted the Pirates to dub a section of bleachers “Greenberg Gardens” because his long home runs landed there.

Second base – Ian Kinsler is an easy pick at this position. The perennial All-Star has had multiple 30/30 seasons and is still one of the best-hitting middle infielders in the majors. Second choice here would be Buddy Myers, a two-time All-Star who lasted 17 seasons in the bigs, mostly with the Washington Senators. Not to be forgotten are Buddy Myer, twice an All-Star in 17 seasons, and Andy Cohen, whom John McGraw promoted to attract Jewish fans in the ‘20s.

Shortstop – Alex Bregman played this position capably when Carlos Correa was sidelined earlier this season with a hand injury after a poorly-executed headfirst slide. His resume may be short but his future looks golden.

Alex Bregman hit a Kenley Jansen pitch over the wall Saturday night

Alex Bregman hit a Kenley Jansen pitch over the wall Saturday night

Third base – Al Rosen, later an executive with the Yankees and Astros, was an American League MVP when he played this position for the Cleveland Indians. He held the record for home runs by a rookie for more than 30 years until Mark McGwire broke it.

Left field – Ryan Braun, son of a sabra, was the first Jewish Rookie of the Year in 2007 and the National League MVP four years later. A typical Braun season includes 37 home runs – perhaps because the Hank Greenberg legacy wore off; Braun and his grandfather once lived in a house that belonged to Greenberg.

Center field – Richie Scheinblum, a switch-hitter who played for six different teams, was a 1972 American League All-Star. That same year, he wore a black armband on his uniform to honor the Israeli athletes murdered at the Munich Olympics.

Right field – Despite his first name, Shawn Green was one of the brightest Jewish stars of recent vintage. Four of his 328 home runs came in a single 6-for-6 game on May 23, 2002, when he collected a record 19 total bases for Los Angeles against Milwaukee. The former Met collected at least 42 home runs in a season three times. First runner-up in right field is Sid Gordon, a two-time All-Star who had five 25-homer seasons while playing for the New York Giants and Boston Braves. On Sept. 11, 1941, he was one of four Jews in Giants lineup, along with catcher Harry Danning, outfielder Morrie Arnovich, and pitcher Harry Feldman.

Catcher – Brad Ausmus, most recently manager of the Detroit Tigers, hit the unexpected ninth-inning home run that tied the last game of the 2005 NL Championship Series at Minute Maid Park. The Astros went on to beat the Braves in 18 innings and win their first pennant. Harry (the Horse) Danning hit .285 and made the All-Star team while playing for Bill Terry’s New York Giants from 1933-42. He had three straight .300 seasons and handled Carl Hubbell well.

Ron Blomberg (left), the first DH, wrote 'Designated Hebrew' with Dan Schlossberg

Ron Blomberg (left), the first DH, wrote ‘Designated Hebrew’ with Dan Schlossberg

Designated Hitter – Can there be any other beyond the first one? Years after he retired, Ron Blomberg was asked by Dick Schaap, “What was it like to be the first DH?” Without blinking, the big lefthanded hitter said, “Whaddya mean? Designated Hebrew?” Schaap laughed and said, “That’s a book!” And it was, years later, co-authored by this columnist.

Starting Pitcher – Although Sandy Koufax stood head and shoulders above almost all of his colleagues, Steve Stone once won a Cy Young Award after a 25-win season for Baltimore and Ken Holtzman was a key contributor to the Oakland teams that won three straight World Series from 1972-74. Among his 174 wins were two no-hitters, both for the Chicago Cubs, and beat Koufax in their only meeting. Like Elliott Maddox, Bob Tufts converted to Judaism.

Relief Pitcher – Look up the 1959 World Series and see why the Dodgers dumped the White Sox in six games. Their not-so-secret ingredient was Larry Sherry, who won two, saved two, and wound up with the MVP award for that memorable Fall Classic. He and his brother Norm, later manager of the Angels, formed the last brother battery of the 20th century.

The Bench — Red Sox infielder Kevin Youkilis, a three-time AL All-Star mistakenly called “the Greek God of walks,” was actually a Jew of Romanian heritage. Outfielder-first baseman Art Shamsky, who hit .538 in the 1969 NL Championship Series to lead the Mets past the favored Braves, was a premier pinch-hitter who once hit three consecutive home runs, though it took several games to do it. Danny Valencia, active now, is also a versatile slugger.

Larry and Norm Sherry formed the last brother battery of the 20th century

Larry and Norm Sherry formed the last brother battery of the 20th century

Umpire – Al Clark was not only the first Jewish umpire in the American League but one of the most respected. He served from 1976-2001, working such events as Randy Johnson’s Seattle no-hitter, Nolan Ryan’s 300th win, Cal Ripken’s record-breaker, and the Bucky Dent Game.

 

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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