Oakland A’s relief pitcher Craig Breslow did not exactly have the Hall of Fame outings he hoped for last week.
On Aug. 3 he gave up one run and took the loss against the Kansas City Royals. The next day, with the A’s ahead by two in the eighth inning, he gave up a home run, but it was only a solo shot and the A’s held on for a 4-3 victory.
That same night, Aug. 4, Breslow proved himself a Hall of Famer when it comes to being a mensch. He hosted a fundraiser at San Francisco’s Anchor Steam brewery for his Strike 3 Foundation, raising more than $15,000 for pediatric cancer research.
Medical research is as much up his alley as his 92 mph fastball.
One of the few Jews in baseball today, Breslow grew up in a prosperous home in New Haven, Conn., attended Hebrew school and went on to graduate from Yale University. He was going to be a doctor. But one thing held him back from medical school: He could “get guys out.”
Breslow, 29, is now in his fifth major league season, his second with the A’s (who picked him up off waivers in May 2009). As a middle-innings reliever, he has only two saves in his career, but he sports an impressive 2.82 career ERA, which the two rough outings last week barely dinged. Nor did they lessen his popularity among his teammates.
Above Breslow’s clubhouse locker hangs a small cartoon portrait of Albert Einstein and the image of a mortarboard. That’s because the Ivy Leaguer, with his degree in molecular biophysics, was once dubbed “the smartest man in baseball.”
It may or may not be true, but Breslow has been living it down ever since.
“There’s no end to the teasing I’ve taken,” said Breslow, at ease in a dugout interview a few hours before a game last week. “But considering some of the monikers professional athletes are earning these days, I’ll take that one.”
His teammate, Dallas Braden, who threw a perfect game earlier this season, told a reporter, “Breslow knows everything. I seriously want to be Craig Breslow when I grow up.”
He earned the nickname while pitching for the Minnesota Twins in 2008, three years after making his major league debut with the San Diego Padres. The
6-foot-1 left-hander struck out his very first opposing batter, something he considers one of his most memorable moments.
While with the 2006 Red Sox, along with infielder Kevin Youkilis and outfielders Adam Stern and Gabe Kapler, he was one of four Jewish players on the roster, and he is pretty sure there were instances when all four were on the field at the same time.
But Breslow insists that, along with no crying, there is no ethnicity in baseball.
“When I walk into the clubhouse I’m a baseball player,” he said. “I don’t want to identify other guys based on race or ethnicity, so I want the same thing for me. I don’t want guys to say, ‘Hey, there’s the Jewish guy.’ It doesn’t mean I’m any less proud of my Jewish heritage.”
Breslow launched the Strike 3 Foundation two years ago, and though it would seem to reflect the spirit of tzedakah, Breslow says his Jewish roots did not necessarily inspire him to found it.
However, having his older sister diagnosed with thyroid cancer did.
“She was 13, I was 11,” he said. “I remember being sheltered from what was going on but I could tell something was drastically wrong. She made a full recovery, but the poignancy of that moment has always stayed with me.”
With so many similar charities borne out of tragedy, or founded in the memory of someone who died, Breslow decided to form the Strike 3 Foundation with a different perspective.
“What we try to do in our events and campaign is to celebrate success stories,” he said, “what research has done in the clinical trials and research. Our goal is not to raise money to remember someone, but to duplicate the successes.”
Several of the institutions Strike 3 supports, such as the Yale–New Haven Children’s Hospital and the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, are back in his home state. With the recent San Francisco fundraiser, he hopes to do the same for his new Bay Area home base.
“Having entrenched myself in the Bay Area, we’re looking to expand our scope and impact,” Breslow said. “I always feel strongly about giving back to the community we draw our funds from.”
Breslow knows he’s in relatively rare company as a Jewish big leaguer, but he also is grateful to be in a club that includes legends such as Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax and former A’s pitcher Ken Holtzman.
It took many years to get it from the reclusive Koufax, but Breslow finally obtained an autograph from the Hall of Fame southpaw.
Easier to obtain, as he recalled, was a text message from Youkilis, his former Boston teammate, wishing him a good Rosh Hashanah.
“I’m sure someday I’ll look back and say, wow,” Breslow noted of his baseball career. “But how can I expect to go out and perform consistently at a high level if I’m also taken in by how amazing it is? I have to just say this is my job and these are the expectations placed on me. I need to go get a guy out.”