Everyone knows that the San Francisco Giants are playing in the World Series, looking for their first championship since they moved West from New York in 1958.
But what the scouting report doesn’t show is that there are a number of Jewish angles on this series, some on the Giants’ side and some of the Texas Rangers’ side.
Here, we explore a few of them.
In the president’s box
When San Francisco Giants president Larry Baer was growing up in the Richmond District, he used some of the money he got from his bar mitzvah to buy tickets for every Saturday Giants home game at Candlestick Park.
“We called it the bar mitzvah box,” he said this week from his office at AT&T Park, mere hours before the first pitch of the 2010 World Series between the Giants and the Texas Rangers. “So for me, this has been quite a journey since I was a kid. I don’t think spiritual is the right word, but it’s been a heartfelt journey.”
At about the same time Baer was falling in love with the Giants in the early 1970s, a young Pam Cody of Fort Worth, Texas was attending her first baseball game: a Texas Rangers game just outside of Dallas.
“Now my blood is orange, though,” asserted Pam, who has been married to Baer, a fourth-generation San Franciscan, for 20 years. They have four kids, ages 10 to 17, live in San Francisco and are members of Congregation Emanu-El (which was also Baer’s synagogue as a youth).
With the Giants seeking their first World Series title since 1954, and their first since moving to San Francisco in 1958, Baer said everywhere he goes he runs into intense, excited fans.
“Whether it’s at Temple Emanu-El or anywhere else, there’s a tremendous following of the team this season,” he said. “It’s just the nature of this team: spirit and teamwork, collaborating with friends. I think you can draw a lot of things from this team and connect them to Jewish values. It’s truly a situation where the parts equal more than the whole, and there are a lot of lessons that can be learned by seeing the way this team has pulled together.”
Baer, 53, started his career with the Giants in 1980, then left to attend Harvard Business School. After tenures at Westinghouse Broadcasting and CBS, he returned to the Giants in 1992 as part of an ownership group that bought the team and saved them from moving to Florida.
He has been a guiding force in every team development since then: signing Barry Bonds, getting a new ballpark built, putting together a new cable deal, hiring radio and TV announcers. He became team president in 2008, after Peter Magowan retired (Magowan was the managing general partner of the previous ownership group, which included nine Jewish part-owners).
As much as baseball is his life, when Baer goes to synagogue, he said baseball chatter takes a backseat.
“It’s not my first choice to go into temple and start talking baseball,” he said. “And I certainly don’t subscribe to the old days, of sneaking a transistor radio into the synagogue to listen to the pennant run during the High Holy Days or a Shabbat service.”
The Baers are very active in the Jewish community. Pam helped organize the closing ceremonies for the JCC Maccabi Games in San Francisco last summer (at AT&T Park) and she’s on the board of the Contemporary Jewish Museum; also, as a board member of San Francisco General Hospital, she helped create the “Hearts in San Francisco” fundraiser in 2004.
Larry has twice served as co-chair of Jewish Vocational Service’s annual fundraising event, he won prestigious awards from the Scopus Society of the American Friends of the Hebrew University in 1995 and the Anti-Defamation League in 2001, and he was a former JCC of San Francisco board member.
For now, however, the focus is on baseball, and players such as National League Championship Series MVP Cody Ross, who Larry quickly points out has the same first name as his wife’s maiden name.
“When we were in Philadelphia for Game 6, one of the fans right behind us had a sign that said, ‘Cody Schmody’ — right behind Pam,” Baer said. “We’ve got a great picture of her with that sign behind her.”
The lone Jewish Ranger
Thirteen Jewish players had various degrees of success in the major leagues this season — none on the Giants, two on the Rangers.
One is fifth-year Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler. Although he missed almost two months of the season with injuries, he had a good regular season (.290, nine homers, 45 RBIs) and then played well in the playoffs. In two series against the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees, he led the club with nine RBIs and was second with a .342 batting average.
He is the lone Jewish Ranger right now because his Jewish teammate, pitcher Scott Feldman from Burlingame, has not been included on manager Ron Washington’s postseason roster for either playoff series or the World Series. (A team can have only 25 players on its roster.)
Feldman, 27, earned the honor of being the Rangers’ opening day starter this season after a great 2009 campaign. But he struggled all year, posting a 7-11 record and a bloated 5.48 ERA.
Feldman was born to a Jewish father, Marshall, and non-Jewish mother, Joyce, who traveled all the way from Burlingame to Cleveland when their son made his major league debut in 2005. Although Scott didn’t have a bar mitzvah or much of a Jewish upbringing, his family did belong to Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame for a spell.
Feldman pitched at Burlingame High School and then at the College of San Mateo for two years (setting school records for wins and ERA) before being drafted in 2003 by the Rangers in the 30th round.
Last year, he broke through with a stellar season. At one point, he had a 17-5 record and a 3.62 ERA, and his name was being mentioned in conversations about who might win the American League’s Cy Young Award. He finished 17-8 with a 4.08 ERA and didn’t win the award, but he did earn the honor of starting the Rangers’ opening game in 2010.
Since then, it’s been pretty much all downhill, as he won only two of his first eight starts and by August was relegated to the bullpen. But even though he hasn’t been on the postseason roster, he still has been traveling with the team, suiting up in uniform, pitching batting practice on occasion, and even sitting on the bench or in the bullpen. After the Rangers clinched the American League pennant by beating the Yankees, Feldman was spotted running around the clubhouse, champagne bottle in hand, spraying teammates and soaking up the bubbly.
“Obviously, I wish that I was pitching in the playoffs, but I’m not,” Feldman told the blog ESPN Dallas. “I’m going to still enjoy it just as much. I’m so happy to be a part of this organization and so happy for all the guys I’ve been playing with for all these years, and just so proud of everybody for getting to this point.”
Because he grew up in the Bay Area, Feldman has said his favorite teams are the Giants and the 49ers. He also said one of his career highlights was pitching one-third of an inning in 2006 at AT&T Park against the Giants.
“All my family and friends were there,” he told a Rangers blogger two years ago. He said it was “cool to play in the stadium I grew up going to [and] against the team I grew up idolizing.”
George W. to Jewish Chuck
Here’s an odd one: Chuck Greenberg, the managing partner and CEO of the Texas Rangers, and outspoken Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban both attended the same synagogue as kids — Temple Emanuel in Pittsburgh.
Greenberg became the owner of the Rangers in August, putting together an ownership group that bid $593 million to beat out a group headed by none other than Cuban. Chief among Greenberg’s group: Hall of Fame pitcher and all-time strikeout king Nolan Ryan. Greenberg is a former lawyer (he was the personal attorney to hockey Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux) who began stocking up on minor league baseball teams before making his move to buy the Rangers.
The Rangers’ most famous owner was, of course, George W. Bush, who headed an investment group that bought the team in 1989. The future president of the United States initially owned only about 1 percent of the team, but he was chosen to serve as the club’s managing general partner (which he did until he was elected governor of Texas in 1994).
The new Lurie
The most famous Lurie in San Francisco Giants history is Bob Lurie, who bought the team in 1976 (for $8 million — or $10 million less than pitcher Barry Zito now earns per season) and owned it until 1992. A longtime member at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, Lurie was inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame of Northern California four months ago.
But now another Lurie (also Jewish) is becoming well known: Marty Lurie, whose long call-in shows on KNBR radio after Giants games have generated nicknames such as “Iron Man,” “Marathon Man” and “The All-Night Party with Marty.”
“The calls never stop,” said Lurie, who generally hosts his show on weekends, but has been doing other shifts during the pennant drive and postseason run. Sometimes, the Giants would finish a home day game at 4 p.m., and Lurie, who had already done a pre-game show from 10 a.m. to noon, would find himself talking to callers on his show from about 5 p.m. until midnight (his show originally was conceived to last an hour or two).
“Even when it gets near midnight, and I need to stop the show, there are more callers waiting to go on.”
Lurie, 64, has an interesting story. After a 25-year career as a criminal defense attorney in San Francisco, the Brooklyn, N.Y., native decided in his early 50s to make a career switch, turning to his lifelong love of baseball. He set about recording an oral history of the sport, talking to current people in the game as well as old-timers, and today his library of more than 5,000 taped chats with former players (many now dead) is considered a treasure by baseball aficionados.
His hustling led to several doors opening for him, including some involving the Hall of Fame. He also became the host of the pre-game show before Oakland A’s radio games, a gig he held for 12 years.
But this year the A’s flagship station pushed him out in favor of airing more of conservative talker Michael Savage, making Lurie a free agent. The Giants liked his folksy style, deep baseball knowledge and incredible work ethic, so they corralled him for KNBR, mainly for weekend work before and after games. He usually interviews experts (team officials, scouts, media, etc.) before games and takes on-air phone calls from fans after the games.
“In life, timing is everything,” Lurie said. “The reception from the fans has been overwhelming. It’s been the best baseball year of my life.”
A longtime resident of Oakland who now resides in Piedmont, Lurie and his wife (who are separated) are proud to have raised three Jewish children. Two of his kids were among the first few classes at Tehiyah Day School in El Cerrito in the early 1980s, and all three were bar or bat mitzvahed (two at Congregation B’nai Israel in Vallejo and one at Temple Sinai in Oakland). Lurie grew up in New York as an “avid member” of BBYO and was a member of a traditionally Jewish fraternity, Tau Epsilon Phi, at the University of Florida.
He’s also on the calendar for an April 2011 event with the Temple Sinai men’s club — to talk baseball, what else?
Jewish Rangers and Giants
Here are the all-time rosters of Jewish players that have played for the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers, according to JewishMajorLeaguers.org. It’s not exactly Sandy Koufax, Hank Greenberg and Al Rosen, is it?
Rangers: Lloyd Allen, pitcher (1973-74); Scott Feldman, pitcher (2005-present); Gabe Kapler, outfielder (2000-02); Ian Kinsler, second baseman (2006-present); Alan Levine, pitcher (1998); Elliott Maddox, outfielder/third baseman (1972-73); Wayne Rosenthal, pitcher (1991-92).
Giants: Jose Bautista, pitcher (1995-96); Brian Horwitz, outfielder (2008); Alan Levine, pitcher (2005); Dave Roberts, pitcher (1979); Ryan Sadowski, pitcher (2009); Roger Samuels, pitcher (1988); Jeff Stember, pitcher (1980); Steve Stone, pitcher (1971-72); Don Taussig, outfielder (1958); Bob Tufts, pitcher (1981).
This ’n’ that
During the 2010 season, only a handful of major league teams hosted Jewish heritage games — and the Giants and the Rangers were two of them. The Giants held their sixth annual such contest, beating the Colorado Rockies 5-2 in August to improve to 3-3 in their Jewish-themed games; the Rangers held their third such contest in July, wining 6-4 over the Los Angeles Angels. Kinsler had two hits and Feldman did not pitch… In the Rangers’ Jewish game last year, they hosted the A’s and lost 5-4. Jewish A’s relief pitcher Craig Breslow threw to two batters … TheGreatRabbino.com, a blog dedicated to Jewish sports, ranked the top 10 “Jewish franchises” in sports this summer, based on ownership, players, history and other associations. The Texas Rangers ranked No. 8, the Giants weren’t ranked, and the Los Angeles Dodgers and Sacramento Kings finished 1-2. … One thing that helped the Rangers rank so high is Jon Daniels, their Jewish general manager. He grew up in Queens, N.Y., rooting for the Mets, and at 33, he is the youngest GM in the major leagues.