Kaplan's KornerJews are known as "the people of the book," but they're also the people of the ball and bat and net. Kaplan's Korner, a new blog from New Jersey Jewish News, is dedicated to bringing the latest sports news and commentary on Jews in sport at a local, national, and international level.
Kaplan's Korner on Jews and Sports © 2015 New Jersey Jewish News
Permalink Leave a comment
Fri, 02 Oct 2015 16:22:54 | by Ron Kaplan
From IsraelNationalNews.com: Hakhel, Shmitta and Baseball.
Permalink Leave a comment
Fri, 02 Oct 2015 16:04:27 | by Ron Kaplan
Usually I listen to Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, hosted by landsman Peter Sagal, on Mondays on the way to work. But since we were off Monday and Tuesday for Sukkot, my schedule was a bit altered.
In the opening segment — “Who’s Bill This Time?” — we were treated to this:
There was another baseball reference in the program but out of respect for Berra’s passing, I’ll just tell you it comes at the end of the lightning round so you can listen for yourself if you are so inclined.
Permalink Leave a comment
Fri, 02 Oct 2015 14:36:57 | by Ron Kaplan
Ryan Lavarnway was 0-1 with a walk for the Atlanta Braves in their 3-0 loss to the visiting Washington Nationals. Lavarnway entered the game as a defensive replacement behind the plate in the sixth inning.
Joc Pederson walked as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning and remained to play defense in center field as the LA Dodgers held off thew host San Francisco Giants, 3-2. Tim Hudson made the start and took the loss for the Giants, the final appearance in his 17-year career.
By the way, you may recall that Will Ferrel pulled off a stunt in spring training in which he played all nine positions, plus designated hitter) for 10 teams in five games on March 12. Of course this was fodder for an hour-long “documentary” about the event. Ostensibly it was a fundraiser Cancer for College, but the way it was presented (from the people who bring you Funny or Die) I initially wondered about that. Poor juxtaposition. I bring this up because he was on the field as a “member” of the San Diego Padres when Pederson blasted a home run mover his head in right field for the only run of the game. While I usually don’t care for Ferrel’s shitck, I have to give him props; while a couple of his appearances were super-managed (when he played as catcher for the Giants, the manager ordered an intentional walk to the batter then pulled Ferrel before he could get hurt), in other spots he had to take his chances. Can you imagine if he had been hit in his man parts on a hot grounder to third? I wonder if the opposing hitters were briefed to try not hitting to where Ferrel was positioned. On the other hand, imagine a player on the bubble who has to deal with Ferrel harshing his buzz.
Cody Decker did not appear for the Padres in their 3-1 win over the visiting Milwaukee Brewers.
Kevin Pillar had the day off, as did not of the regulars on the Toronto Blue Jays following their AL East-clincher the previous day, in a 6-4 loss to the host Baltimore Orioles.
Craig Breslow did not appear for the Boston Red Sox in their 4-1 loss to the NY Yankees, who clinched a wild card spot and finally won their 10,000th game in their fourth attempt. They become the eighth franchise overall to reach that lofty mark and first in the American League. (The National League debuted in 1876. The “junior circuit” AL launched in 1901.)
No games for the Detroit Tigers (Ian Kinsler) or Oakland Athletics (Sam Fuld, Danny Valencia).
Already done for the year: Jon Moscot (Cincinnati Reds), Ike Davis (As), Ryan Braun (Brewers), Scott Feldman (Houston Astros).
Permalink Leave a comment
Thu, 01 Oct 2015 13:57:31 | by Ron Kaplan
October already? Dayyaumm.
The Toronto Blue Jays clinched the AL East in a doubleheader split with the host Baltimore Orioles. Kevin Pillar was 3-5 with a run scored in the first game, a 15-3 route over the Os. And in the second game, he rested as the Orioles won, 8-1. The sports wags happily noted that the St. Louis Cardinals, another “flock” of birds, won their title, too, splitting their twin-bill with the host Pittsburgh Pirates.
Ian Kinsler was 2-4 with a run scored as the Detroit Tigers lost to the host Texas Rangers, 6-2.
Joc Pederson was 0-3 as the LA Dodgers lost to the host San Francisco Giants, 5-0. Pederson has just one hit in 17 at bats over the last week and has seen his batting average dwindle to .210.
Danny Valencia, who’s been bothered by an assortment of minor injuries lately, was 0-5 with a run scored as the Oakland Athletics held off the host LA Angels, 8-7. Sam Fuld was 0-2 with a walk in the leadoff spot and came out of the game in the seventh for a pinch-hitter.
Cody Decker grounded out as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning for the San Diego Padres, who lost to the visiting Milwaukee Brewers, 5-0. He finally got a chance to play the field, finishing the game at first base.
Craig Breslow did not appear for the Boston Red Sox in their 11-inning, 9-5 win over the host NY Yankees.
Ryan Lavarnway did not appear for the Atlanta Braves in their 2-0 win over the visiting Washington Nationals.
The Houston Astros held off the host Seattle Mariners, 8-7. Seems a bit unfair, but it’s possible the ‘Stros will not retain the services of Scott Feldman next year. He was 5-5 in just 18 starts in an injury-plagued year but was doing well when he returned from the disabled list in mid-July. He was out for good after his last start on Sept. 1.
Already out of action for the rest of the year: Ryan Braun (Brewers), Ike Davis (As), Jon Moscot (Cincinnati Reds)
Interesting aside: The first round of the playoffs begin Tuesday, Oct. 6, which is the actual 50th anniversary of the first game of the 1965 World Series which Sandy Koufax didn’t pitch.
Permalink Leave a comment
Wed, 30 Sep 2015 21:36:20 | by Ron Kaplan
SMU fans, what has Brown done to you?
The legendary coach has achieved so many good things over his long carer. It’s a shame it’s come to this: suspended for nine games and his team, the SMU Mustangs, sanctioned by the NCAA “for multiple violations, including academic fraud and unethical conduct,” according to a Division I Committee on Infractions panel has ruled. “The penalties will keep SMU from the 2016 postseason.” (ESPN.com)
Brown was “cited for a lack of head coach control.”
You have to feel bade for the athletes; many they pin their hopes and dreams on playing under someone like Brown, committing when they might have gone elsewhere and now they’re stuck. In a sense, if you can’t play in the postseason, why bother?
Permalink Leave a comment
Wed, 30 Sep 2015 16:51:21 | by Ron Kaplan
Just catching up in no particular order.
First of all, mazel tov Justine Siegal, recently hired by the Oakland Athletics as the first female coach on MLB history. The team “announced on Tuesday that Siegal, who a few years ago became the first woman to throw batting practice for a Major League team, will serve as a guest instructor for the club’s 2015 instructional league. Siegal will work with players Oct. 4-17 at the Lew Wolff Training Complex in Mesa, Ariz.” (MLB.com). You may recall that in 2011, Siegal — who founded Baseball For All — became the first woman to throw batting practice to a big league team.
Siegal was a panelist at a Jewish baseball retreat I attended a couple in 2012.
Next up, yasher koach to the Toronto Blue Jays’ Kevin Pillar, who was named American League Player of the Week for the period ending Sept. 28. Pillar was 11-21 (.524 batting average) with two home runs, five doubles, five stolen bases, six RBI, and four runs scored. He also added to his defensive highlight reel with several strong plays in the field. Let me repeat (so I can get in more links), Pillar was named AL Player of the Week.
Danny Valencia was 0-5 with two walks in his last two games for the Oakland Athletics. Both of these were in losses to the LA Angels, which gained a wild card berth at the expense of the surprising Houston Astros, who chose a bad time to go into a slump. Sam Fuld did not appear in either game for the As.
Joc Pederson did not appear for the LA Dodgers, who clinched the NL West last night with their 8-0 win over the host San Francisco Giants.
Ian Kinsler was 0-8 over his last two games for the Detroit Tigers (both losses) and has seen his batting average slip under the .300 mark. Here’s hoping for a strong finish to hold onto that magic number.
The Milwaukee Brewers finally shut down Ryan Braun, who’d been battling with a herniated disc in his lower back that will require surgery in the offseason. Braun was 0-4 in his last game, a 5-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Sept. 26. All in all, Braun had a surprisingly good season, .285, with 24 home runs, 85 RBI, and 24 stolen bases (in 29 attempts) in 140 games, a nice comeback from his suspension-interrupted 2014 campaign.
Cody Decker has not appeared in a game for the San Diego Padres since Sept. 26.
Craig Breslow did not appear for the Boston Red Sox in the 10-4 win over the host NY Yankees, who are still looking for win No. 10,000. The Blue Jays were rained out of their game against the host Baltimore Orioles last night and will play a doubleheader today so there is still a minuscule chance the Yankees can take the AL East crown if they win all their remaining games and Toronto loses all of theirs. Unlikely, but within the realm of possibility.
Ryan Lavarnway did not appear in the Atlanta Braves’ 2-1 win over the visiting Washington Nationals. What a zoo it’s been in Washington. And I mean different from the usual. Despite all the preseason hoopla, they tanked when it mattered. And don’t give me crap about their injuries. Every team has them. The Mets had them. The St. Louis Cardinals had them. Then there was the bizarre business between reliever Jonathan Papelbon and MVP candidate Bryan Harper during the eighth inning of what was at the time a 4-4 tie with the visiting Philadelphia Phillies (Paplebon’s previous team).
And here’s a debate between two of my favorite sports pundit knuckleheads (as in how do they remain employed?) about the incident:
Maybe he was unnerved, but Paplebon started the ninth inning (he’d already pitched in the eighth) and gave up five runs (although only two were earned) en route to a 12-5 loss.
According to the ESPN recap,
There was a lot debate about who was right and wrong here: Harper for not running out the play (something he’s done in the past) or Papelbon, who’s been a bit of a problem since he joined the team, displacing the previous closer, Drew Storen. Storen, who became the eighth-inning set-up guy, was instrumental in back to back blow-ups to the NY Mets earlier this month that helped solidify New York’s hold of first place. Storen was so distraught with his performance, he broke his right thumb after he hit his locker.
I’ve read/hear pluses and minuses for Harper and Paplebon. As for me — and it may be unfair — that for all his talent, Harper strikes me as the new generation of entitled athletes who enjoy fame and success at a very early age and think they are owed something (see, the Bo Gentry character in the feature film Trouble with the Curve for a perfect example). Sports Illustrated ran a cover story on him when he was still in high school. Could be wrong. Just my opinion.
Permalink Leave a comment
Wed, 30 Sep 2015 13:43:12 | by Ron Kaplan
From the JTA:
Jewish boxer Dustin Fleischer, who said his quest is to become the first world champion descended from a Holocaust survivor, stayed unbeaten with a first-round knockout.
Fleischer, nicknamed “The White Tiger,” moved to 4-0 with the defeat of Ira Frank on Saturday night in Beach Haven, New Jersey, near his home, he reported after the fight on his Facebook page. The 26-year-old welterweight has won all his bouts by knockout.
His father, Phillip, himself a former boxer and the son of a Holocaust survivor, served as his trainer and cornerman for the fight.
Fleischer entered the ring wearing a gold Star of David necklace with a red jewel that had been owned by his late survivor grandfather.
“I am his blood, he’s part of me, he gives me strength,” Fleischer told JTA in an interview two days before the bout. “I know the odds he conquered to survive in the Holocaust, and I know I can conquer the odds to become a world champion.”
Permalink Leave a comment
Sun, 27 Sep 2015 18:24:31 | by Ron Kaplan
Didn’t want to come back on Wednesday and have to catch up on all that baseball, so…
First of all, congrats to my NY Mets for clinching the NL East Division. Nicely done, gentlemen.
Oh, yeah, and congrats to the KC Royals, too, for clinching the AL Central.
For the second time in three games, Kevin Pillar doubled and homered in the same game. He was a total of 2-3 with two runs scored and one RBI as the Toronto Blue Jays beat the visiting Tampa Bay Rays, 5-3. The homer — Pillar’s 12th — gave the Jays the lead which they would not relinquish.
Yesterday he was 3-4 with two more doubles (27 on the year), one run scored, two RBI, and his 35th stolen base in a 10-8 win.
Ian Kinsler hit is 35th double in four at bats, scored one run (#93, eighth in the AL) and drove in another (#73) to help the Detroit Tigers beat the visiting Minnesota Twins, 6-4, on Friday. The next day, Kinsler was 2-4 in a 6-2 loss.
Looks like Brad Ausmus‘ job is safe for the rest of this season and into the next. Another piece here, and here, and here.
Ryan Braun returned to the lineup for the first time in a week, lining out as a pinch-hitter on Friday as the Milwaukee Brewers beat the host St. Louis Cardinals, 4-3. The next day he was the starter in right field and was hitless in four at bats, striking out twice, in a 5-1 loss.
Danny Valencia doubled in four at bats and scored a run in the Oakland Athletics’ 5-4 win over the visiting San Francisco Giants on Friday. He was 3-4 with a walk and scored twice in a 14-10 loss on Saturday. Sam Fuld was 2-3 with two runs scored on Friday and 0-3 with an RBI the next day.
Joc Pederson was 0-7 with two strikeouts and walk as the LA Dodgers dropped a pair to the host Colorado Rockies.
And in a man-bites-dog story, Craig Breslow made the first start of his career (and 523 appearances) yesterday in an 8-0 win over the visiting Baltimore Orioles. Unfortunately, he didn’t qualify for the victory, pitching just four innings, allowing two hits, striking out two, and walking two.
Ryan Lavarnway entered Friday’s game after regular catcher A.J. Pierzynski was inured on a scoring play. Lavarnway was 0-3 as the Atlanta Braves lost to the host Miami Marlins, 12-11. The Braves were down 12-6 but scored five runs in the seventh and eighth innings. Close but no cigar. Lavarnway was 0-4 in Saturday’s 6-2 loss.
Rookie Cody Decker struck out as a pinch hitter yesterday a the San Diego Padres shut out the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks, 3-0.
Permalink Leave a comment
Fri, 25 Sep 2015 15:52:03 | by Ron Kaplan
The following was posted on Facebook by the Jewish Sports Heritage Association, Inc. I edited it for formatting.
Brown and Harvard open the Ivy League season against each other for the 16th straight season, playing under the lights at Harvard Stadium on Saturday, September 26. Brown (0-1), outgained Bryant (4 Jewish players) in its season opener Saturday, but the Bears could not overcome five turnovers in a 20-16 loss. Brown has five Jewish players on its squad, three upper-classmen and two freshmen:
Permalink Leave a comment
Fri, 25 Sep 2015 13:59:21 | by Ron Kaplan
Danny Valencia hit his 24th double in four at bats as the Oakland Athletics fell to the visiting Texas Rangers, 9-1. Sam Fuld did not appear in the game for the As.
Joc Pederson entered the game between his LA Dodgers and the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks as a defensive replacement in the sixth inning and was hitless in two plate appearances. The Dodgers won, 6-3.
Cody Decker struck out as a pinch-hitter in the fifth inning for the San Diego Padres in a 5-4 win over the visiting San Francisco Giants. Decker is hitless in four at bats since his call-up.
Craig Breslow did not appear for the Boston Red Sox in their 4-2 loss to the visiting Tampa Bay Rays.
Ryan Braun did not appear for the Milwaukee Brewers in their 7-3 loss to the host St. Louis Cardinals. He has not played since Sept. 18.
No games for Kevin Pillar (Toronto Blue Jays), Ryan Lavarnway (Atlanta Braves), or Ian Kinsler (Detroit Tigers).
Permalink Leave a comment
Thu, 24 Sep 2015 16:52:44 | by Ron Kaplan
Yogi Berra, the Hall of Fame catcher for the New York Yankees during their glory years of the 1950s, passed away Tuesday at the age of 90.
There’s not a lot of Jewish connection for Berra; the Yankees didn’t have any during his playing days and he coached/managed a couple, including Art Shamsky and Ron Blomberg.
One snippet from an appreciation in The Atlantic: “When told a Jewish man had been elected Mayor of Dublin, Ireland, he responded, “Only in America!””
In an ESPN biodoc about Sandy Koufax, Berra said about the pitcher’s 1963 season, “I can see how he won 25 games. What I don’t understand is how he lost five.” Coincidentally, both men were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. Koufax, at 36, was the youngest ever to be enshrined.
Needless to say, Berra was one of a kind. One of the last great players of his generation as well as a “colorful character,” the media is full of stories, especially in the New York market. Here are just a few:
Dave (“No Relation”) Kaplan, director of the Yogi Berra Museum, wrote several books with Berra, including:
I’m sure these will jump significantly in the Amazon rankings in the days to come.
Permalink Leave a comment
Thu, 24 Sep 2015 15:57:02 | by Ron Kaplan
From the legendary film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence:
I guess Los Angeles (and even Minnesota) could be considered “the West” for our purposes.
John Rosengren, who wrote an excellent biography about Hank Greenberg, IMO does a disservice to Sandy Koufax’s place in history in piece that on the Sports Illustrated website titled “Myth and fact part of legacy from Sandy Koufax’s Yom Kippur choice.” Among other things, he casts aspersions of the validity of anecdotes shared by members of the Jewish clergy.
From Rosengren’s piece:
How is Feller — or anyone with a famous person meeting anecdote — supposed to corroborate their statement if the subject is notoriously close-mouthed?
(To be fair, Rosengren is right in some instances — Koufax couldn’t possibly have attended services in so many synagogues in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. It’s kind of like the extra thousands of people who claim to have been at the ballpark when Ted Williams hit a home run in hist last career at bat or when Bobby Thomson cracked “the shot heard ’round the world.”).Later Rosengren takes on Koufax’s own claims that he never pitched on Yom Kippur (or Rosh Hashana):
I addressed this five years ago in an entry on the Korner. Here it is again.
It may be an innocent mistake, but with sites like Retrosheet, Baseball-reference, et al, there’s always going to be someone who seeks to verify claims.
Here’s another piece egregiously titled “Sandy Koufax is Criminally Overrated” that challenges whether Koufax should even be in the Hall of Fame. Really? “Criminally?” Granted he didn’t have the longevity of some pitchers who seem to be there only because they lasted so long… More on that in a future post.
Permalink Leave a comment
Thu, 24 Sep 2015 14:53:11 | by Ron Kaplan
Maude, the star of the eponymous spin-off of All in the Family, had one of those catchphrases that became a staple in pop culture:
But will he? At least in the context of Jewish athletes playing on Yom Kippur?
In the words of another famous TV “personality”:
Kevin Pillar did all right on erev YK (EYK): 3-3 with his 26th double, 11th home run, and two stolen bases (22 for the year. Unfortunately, the Toronto Blue Jays lost to the visiting NY Yankees, 6-4. On YK proper (YKP) he was 1-4 with an RBI (#50) and another steal in a 4-0 win.
Danny Valencia was 1-3 with an RBI and two walks on EKY in an 8-6 loss for the Oakland Athletics to the visiting Texas Rangers. He was 1-3 the next day in a 10-3 loss. Sam Fuld appeared only as a pinch-hitter on YKP, popping out to second.
Ian Kinsler was 0-4 on EYK as the Detroit Tigers beat the host Chicago White Sox, 2-1. On YKP, Kinsler was 2-4 with a run scored and an RBI in 1 7-4 win.
Craig Breslow pitched a scoreless ninth inning for the Boston Red Sox in their 5-2 loss to the visiting Tampa Bay Rays on EYK.
Joc Pederson did not play on EYK and went 0-3 in a 4-1 LA Dodger win over the visiting Arizona diamondbacks on YKP.
Ryan Lavarnway did not appear for the Atlanta Braves on either day against the host NY Mets.
Cody Decker did not appear for the San Diego Padres on either day against the visiting San Francisco Giants.
Ryan Braun, plagued with a bad back that will probably require off-season surgery, did not play on EYK or YKP.
And, blast from the past, Aaron Poreda started the Yomiuri Giants’ 3-2 win over the Hanshin Tigers on YKP but did not figure in the decision.
Permalink Leave a comment
Tue, 22 Sep 2015 14:34:34 | by Ron Kaplan
Look, I get that we don’t live in a “Jewish world,” that life goes on outside our community. So I don’t get too incensed when event are scheduled on the holidays. For example, holding NFL season-opening games erev Rosh Hashana or the St. Louis Cardinals holding their “College Night” game tonight.
Some local Jewish baseball fans have decided to hold their own commemoration of Koufax’s anniversary. From an article on Chabad.org:
Well, what can you expect from “cardinals.”
More YK/Koufax reading:
There are dozens of other stories about this, but most have the same theme of honoring your religion. To sum up, here’s the last stanza of Edgar Guest’s 1934 poem, “Came Yom Kippur.”
Permalink Leave a comment
Tue, 22 Sep 2015 13:41:57 | by Ron Kaplan
When was the last time this happened: The MOTs were collectively hitless last night. Not a big deal when you’re just talking about one or two guys, but between days off, injuries, reserves not playing, and regulars, the boys went 0-11.
Ian Kinsler was 0-3 as the Detroit Tigers lost to the visiting Chicago White Sox, 2-0, in the first game of a doubleheasder. Kinsler was in great company. Only Victor Martinez managed to get a hit as Jeff Samardzija pitched the one-hit complete-game shutout. That safety, coming in the fifth inning, was the only thing that separated Samardzija from a perfect game.
In the nightcap, Kinsler, serving as the DH, was 0-3 with a sacrifice fly RBI in a 3-2 loss.
Kevin Pillar was 0-3 with a walk and struck out twice, but the Toronto Blue Jays beat the visiting NY Yankees, 4-2, to widen their lead in the AL East to 3.5 games.
Joc Pederson was 0-2 before coming out for a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning of the LA Dodgers’ 8-4 loss to the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks.
Ryan Braun missed another game for the Milwaukee Brewers, a 9-5 loss to the host Chicago Cubs. Given Braun’s injury status, I don’t know why the Brewers don’t just shut him down right now, rather than maintaining a “day by day” attitude.
Ryan Lavarnway did not appear in the Atlanta Braves’ 4-0 loss to the host NY Mets.
Craig Breslow did not pitch in the Boston Red Sox’s dramatic 8-7 comeback win over the visiting Tampa Bay Rays. The Sox scored seven runs in their last two at bats to overcome a 7-1 deficit.
No games for Cody Decker and the San Diego Padres or Danny Valencia and Sam Fuld for the Oakland Athletics.
Permalink Leave a comment
Tue, 22 Sep 2015 13:25:24 | by Ron Kaplan
The MOT schedule tonight and tomorrow:
Permalink Leave a comment
Mon, 21 Sep 2015 16:48:44 | by Ron Kaplan
If he had just been a Jewish ballplayer, dayenu, it would have been enough.
If he had just been arguably the best pitcher of his generation, dayenu.
But when Sandy Koufax declined to take the mound for the first game of the 1965 World Series? More than enough.
Fifty years later, Koufax’s decision to sit out the game is a signal moment in American-Jewish history, one that even a black Baptist preacher like the Rev. Jesse Jackson called “one of the great statements in American athletics.” It inspired individuals as different as a Chabad rabbi who personally thanked Koufax the next day, a famed New York Met who would himself sit out during the High Holy Days, and a current Major Leaguer who calls Koufax a “role model.”
Ironically, when Sports Illustrated asked Koufax that year about his place alongside the game’s great pitchers, he replied, “I can’t picture people talking about me 50 years from now.”
In 1965, Koufax was finishing up his penultimate season in the Major Leagues, having led the Los Angeles Dodgers to the National League pennant. The World Series was scheduled to begin Oct. 6 against the American League champs, the Minnesota Twins.
As the ace of the staff, the starting assignment fell to Koufax. But the future Hall of Famer calmly told his employers he would not take the ball that day: It was Yom Kippur.
Koufax did not grow up in a particularly observant household, but like Hank Greenberg — the first Jewish baseball superstar a generation before — he felt a responsibility to honor his heritage. While the Dodgers were losing the first game, Koufax was holed up at the team’s hotel in St. Paul.
He started and lost the second game to put the Dodgers in a 2-0 hole. He bounced back to win the fifth game and returned on two days rest (instead of the usual four) to throw a 2-0 shutout to give the Dodgers the world championship. Koufax was named Series MVP and Sports Illustrated honored him as their Sportsman of the Year.
Considering Koufax’s stature, the press at the time took little note regarding the reason for his absence. The Sporting News, considered “the Bible of baseball,” didn’t mention it at all and The New York Times just ran a four-paragraph wire service story.
Rabbi Moshe Feller was 28 and a fervent baseball fan when he learned of Koufax’s decision and made one of his own. Taking a bold step that would be impossible in today’s security-conscious celebrity world, the Minnesotan went to the Dodgers’ hotel the day after Yom Kippur with a gift for Koufax.
“I wanted to associate his famous left arm with tefillin,” Feller, now 78 and the director of Chabad Lubavitch in St. Paul, told NJJN. “I knew the hotel where they were staying and I decided to go down and make a presentation. Now how would that be? Everybody in the world would love to talk to Sandy Koufax; he was the most famous Jew of the time. The likelihood of him seeing me on the day he was going to pitch and getting through to him? But I’m going to try.”
Feller took the tefillin — the leather boxes and straps used by observant Jews during morning prayers — to the front desk. He told the clerk, “‘I am Rabbi Feller and I want to speak to Mr. Koufax.’ Now everybody knew he was Jewish — he didn’t pitch the day before — so I must be his rabbi.”
The clerk gave him Koufax’s room number and Feller called from a house phone, making introductions: “The Lubavitcher Rebbe greatly appreciates what you did; we all do. You gave us an assist. You know how many Jewish kids didn’t go to school, how many Jewish businessmen didn’t go to business on Yom Kippur because you didn’t pitch? More Jews knew about when Yom Kippur is from reading in the sports pages that you’re not pitching than knew from the Jewish calendar because more Jews read the sports pages than from the calendar.”
Koufax invited Feller up to his room and was “very gracious” when accepting the gift. “He held the tefillin and fondled the tefillin in the velvet bag. I wanted to put them on with him, but he intimated to me that he could do it himself,” said Feller.
As the brief visit came to an end, Koufax said, “Rabbi Feller, they make a big fuss over the fact that I don’t pitch on Yom Kippur. I don’t pitch on Rosh Hashana either!”
“It was a big kiddush Hashem,” or glorification of God’s name, Feller said. “He’s not particularly religious, but he knows he’s a role model and people look up to him. So there was no way he was going to pitch on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar…. He accomplished so much with that deed. It swelled the pride of Jews the world over and of men of good faith of all religions that a guy thought more in this materialistic world where making a buck is number one, he chose to stick by principles that were important.”
Former Major Leaguer Art Shamsky was in his second year with the New York Mets in 1969 when he informed manager Gil Hodges he would be taking some time off for the High Holy Days. In the heat of the Mets’ pennant race, it was easier for a part-timer like Shamsky to take off than if he had been an everyday player.
“I learned of Koufax’s decision…when the announcement was made,” said Shamsky, who made his debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 1965. “It didn’t affect me on a personal or religious level because at that time I considered myself a baseball player who just happened to be Jewish.”
Shamsky said his decision “was strictly something that I felt I had to do. Over the years I have been astounded by the number of people who have thanked me for doing it, some of whom hadn’t been born yet.”
The Major Leaguer
Sam Fuld, a 10-year Major Leaguer currently with the Oakland Athletics, called Koufax “a role model for many, including myself.” Fuld spoke with NJJN on the day the Athletics were hosting their Jewish Heritage Night game. “There are only so many Jewish ballplayers out there,” he said. “And [Koufax] was the biggest star of them all.”
Fuld laughed when asked about the tendency of Jewish sports fans to “claim” ballplayers as one of their own, regardless of how tangential their relationship is to Judaism. “It’s never bothered me,” said Fuld, the product of an interfaith marriage who celebrated both Jewish and Christian holidays growing up. “I’ve always embraced that part of my heritage and am proud to be a part of the Jewish community. I like that I’m expected to be a role model, much like Sandy Koufax was…. If I can be a role model to Jewish kids, I’m very much happy and honored to be a part of that.”
“For Koufax, history will show that he not only was one of the greatest pitchers ever, but his status as a person with great moral character will live on forever,” Shamsky said.
“It is a tribute to him that he has lived his life right. Fifty years later people still remember.”
On with the show…
The preceding appeared in the Sept. 17 print edition of New Jersey Jewish News, which, being a print publication, is limited in space. But several others ladies and gentlemen from various walks of life were kind enough to contribute their thoughts, which I am happy to offer you here:
Rabbi Jason Miller, who regularly blogs about sports, was in the first grade circa mid-1980s when he encountered what Koufax had accomplished with his stance.
“Going to a Jewish Day School in suburban Detroit, our teacher told us about how both Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg sat out significant games on Yom Kippur,” Miller said in an e-mail. “It made me feel proud as a Jew.”
Nevertheless, he has empathy for the difficult decision facing some ballplayers. “I think that when Jewish athletes publicly choose to avoid playing on Yom Kippur it makes many in the Jewish community proud, but ultimately, I don’t think it’s for us to demand how our fellow Jews choose to observe — or not observe — Jewish holidays or Shabbat. I feel bad when non-observant Jewish players feel pressure to decide whether to play on Yom Kippur or not. In some cases, they’re non-practicing individuals who don’t feel any sense of commitment to Jewish law, but for PR sake they feel compelled to not play.
Miller summed up, “As a rabbi, I could see using the ‘controversy’ of Jewish professional athletes having to decide to play or not as an example of what it means to be known as a Jewish player and content with public pressure. For children, I think we can use the examples of Koufax and Greenberg as moments of pride for the Jewish community. However, I don’t think it’s wise to continue with an expectation that Jewish players will avoid competition on Jewish holidays — even on the holiest day of the year.”
Rabbi Rebecca Alpert, a professor of Religion at Temple University and author of Out of Left Field: Jews and Black Baseball, appeared in the 2010 documentary Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story. She wrote Koufax the following letter in appreciation after his participation in the project:
The sports professionals
Richie Scheinblum was a Jewish Major Leaguer who made his debut in 1965 as a member of the Cleveland Indians. Years later, he became one of the few Jews to play professional baseball in Japan. His team, the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, won the Central Division title and was set to play in the Japan World Series after being a perennial cellar-dweller.
“The first game fell on Yom Kippur, and I had to tell them it was my day of atonement,” he said in an e-mail. Scheinblum did not play that game, out of respect for his deceased parents.
“They did not understand,” he said, “but I stayed in my apartment until the doorbell rang.” Dozens of reporters showed up with interpreters to witness this unprecedented situation. “They came to watch me pray. The next day in a magazine, they showed me on my knees in front of the TV, where the game was on, and I was in my Carp uniform.”
Marty Appel, who starting his career in baseball PR working for the Yankees answering Mickey Mantle’s fan mail, was in college at the time. “My thought was that he made the best decision under the circumstances, because the ramifications of pitching would have exceeded the message of not pitching…. He just knew it would be seen as bad form to play. It turned out to be a seminal event in the telling of his life story, but being pragmatic, at the time I just thought it was Sandy doing what he had to do.”
Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. Ambassador to both Israel and Egypt, told NJ Jewish News in an e-mail that he couldn’t recall his feelings about at the time of Koufax’s decision, “but I do remember the buzz among members of my family and their friends. It was very exciting to hear so many people talk about baseball!
“I began to experience and feel the impact of his action only some years later, when I entered the State Department and was confronted with Shabbat and holiday issues,” said Kurtzer, who also served as commissioner of the short-lived Israel Baseball League in 2007. “Back then, there was little precedent for someone trying to observe Shabbat/holiday time limitations…, and the attitude of some within the State Department was to argue that I couldn’t expect to work in the Near East Bureau if I routinely wouldn’t come in on Shabbat. I did cite the Koufax precedent a few times to indicate that one could actually excel in one’s profession even if he or she observed religious tradition. I’m not sure that the argument carried much sway, but it certainly made me feel better about my decision to stand by my principles.”
John Sexton, former president of New York University and co-author of Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game, has been a Dodgers fan since childhood. He was studying for a PhD in history of American religion at Fordham University in the fall of 1965.
“When I heard of Koufax’s decision, I recall a feeling of great respect wash over me — respect for his choice, and for his own respect of tradition — and how, in real time, we were seeing a generation of fans and future players being inspired,” said Sexton in an e-mail. “The parallel to Hank Greenberg and what he did more than 30 High Holy Days earlier was unmistakable.”
Sexton, a Roman Catholic who married a Jewish woman, has found great admiration for Koufax that has only increased over the decades.
“Koufax’s decision lives in lore not only because he was true to his principles but also because of his MVP performance in the games that followed. If anything, my great respect for his decision has been underscored in the years since, especially each time a younger Jewish fan — those who weren’t even born yet in 1965, my son included — describe Koufax and the events of that World Series, in particular, as inspirational.”
Sexton sees those athletes who put their game aside in favor of a higher issue as dealing with “a matter of distinction than burden. Not all Jewish ballplayers have taken themselves out of the lineup in similar situations since, but those who have are part of a select group that includes two Hall of Famers, Koufax and Greenberg.”
Nor is such an exhibit limited to Jews.
“These events do not necessarily exist in a vacuum,” he said. “I can’t help but think if a prominent Muslim baseball player emerges, for example, and makes a similar decision to sit-out during Ramadan, a Koufax-like hero can emerge again to an entirely new group of fans.”
Like many others who responded to my queries, Jeff Katz, the mayor of Cooperstown, NY, and author of Split-Season, did not grow up in an especially observant home.
“Koufax was always a family hero,” Katz wrote in an e-mail. “I was born in 1962, so by the time I came to baseball, say 1967 or 1968, he was an announcer. The first time I remember reading about him was in George Vecsey’s The Baseball Life of Sandy Koufax, a Scholastic book that I got when I was nine.
“I was brought up Conservative, so Koufax’s decision was meaningful,” said Katz. “As a young kid, Jewish athletes meant a lot to me, especially the superstars who were hard to come by. (Meeting Skip Jutze at my temple in Lake Ronkonkoma, Long Island, was cool, but he was no Koufax.) The reputation of brainy Jews who have no athletic ability is pernicious, and leads to a real clinging by Jewish people to Jewish athletes.”
Katz suggested the mania for Jewish athletes stems from a common problem, blamed on Jewish parents that was probably truer going back a few generations than it might be today.
“I was always a so-so athlete,” he said. “Sometimes very good, sometimes very bad, but I was a huge sports fan and liked to play. [But] my parents, like so many other Jewish parents, didn’t encourage my interest in athletics and…that hurt my chances of making teams. It’s because of this somewhat prevalent attitude of Jewish parents towards sports that Jewish kids are intensely dedicated to Jewish athletes. To me, it felt like somehow they had found a way to escape the negative bias they no doubt got at home. There’s a certain sense of liberation in that idea.”
Jay Goldberg, owner the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse in Manhattan, was too young to remember the event in real time.
“I was probably about eight or nine when I first remember hearing about Sandy Koufax and Yom Kippur. My parents told me about it; I learned about it in Hebrew School; I heard about it at Camp Ramah,” he said in an e-mail. “As a child, I didn’t fully understand the implications of his action. I grew up in a Conservative Judaism environment. I didn’t go to school on Yom Kippur, my dad didn’t go to work, so it didn’t seem unusual. But through the years, I have come to truly appreciate Sandy’s decision.”
“He was not an observant Jew. If he were, the decision would have been easy,” Goldberg said. An observant Jew would never work on Yom Kippur; no decision needs to be made. But for an ‘unobservant’ Jew to take this action on one of the most important days of his business life is heroic.
“He set an example and made a public statement with this action. The more I understood what he did, the prouder I became. A proud Jew…. While I have been a huge fan of many ballplayers through the years, with the exception of Jackie Robinson, he is the only other baseball player I consider a hero,” said Goldberg.
Vin Scully has been calling Dodger games for over 60 years, dating back to their days in Brooklyn. He was there to see Koufax evolve from a hard-throwing rookie with no control to one of the all-time greats of the game. While exact details are hazy — small surprise for someone who has called more than 5,000 games — Scully said in an e-mail he learned about Koufax’s decision “few days before” the opening game. “We were all caught up with World Series fever and excitement.” Scully guessed the rest of the Dodgers were not overly concerned. “Everyone respected Sandy and we all knew he would pitch the next game.”
You don’t even have to be a fan of the iconic left-hander to appreciate what he did. Journalist Jane Leavy — author of the best-selling Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy (as well one on her real hero in The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood) — was a teenager in 1965. She expressed her feelings in an e-mail:
Alan Freedman, editor and publisher of Jewish Sports Heritage magazine, recalled “This was major news to my friends and I — the best pitcher in the game not pitching on Yom Kippur. We talked about it a lot [but] did we think it would be something that a writer would ask us about 50 years later? No, of course not. But we were very proud of Koufax for standing up for what he believed in and the fact that we was Jewish; we were kvelling for a long time about it.”
“I think there is an unfair burden placed on Jewish athletes to observe the holidays,” said Bondy, whose most recent — The Pine Tar Game: The Kansas City Royals, the New York Yankees, and Baseball’s Most Absurd and Entertaining Controversy — was released this summer. “They shouldn’t be placed in a position where they have to answer the no-win question, ‘Will you work on Yom Kippur?’ If a Jewish player is religious, that’s one thing. But a cultural, non-practicing Jew should not be vilified or made to feel guilty about participating in sport. NBA players perform on Christmas. Nobody asks LeBron James, ‘Will you be working on Christmas?’ A job is a job. it could be argued that Koufax did future Jewish athletes no favors by amping up the pressure.”
Sportswriter Howard Megdal was one of those young fans to whom Sexton and Shamsky had referred.
The Koufax story was absolutely a regular part of our Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur for as long as I could remember,” said the 35-year-old author of The Baseball Talmud: The Definitive Position-by-Position Ranking of Baseball’s Chosen Players in an e-mail, “just as Hank Greenberg’s actions 31 years earlier had been a bedtime story.”
As the father of two young girls, Megdal put Koufax’s statement in perspective. “There are larger matters than work in life. Koufax’s choice gives us a chance to remember this.”
And last but not least, the man himself: Sandy Koufax in a clip from the Jews and Baseball documentary. The excerpt also features comments from Alpert, Rabbi Michael Paley, and the late, great sportswriter Maury Allen.
As Yogi Berra might have said, “Thank you, Sandy, for making this post necessary.”
For further reading: In addition to Leavy’s arguably definitive bio, try these on for size…
Permalink Leave a comment
Mon, 21 Sep 2015 15:31:43 | by Ron Kaplan
Once again the NY Giant snatched defeat in the face of victory. Up 20-17 with hes than 1:30 left to play, the visiting Atlanta Falcons scored on a two yard rush for the 24-20 win. Geoff Schwartz was in on all 71 one offensive plays plus another five (17 percent) on special teams. The Giants fall to 0-2.
Brother Mitchell Schwartz played on all of the Cleveland Browns’ offensive downs in their 28-14 win over the visiting Tennessee Titans, but that added up to just 49, plus another four (15 percent) on special teams. He also recovered a fumble coughed up when quarterback Johnny Manziel was sacked. The Browns evened their record at 1-1.
Taylor Mays made his debut as the starting safety for the Oakland Raiders. He made five tackles (two solo, three assisted) in 33 plays (40 percent) in the Raiders’ 37-33 win over the visiting Baltimore Ravens. The Raiders are 1-1.
Ari Marpet was in on all 66 offensive plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1) plus another seven (25 percent) on special teams in a 29-16 win over the host New Orleans Saints.
Nate Ebner was not active for the New England Patriots who improved to 20-90 with their 40-32 win over the host Buffalo Bills.
In the college ranks…
Josh Rosen led UCLA to a dramatic 24-23 win over visiting BYU. The Trojans scored 14 points in the fourth quarter. Rosen wasn’t extremely effective — just 11 completions in 23 attempts for 106 yards with one TD pass but three interceptions.
Newly “discovered” Arizona State QB Mike Bercovici had an easier time of it, taking the Sun Devils to a 34-10 win over the New Mexico Lobos. But there seems to be some controversy, as I’ve heard re: Rosen. According to Bob Wechsler, author of Day by Day in Jewish Sports History, “The Arizona State quarterback is listed in the latest issue of Jewish Sports Review. Maybe they didn’t know he’s a self-proclaimed atheist.”
Permalink Leave a comment
Mon, 21 Sep 2015 14:33:17 | by Ron Kaplan
“This time it counts!” Ian Kinsler was dubbed “the best player on the planet” by Lee Judge of the Kansas City Star after the Detroit Tigers’ second baseman hit a walk-off home run (#11) in the 11th inning to beat the visiting KC Royals, 6-5, on Saturday. It appeared Kinsler had scored the game winner on a sacrifice fly in the ninth, but the play was challenged and he was ruled out.
Seems to me Kinsler got more respect from the opposing team’s media than his own. (There’s even talk about replacing him.) He was 4-6 with two runs scored in Friday’s 5-4, 12-inning win. He did not play in Saturday’s loss to the Royals.
Speaking of respect, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus removed starting pitcher Justin Verlander with two out in the ninth inning of Friday’s game. The fans booed Ausmus for the unpopular move. Verlander didn’t appreciate that. and let the fans know that he supported Ausmus’ move. (Things didn’t get any better when reliever Alex Wilson gave up the two-run, game-tying home run that sent things into extra innings.)
Quite a weekend for Danny Valencia, too. He was 3-3 with two home runs (15 and 16), including the one that gave the Oakland Athletics the 4-3 win over the host Houston Astros on Friday. He was 3-8 with a run scored in the other two games, both As losses.
Sam Fuld pulled off this nifty catch on Friday as a reminder of how he earned the nickname “Super Sam.” The Astros were up, 2-0, with two men on base and one out in the third inning so his flying grab probably prevented two more runs. Unfortunately, he was also 0-5 at the plate and saw his batting average drop below .200 again.
Add Ryan Braun to the list of injured MOTs. Seems his back issues are serious enough to warrant possible off-season surgery. Given that the Milwaukee Brewers are currently in last place in the NL Central, I’m surprised they don’t just shut him down now. He sat out the last two games against the visiting Cincinnati Reds, who are a half-game above them after taking two of three over the weekend. Braun was 0-2 with two walks and a run scored in Friday’s 5-3 loss.
Kevin Pillar was 3-12 with a run scored and his 20th stolen base for the Toronto Blue Jays, who lost two of three to the visiting Boston Red Sox. Pillar has been steady at the plate, but not as spectacular as he has been on defense. Craig Breslow did not appear in any of the three games for the Red Sox.
Joc Pederson was 2-9 with two runs scored as the LA Dodgers dropped two of three to the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates. He may be having his struggles, but his still a champ to his brother, Champ.
Cody Decker had one appearance for the San Diego Padres over the weekend: He flied out as a pinch-hitter in the ninth in Saturday’s 10-2 loss to the host Colorado Rockies.
Ryan Lavarnway did not appear for the Atlanta Braves in any of the three games they won over the visiting Philadelphia Phillies by identical 2-1 scores.
Permalink Leave a comment
Fri, 18 Sep 2015 18:16:50 | by Ron Kaplan
Looking at the standings, my goodness, teams with JMLs aren’t doing to well this season, are they? It’s almost like having MOTs on your team is the new “Ex-Cubs factor.”
Of the 10 teams that have had Jewish players this year, two are in first place as of this writing (Toronto Blue Jays, LA Dodgers) and one is second (Houston Astros) in their respective divisions. Three are next to last (San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers) and four are dwelling in the cellar (Boston Reds Sox, Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds, Oakland Athletics).