Jews and Baseball...An Inseparable Duo
It's time the world rid of the "Jews only wear suits" slight
Israel’s invitation to qualify in the 2013 World Baseball Classic (WBC) is not only a grand achievement for a country whose baseball program is still in its infant stages, but also a key stepping stone to further legitimize Jewish athletes already contributing as a whole in the sport.
The WBC is an international event, which brings together the elite talents in the game, proudly representing their countries in an elimination tournament comparable to soccer’s World Cup. Israel is one of 12 new invitees, who will be joined by the bottom 4 teams from the 2009 WBC in a preliminary qualifying tournament this fall.
But by no means is this to be taken as an introduction for Jews to the annals of baseball lore.
Jews and baseball have historically had a rich and fruitful partnership. Typically being associated with the business side of things (MLB Commissioner and former Brewers owner Al "Bud" Selig is one prominent name that stands out), countless athletes have also had some very lucrative careers on the field.
Who can forget Hank Greenberg, the original "Hebrew Hammer"? Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1956, Greenberg was a five-time All-Star and a two-time MVP. Although admittedly not a "religious" Jew, he sat out a game in 1934 in observance of Yom Kippur.
The most famous name that comes to mind is former Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax, a seven-time All-Star, three-time Cy Young winner and 1963 NL MVP (The list keeps going…), who in 1965, reminiscent to what Greenberg had done 31 years prior, sat out Game 1 of the World Series, also on Yom Kippur. (Possible trend forming?)
On a more contemporary level, in 2001 Blue Jay alumnus Shawn Green, then playing for the Dodgers, created a similar stir to Greenberg and Koufax when he too opted not to play on Yom Kippur while his team was fighting for a spot in the postseason. In his autobiography "The Way of Baseball," Green describes his insecurities, yet eventual acceptance of his journey to becoming a "Jewish role Model."
Even while being engulfed within the exclusive athletic fraternity that is baseball, with its own engrained culture and priorities, it seems that the power of an individual’s Judaic roots ceases to dissipate.
Back to 2012…
With the growing number of American born names being proudly associated with Israel's submission to the WBC, a similar sense of cultural pride can once again be seen.
Already confirmed is recently retired 18 year Major League veteran Brad Ausmus, who has agreed to manage.
"I'm embracing the idea of being an ambassador for the sport in Israel" Ausmus told the Associated Press.
Other retired major leaguers such as Green and Gabe Kapler have been added to the team by Ausmus, either as players or in a coaching role.
Current major leaguers Ian Kinsler, Kevin Youkilis, and reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun have also been rumored to be in talks as possible candidates for the team.
Whether or not all of the big names mentioned decide to play is still being worked out, as Youkilis, Kinsler and Braun could very well be invited to play for the US team as well. The truly remarkable thing that needs to be emphasized is just the sheer interest and enthusiasm shown by contemporary Jewish major leaguers to represent their ancestral nation.
In a recent trip to Israel, Ausmus confirmed to the Associated Press that although not all Jewish players he spoke with had fully committed to the team, they were all “honoured" to be given the opportunity. The fact that they're even in discussions and considering the privilege gives merit to Jews in the public spotlight who are proudly embracing their heritage.
The enthusiasm demonstrated might ultimately prove to provide affirmation for up and coming Jewish athletes, who may have otherwise felt a career in the pros was either unattainable or impractical.
Israel has been given the opportunity to compete among the sports elite on an international stage, ultimately providing a huge boost to help educate against the stigma of "Jews ONLY wearing the suits". It seems history has shown we don't look so bad in uniform either.