When the Major League Baseball season started this week, some of us Jewish baseball fans are still reminiscing how well Team Israel did last month in the World Baseball Classic, actually winning four games.
Team Israel was the closest thing we ever had to having our own dream Jewish American lineup. We American Jews can’t help but be jealous of the holy land for recruiting our professional American Jewish baseball players to compete for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic games. Labeled the Cinderella of the series, the Israeli baseball team gave American Jewry lots to cheer for, since most of the team members were Americans. It’s a hoot that we have been creating fantasy Jewish baseball teams in our heads for decades, and now Israel got to claim the accomplished Jewish dream team.
DETROIT, MI – JULY 20: Manager Brad Ausmus #7 of the Detroit Tigers celebrates a win over the Seattle Mariners with Ian Kinsler #3 on July 20, 2015 at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. The Tigers defeated the Mariners 5-4. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
(JTA) — In baseball, they say time begins on Opening Day. Everyone has a chance for a fresh start. Most of the old familiar names are back, although some have new addresses. If you count Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, there are nine Jews who begin the year on Major League rosters. But then there’s the question of what to do about Ty Kelly of the New York Mets: Is he or isn’t he? That’s still a matter of debate among those who decide on such matters.
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As with all walks of life, choices define who we are and what we stand for. Yearly, Jewish baseball players are faced with the difficult choice of observing Yom Kippur or October baseball as the playoffs heat up. Back in the day this choice came to define Hank Greenberg’s laudable dedication to his faith. In an October article in popular Hollywood news site, The Wrap, Aviva Kempner unravels the issue in our current sports and religious society and looks for a path forward to make it simpler for Jewish athletes to practice their religion while still playing ball, thus “covering all their bases.”
76 years ago a single crack of the bat reminded the Chicago Cubs that the Detroit Tigers and Hank Greenberg would not go gentle into that good night. Greenberg rocketed a homer against Cub’s pitcher Henry Ryse giving the Tiger’s a 3-1 lead in a game that they would ultimately win. The Cubs already had a one game lead after a tremendous 9-0 first game of the Series. Some credit this crack, Greenberg’s wicked powerful swing as the momentum that would eventually lead to the Tigers 4-3 Series victory over the Cubs and the beginning of the Curse of the Billy Goat, the longest running curse in the MLB. The Billy Goat Curse has become arguably the only superstition in baseball directly tied to a domesticated animal but many question the validity of such superstitions. Whether the kid who cursed the Cubs had hooves and straw in his mouth, or a cap one and hickory in his hand, tonight will prove whether the Cubs can break free from their 76 year curse, or perhaps, a Cleveland player will step into the shoes of Greenberg and send Chicago home packing yet again.
Read more about superstitions in baseball here and Hank Greenberg’s Jewish ball player dilemma here.
David Halberstam recently wrote a piece for the USAToday the detailed the ties between American baseball and Yom Kippur. He writes of the stark differences in the way Jewish people were treated in the U.S. in the two different years. He talks about effects of Koufax and Greenberg’s decisions to skip games on the holiday, and about what the decisions symbolize. He also makes mention of our film, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg. Read the full article here: