web analytics
October 25, 2014 / 1 Heshvan, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Some Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Jewish Major Leaguers

Ephross-040612

Nearly all fans of baseball history have heard of Hank Greenberg. Most have heard of Al Rosen. But fewer have heard of Cal Abrams, and hardly any, it’s safe to say, have heard of Lou Limmer. All four are members of a compelling team – American Jews who played Major League Baseball.

Why should we care about Jews who played in the Major Leagues?

Baseball helped American Jews feel at home and helped non-Jewish Americans feel comfortable around them. For instance, there’s the famous Greenberg story of sitting out a game on Yom Kippur in 1934. The actions of the slugging Tigers’ first baseman along with his home runs made him a hero to Jews and non-Jews.

The conundrum of whether to play on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, has resurfaced for many players, from Sandy Koufax deciding not to pitch in the first game of the 1965 World Series to, more recently, outfielder Shawn Green, both of the Dodgers. Every time a star player rests on the High Holidays, it generates national headlines and fosters Jewish pride. Of course, non-stars have to make the same call.

The story of Jews in baseball goes beyond the well-trod turf of the “High Holidays dilemma.” Rebutting anti-Semitism and fighting hecklers was not uncommon for Jewish players, even when the hecklers were on the opposing bench. In particular Rosen, a former amateur boxer, wasn’t shy about taking on hecklers.

Racial awareness is another theme. Most Jewish players understood some of the prejudices faced by black players. Some, like Abrams, felt a special bond with their black teammates.

“I associated with them because we had a rapport about being with each other,” Abrams said of his black teammates on the Brooklyn Dodgers, including Jackie Robinson. “We kibitzed around with each other, but I didn’t go out with them. I mean, I wouldn’t go into the end of town to go dancing with the black people, but whenever we could we were together clowning around and kidding around.”

Jewish pride is a recurrent trope, too. Ron Blomberg made many New York Yankees ushers happy when he made his debut for the team in 1967.

“Most of them were Jewish, with names like Hymowitz or Lichstein, and three or four of them told me they never thought they would ever see a Jew play baseball in Yankee Stadium,” Blomberg recalled. “They had tears in the eyes and said to me, ‘You little Yid, you’re someone I can look up to now.’ ”

Pride in being Jewish is one thing, but being actively Jewish is another – most Jewish players, like most American Jews, weren’t observant. Many were raised Orthodox but none seemed to have maintained this level of observance as adults. It makes sense: Eating kosher food and maintaining any sense of Shabbat would be impossible while pursuing a professional baseball career.

The collective accomplishments of Jewish Major Leaguers likely would surprise most people. Jews, who made up about 3 percent of the U.S. population during the 20th century, made up just 0.8 percent of baseball players from 1871 to 2002, the latest year for which the nonprofit organization Jewish Major Leaguers has complete figures. But Jewish players on the whole have fared better than average. They hit 2,032 homers — 0.9 percent of the Major League total, and a bit higher than would be expected by their percentage of all players. Their .265 batting average is 3 percentage points higher than the overall average.

Jewish pitchers are 20 games above .500, with six of baseball’s first 230 no-hitters (four by Sandy Koufax, including a perfect game, and two by Ken Holtzman). The group ERA is 3.66, slightly lower than the 3.77 by all Major Leaguer hurlers. With the recent influx of top-flight Jewish Major Leaguers, the statistics even may have improved since 2002.

The stat in which Jews have fallen short is stolen bases, with a total of 995 through 2002 – many fewer than Rickey Henderson stole all by himself. Apparently, Jewish players have observed the Eighth Commandment: “Thou shalt not steal.”

Of the 141 Jewish-identified Major Leaguers as of 2002, 122 were born into families in which both parents were Jewish and 13 had one Jewish parent (seven with a Jewish father and six with a Jewish mother). Six players – including Elliott Maddox, an African American – converted to Judaism. Sixty-eight players hailed from New York or California, and the rest were born in 21 other states, as well as Russia, France, Canada and the Dominican Republic. Ten players changed their last names, all but one of them before Greenberg played.

Lou Limmer, by the way, was a slugger who played for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1951 and 1954.

Peter Ephross is the editor of the recently published “Jewish Major Leaguers in Their Own Words: Oral Histories of 23 Players,” from which this was excerpted.

About the Author: Peter Ephross is the editor of the recently published “Jewish Major Leaguers in Their Own Words: Oral Histories of 23 Players,” from which this was excerpted.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Some Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Jewish Major Leaguers”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Do you know where your vegetables grow?
Not So Kosher Shemittah L’Mehadrin
Latest Indepth Stories
Eller-102414-Cart

I had to hire a babysitter so that I could go shopping or have someone come with me to push Caroline in her wheelchair.

Bills to restore the balance of power in Israel will be fought by the not-so-judicial left.

Widespread agreement in Israel opposing Palestinian diplomatic warfare, commonly called “lawfare.”

Chaye Zisel Braun

Arab terrorism against Jews and the State of Israel is not something we should be “calm” about.

Peace Now Chairman Yariv Oppenheimer

The Israeli left, led by tenured academics, endorses pretty much anything harmful to its own country

We were devastated: The exploitation of our father’s murder as a vehicle for political commentary.

Judea and Samaria (Yesha) have been governed by the IDF and not officially under Israeli sovereignty

While not all criticism of Israel stemmed from anti-Semitism, Podhoretz contends the level of animosity towards Israel rises exponentially the farther left one moved along the spectrum.

n past decades, Oman has struck a diplomatic balance between Saudi Arabia, the West, and Iran.

The Torah scroll which my family donated will ride aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier

The Jewish Press endorses the reelection of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. His record as governor these past four years offers eloquent testimony to the experience and vision he has to lead the Empire State for the next four years.

I think Seth Lipsky is amazing, but it just drives home the point that newspapers have a lot of moving parts.

Myth #1: It is easy to be a B’nai Noach. It is extraordinarily hard to be a B’nai Noach.

The question of anti-Semitism in Europe today is truly tied to the issue of immigration.

Polls indicate that the Palestinians are much more against a two state solution than the Israelis.

More Articles from Peter Ephross
Ephross-040612

Nearly all fans of baseball history have heard of Hank Greenberg. Most have heard of Al Rosen. But fewer have heard of Cal Abrams, and hardly any, it’s safe to say, have heard of Lou Limmer. All four are members of a compelling team – American Jews who played Major League Baseball.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/some-things-you-probably-didnt-know-about-jewish-major-leaguers/2012/04/04/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: