A few months ago I wrote about the passing of my brother-in-law, Rabbi Shmuel Kunda, z”l, and how he never got around to a project I urged him to take on. I wanted him to title it “Boruch Goes to Ebbets Field” and tell the story of how Boruch bonds with Brooklyn’s beloved Dodgers – with Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges and the rest. (The Duke was my brother-in-law’s favorite.)
The column evoked many e-mails from readers. One was from Mrs. Chavie Zelmanowitz of Brooklyn, who also had a special brother-in-law and who was a frequent visitor to Ebbets Field.
“The Duke,” she wrote, “was my favorite and I have my autographed Duke Snider baseball to go along with my husband’s autographed Mickey Mantle baseball (in a safety deposit box) – my husband being the ultimate Yankees fan. When I went to work for a Manhattan firm in 1956 the best perk were season box seats at Ebbets Field.”
You’ve probably heard of her special brother-in-law, Abe (Avremel) Zelmanowitz, z”l.
“He worked with a quadriplegic man for 12 years at Empire Blue Cross and they became close friends,” Mrs Z. wrote about the events of September 11, 2001. “They were on the 27th floor of Tower One and Avremel could have saved himself but he chose to remain with his friend Ed, after telling Ed’s aide to leave since she had been on a higher floor and was affected by smoke and coughing badly. Sadly, they and a fireman who was with them all perished.”
How does a youngster born on the other side of the ocean and who doesn’t speak much English develop a fondness for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Gil Hodges? I posed that question to Rabbi Moshe Bergstein, one of the respected and beloved rabbis of the Detroit community.
“I was born in a displaced persons camp in Eshwege, Germany, and my first language was Yiddish,” Rabbi B. began.
“I first learned English in yeshiva in Brooklyn and my first real contact with baseball was at Ira Brustein’s apartment in 1953,” the rabbi continued. “He was watching a Dodgers game. We got a television the following year and I was hooked on the Dodgers. Gil Hodges became my favorite player. He was a great hitter and a great first baseman and the other players respected him.”
Rabbi Bergstein is one of many who want to see Hodges enshrined in baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
“After all,” the rabbi reminds us, “for seven consecutive seasons, 1949-1955, Hodges drove in at least 100 runs and at the time of his retirement in 1963 he had 370 career home runs, which was the National League record for a right-handed hitter at the time. He was also the best defensive first baseman of his era. And he won the World Series as manager of the 1969 Miracle Mets.”
It’s been 41 years since Gil Hodges, still a relatively young man, died suddenly and shockingly after playing golf in West Palm Beach, Florida. I pass the area each time I go on the 15-mile jaunt from my winter dugout in West Palm’s Century Village to Jupiter, spring home of the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins. Current and former Jewish Press employees winter here because of the Aitz Chaim shul a pop-up away from the Village and the lower prices for housing than is found at other Florida sites.
Fifteen big league teams use Florida sites (Grapefruit League) and 15 clubs are housed in Arizona (Cactus League). Spring training should shed some light on the questions most bandied about by the national media:
● Is Toronto baseball’s most improved team?
● Are the Yankees beginning a steep decline?
● Are the Red Sox just an average team?
● Does Detroit have a lock on the top spot of the American League Central?
● Are the Angels the best in the West?
● Is Cincinnati the best team in the National League?
● Can the Dodgers spend their way to the top?
● Are the Phillies good enough to contend?
I’ll try to answer these and other questions next month.
About the Author: Author, columnist, and public speaker Irwin Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years before working for a major league team and becoming the first Orthodox Jew to receive a World Series ring. His column appears the second week of each month and he can be reached in his suburban Detroit dugout at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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