Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Theo Epstein became the general manager of the Boston Red Sox in 2002 at the age of 28. The youngest GM in the history of baseball, he rebuilt the roster and in 2004 the Red Sox won their first World Series since 1918. They won another World Series in 2007.

Epstein is the son of novelist Leslie Epstein and grandson of Philip Epstein, who co-wrote the screenplay of the movie “Casablanca” with his twin brother Julius. They won an Oscar for the Humphrey Bogart/ Ingrid Bergman classic.

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After the 2011 season Theo opted to leave Fenway Park for Wrigley Field, another iconic stadium, and for the flashier title of president, baseball operations. The question at the time was whether he could do the seemingly impossible and repeat the success he enjoyed with the Red Sox by bringing a championship to another historically inept team. The Cubs hadn’t won a World Series since 1908, and hadn’t even played in one since 1945.

Epstein leveled with Cubs fans, telling them there would be some lean years while the team underwent a major overhaul. Most of the moves eventually panned out. It was hardly mere luck when the Cubs last month won their first world championship in 108 years. Theo Epstein’s Cubs are simply the best team in baseball.

Theo knows baseball talent and has earned himself sports immortality by bringing championships to the two teams that had become most synonymous with postseason futility. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know much about Judaism. He didn’t experience much of it growing up and married out of the faith. While we celebrate the victory of the Cubs, we mourn the loss of another future Jewish family as the spiritual holocaust of lost generations continues.

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Ed Mierkowicz, 92, is the last surviving player from the 1945 World Series between the Cubs and the Detroit Tigers.

Ed Mierkowicz

Now 92, Mierkowicz was on the field for the final outs of Game 7 of the ’45 World Series at Wrigley Field – his only appearance in the Fall Classic.

Mierkowicz didn’t make many appearances in the regular 1945 season either as he saw limited action in 10 games. A 6-foot-4 lefthanded batter, Ed was in the military in 1942 and rose quickly through the minor leagues before being brought up to the Tigers during the ’45 season.

“It was a very exciting time for me,” Mierkowicz recalled. “Even though I didn’t hit much or play much. I was a rookie and the guys on the team sort of shunned the rookies. But Hank Greenberg was the nicest to me. He was a great guy and a great ballplayer.”

After not playing big league ball since May 1941, Greenberg returned to the Tigers in July 1945 and hit a home run on his first day back. Greenberg capped his shortened season by hitting a pinch-hit grand slam home run in the ninth inning on the last day of the regular season, sending the Tigers to the World Series.

The 34-year-old Greenberg only had 270 at bats in 1945 but hit 13 home runs and batted .311 and continued his steady hitting in the World Series batting .304 with two home runs.

With wartime travel restrictions still affecting America, the normal pattern of the World Series – two games at the ballpark of one league, three in the other and two more if needed back where the Series began – was changed to the first three in Detroit and the last four in Chicago.

Mierkowicz replaced Greenberg in left field for the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 7 with the Tigers leading 9-3 before a paid crowd of 41,590 at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Ed doesn’t know if Greenberg suggested the move to manager Steve O’Neill as a chance for the rookie to get in the game. But it was something Greenberg would do.

Besides a World Series share and ring, Mierkowicz won a new Chevrolet at the team championship banquet. It was the highlight of his career, as the following year it was back to the minor leagues, where he until the end of his pro career in 1957 with stops in Mexico and Cuba before returning home to the Detroit area.

But memories of that 1945 World Series are still sharp as ever for Mierkowicz, who shares his baseball experiences with fellow residents and employees in a suburban Detroit senior citizen residence.

While Hank Greenberg’s return to baseball that year provided a measure of escape for American Jews from the horrors of the war and the decimation of European Jewry, it nevertheless was a somber time the Jewish community. More than 600,000 American Jews served during the war. According to the National Jewish Welfare Board (JWB), “Forty Jewish families throughout the United States lost two sons each in the service and one is known to have lost three sons. There were 22,042 Jewish men and women who were combat casualties.”

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Author, columnist, and public speaker Irwin Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years and worked for a major league team, becoming the first Orthodox Jew to earn a World Series ring. His column appears the second week of each month. He can be reached in his suburban Detroit area dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.