Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Fifty years ago, in 1966, the former Milwaukee Braves played their first season in Atlanta. Sportsman’s Park, which housed the St. Louis Browns through 1953 and the St. Louis Cardinals through 1965, closed as Busch Stadium opened as the new home of the Cardinals. (The Browns had moved to Baltimore in 1954, becoming the Orioles).

Baseball legend Charlie Dressen, who began his pro baseball career in 1919, died 41 days shy of his 68th birthday. Dressen played eight years for the Cincinnati Reds before embarking on a managerial career. He managed several teams including the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers, losing the pennant to Bobby Thomson’s famous “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” Dressen was managing the Detroit Tigers in 1966 before entering the hospital for a kidney infection and succumbing to heart failure.

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Sophie Tucker, one of the most popular entertainers among Jewish Americans, also died in 1966. A veteran of vaudeville, nightclubs, radio, and television, she was still performing at age 80. Born Sophie Kalish, she never worked on Jewish holidays and was a tireless volunteer for numerous Jewish charities. Her recording of “My Yiddishe Momma” was known around the world; when Hitler came to power in Germany, he ordered all sales banned and existing records smashed.

Popular songs in 1966 included “I’m a Believer” (The Monkees), “Monday, Monday” (The Mamas & the Papas), “Strangers in the Night” (Frank Sinatra), and “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ ” (Nancy Sinatra).

The year’s number one song was Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler’s “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” which was released at a time America was increasing its military involvement in Vietnam. The Palestine Liberation Army announced it would send troops to assist the Vietcong in their fight against the U.S.

In 1966, Ken Holtzman, pictured on his 1969 Topps baseball card, beat Sandy Koufax in the final regular-season start of Koufax’s legendary career.

In 1966, actor William Shatner became commander of the Starship Enterprise on television and the Trekkie generation was born. Co-starring was another young actor of note, Leonard Nimoy, cast as Mr. Spock. Both Shatner and Nimoy were Jewish.

The rock musical “Hair” opened on Broadway and book buffs were buying “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote, “The Fixer” by Bernard Melamud, and “Valley of the Dolls” by Jacqueline Susann.

With six weeks remaining in the 1966 baseball season Art Shamsky he hit four consecutive home runs over two games, to tie a major league record. The lefthanded-batting Jewish outfielder of the Cincinnati Reds ended the season with 21 home runs in only 234 at-bats and a .231 batting average.

In September, a week after Sandy Koufax pitched his 40th career shutout, Norm Miller of the Houston Astros hit his first career home run. Miller, a Jewish outfielder who grew up in southern California, only had two hits in 11 tries for a .167 average, but he would have more major league years ahead of him.

The pennant-bound Los Angeles Dodgers played in rainy Wrigley Field for the Cubs’ last Sunday home game of the year. The Cubs would lose 103 games that season but would beat Sandy Koufax that day.

It was the battle of the Jewish lefthanders as 20-year-old Ken Holtzman bested Koufax, two to one. Only six hits punctuated the game, which took just one hour and 50 minutes and was played before more than 21,000 fans, more than double the expected attendance.

It would be the final regular season game Koufax would ever pitch as he shocked the baseball world in November by announcing his retirement. Only 30 and considered the best pitcher in baseball at the time, Koufax had complied an outstanding record of 129 wins and 47 losses over the previous six seasons.

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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.