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December 22, 2014 / 30 Kislev, 5775
 
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘American League’

Baseball’s Back! Predictions For The 2011 Season

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011


Every team has a bad week. Good teams, however, go through it less often. It all play out over the course of the season, so don’t pay too much attention to where good teams are listed in the standings early on.

 

The big question in the American League this season is how far behind the Red Sox the Yankees will finish. In the National League the big question is how the Mets’ financial state will affect the team’s on-field performance.

 

Boston is expected to get to the World Series. Anything less will be a disaster for Red Sox Nation. We’ve heard numerous times that new slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, even though he’s a left-handed batter, has a swing made for Fenway Park’s cozy, close left-field wall.

 

Computer geeks have gone through games played in Petco Park last year when A-Gone was with the San Diego Padres and came up with eight fly balls that would have been off or over the tall wall at Fenway. BoSox management decided to add more seats where part of the right-centerfield wall used to be, creating more revenue and a more inviting target for their new first baseman.

 

Carl Crawford, signed as a free agent over the winter, gives Boston another great bat, excellent defense and outstanding speed. You have to remember, though, that Boston lost two .300 plus hitters: Adrian Beltre played an outstanding third base, belted 28 homers and hit .321, but opted for free agency and Texas, while catcher-first baseman Victor Martinez (.302, 20 homers) was signed by the Tigers, leaving catching as Boston’s weakest link in the lineup.

 

The biggest reason the Red Sox will be much better this year is that they were devastated by injuries last year. Speedy center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury missed most of the season while main men of the infield Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis sat out a combined 147 games on the disabled list.

 

Besides weaker pitching, the Yankees also have more age. Their big stars – third baseman Alex Rodriguez and shortstop Derek Jeter – may show diminished range in the field. A-Rod will be 36 in July while Jeter turns 37 in June.

 

Jeter’s contract was big news in the off-season, as was his mansion in the Tampa area (the Yankees’ spring training home). The swanky Yankee has a 30,875-square foot mega-mansion overlooking Hillsborough Bay. The estate doesn’t have its own zip code but is known as St. Jetersburg.

 

As the season progresses, the Yankees will fall farther behind the Red Sox but Jeter will gain on the 3,000 career hit total. Jeter, who began the season 74 hits shy of the milestone, will be the first Yankee player in history to collect 3,000 career hits. The shortstop’s march to the mark will take some heat off the performance of the team.

 

While the Yankees are flush with cash, the Mets need an influx of big money. Management placed the blame for poor advance ticket sales on the ticket department and released some employees. But top baseball management deserves all the blame.

 

The Mets are loaded with unproductive players who are hard to trade because of rich contracts. The ticket department on any ballclub needs victories by its team in order to sell tickets. Promotions and giveaways will lure some customers, of course, but the late Bill Veeck, who owned a couple of American League teams, said it best: “The best promotion is to score one more run than the other team.”

 

My advice to Mets management is to sell stock to the public. As stockholders, fans would take a greater interest in the fortunes of the Mets and would attend more games to help the team’s bottom line.

 

New York teams will come up short this year as Boston and Philadelphia will top the Eastern divisions of their respective leagues. Chicago is my choice for both Central divisions – the Cubs in the National League and the White Sox in the American League.

 

Even without Cliff Lee (now with the Phillies), Texas should repeat in the American League West while San Francisco will do it again in the National League West.

 

The biggest race will be for the American League Wild Card (the second-place team with the best record). The Yankees, Tigers and Minnesota Twins will battle it out, with the Tigers finishing on top because of a pitching staff superior to those of New York and Minnesota.

 

Atlanta will be the Wild Card winner in the National League but will come up short, in the very last game of the second set of playoffs, against the Phillies. Boston will prevail over Detroit in the playoffs and vanquish Philadelphia in a six-game World Series.

 

Editor’s note: Don’t bet on any of the above, but for a good bet on a good read, order Irwin Cohen’s book on how an Orthodox Jew got into the baseball field by sending a check for $19.95, payable to Irwin Cohen, to 25921 Stratford Place, Oak Park, MI 48237.

 

Irwin Cohen serves as president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.


 


 


 


 


The Mets need a good showing on the field to generate healthy ticket sales at Citi Field.

Remembering New York’s Old Stadiums

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

Last month I predicted the Yankees, Indians and Angels would top their divisions in the American League, while the Mets, Cubs and Diamondbacks would do the same in the National League.

 

It’s a long season, full of ups and downs. Even though some good teams have had bad starts, they’ll have more ups the rest of the season.

 

Now, for the postseason spots. The wild card teams – the second place team with the best won-lost record – will be the Red Sox in the American League and the Florida Marlins in the National League.

 

 The Red Sox will use veteran pitcher John Smoltz wisely, will end up facing the Mets in the World Series, and will win it in six games. The Wilpon family (owners of the Mets), via the extra revenue the postseason games will rake in, will be able to recoup some of the millions they lost to Bernie Madoff.

 

*     *     *

 

Next month I’ll tell you about my forthcoming visit to New York and what I think about the new megabuck stadiums of the Mets and Yankees. To set the stage, I’m going to devote the rest of this column to what I thought about New York’s previous ballparks.

 

I’m old enough and lucky enough to have seen Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field twice (1954 and 1957). The fabled, cozy, brown-bricked home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, with the right field wall running along Bedford Avenue, was nestled in a neighborhood that offered very little parking.

 

Red paint adorned the seats inside and colorful signage around the large scoreboard covered the right field wall. A 19-foot fence topped the 19-foot wall, keeping most balls from bouncing around Bedford Avenue traffic. The fence beginning just to the right of the foul pole at the 297-foot mark was brown and initially I thought it was rusted out.

 

It wasn’t until my second visit to Ebbets Field three years later that I realized the fence was painted brown to conform to the exterior of the ballpark. I was also surprised to see large, long advertising signs for Chesterfield cigarettes and Botany ties on the Bedford Avenue side of the wall.

 

While Ebbets Field was probably baseball’s all-time most loved ballpark, New York had baseball’s most unusual in the Polo Grounds. Located across the Harlem River from Yankee Stadium, the mostly double-decked horseshoe-shaped home of the Giants offered unusual field dimensions. It was only 257 feet down the right field line and only 279 feet to the wall in left field. The upper decks at the foul poles hung over the lower outfield stands giving batters home runs on some long high pop-ups.

 

While the dark green interior of the Polo Grounds had short distances down the foul lines, the horseshoe-shaped structure made the center field wall the deepest in baseball at 483 feet in the ballpark’s last year of existence in 1963 (the second year the Mets called it home). The clubhouses were above the outfield bleachers and the scoreboard clock was 80 feet above ground level and its exterior almost backed up to the Harlem River.

 

             Until the late 1960s, much of the exterior of Yankee Stadium looked as it did when it opened in 1923. I was stationed at Ft. Dix, New Jersey, in the summer of 1964 and luck enough to be an assistant to the base’s three Jewish chaplains.

 

When I had a weekend pass, I spent Shabbos at the Bronx home of my mother’s cousins (the Kolitch family) near the Young Israel of Pelham Parkway. The first Sunday I was there, I went on a self-imposed march from their home to Yankee Stadium.

 

It was almost a two-mile trek to the Grand Concourse, and then almost three miles down that handsome boulevard. Its benches were populated with elderly couples sizing me up as I walked to Yankee Stadium. The complexion of the area was much different then; most of the benchwarmers spoke Yiddish.

 

The excitement of getting to the stadium for a Sunday doubleheader kept me going without looking for a bench to share. I stopped to drink in the view in front of the tall, multi-winged Grand Concourse Hotel, home to many Yankee players during the season.

 

Then it was downward, catching the majesty of the stadium from behind the bleachers. The interior was also impressive because it looked as it did in the 1940s and 1950s. The seats, posts, and the famous frieze ringing around the facing of the roof were still in the original light green color.

 

Later that summer, on another weekend pass, I subwayed to Shea Stadium in its inaugural year, right across the way from the World’s Fair. A stadium with escalators and sweeping views not hindered by posts was something new to New York and most cities at the time.

 

Seeing the high, colorful decks from the outside was impressive. Being inside was not as impressive. A full house was on hand to see the Mets play the Dodgers that Sunday as Don Drysdale went the distance downing the Mets 2-to-1. I ended up in the top row just to the fair side of the left-field foul pole. Shea Stadium’s interior looked more like a giant television studio than a ballpark.

 

Through the years Mets management did what it could to enhance Shea, but it was never lovable or even likable. In the latter part of the 1960s, the Yankees did away with the light green interior, painting the seats blue and the facing of the decks and posts bright white. In the mid-1970s, modernization robbed the impressive stadium of what was left of its personality.

 

Because I experienced the original Yankee Stadium, I maintained a strong dislike for the storied stadium after its renovation. Over the last couple of decades, New York’s big league ballparks were on my least-liked list.

 

I’m heading to the new stadiums armed with the knowledge that the Yankees incorporated some of the best features of the original stadium and the Mets included some of Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds – and that I’m old enough to recognize them.

 

Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring working as a department head in a major league front office. His Baseball Insider column appears the second week of each month in The Jewish Press. Cohen, who is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, is available for speaking engagements and may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

Remembering New York’s Old Stadiums

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

Last month I predicted the Yankees, Indians and Angels would top their divisions in the American League, while the Mets, Cubs and Diamondbacks would do the same in the National League.

 

It’s a long season, full of ups and downs. Even though some good teams have had bad starts, they’ll have more ups the rest of the season.

 

Now, for the postseason spots. The wild card teams – the second place team with the best won-lost record – will be the Red Sox in the American League and the Florida Marlins in the National League.

 

 The Red Sox will use veteran pitcher John Smoltz wisely, will end up facing the Mets in the World Series, and will win it in six games. The Wilpon family (owners of the Mets), via the extra revenue the postseason games will rake in, will be able to recoup some of the millions they lost to Bernie Madoff.

 

*     *     *

 

Next month I’ll tell you about my forthcoming visit to New York and what I think about the new megabuck stadiums of the Mets and Yankees. To set the stage, I’m going to devote the rest of this column to what I thought about New York’s previous ballparks.

 

I’m old enough and lucky enough to have seen Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field twice (1954 and 1957). The fabled, cozy, brown-bricked home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, with the right field wall running along Bedford Avenue, was nestled in a neighborhood that offered very little parking.

 

Red paint adorned the seats inside and colorful signage around the large scoreboard covered the right field wall. A 19-foot fence topped the 19-foot wall, keeping most balls from bouncing around Bedford Avenue traffic. The fence beginning just to the right of the foul pole at the 297-foot mark was brown and initially I thought it was rusted out.

 

It wasn’t until my second visit to Ebbets Field three years later that I realized the fence was painted brown to conform to the exterior of the ballpark. I was also surprised to see large, long advertising signs for Chesterfield cigarettes and Botany ties on the Bedford Avenue side of the wall.

 

While Ebbets Field was probably baseball’s all-time most loved ballpark, New York had baseball’s most unusual in the Polo Grounds. Located across the Harlem River from Yankee Stadium, the mostly double-decked horseshoe-shaped home of the Giants offered unusual field dimensions. It was only 257 feet down the right field line and only 279 feet to the wall in left field. The upper decks at the foul poles hung over the lower outfield stands giving batters home runs on some long high pop-ups.

 

While the dark green interior of the Polo Grounds had short distances down the foul lines, the horseshoe-shaped structure made the center field wall the deepest in baseball at 483 feet in the ballpark’s last year of existence in 1963 (the second year the Mets called it home). The clubhouses were above the outfield bleachers and the scoreboard clock was 80 feet above ground level and its exterior almost backed up to the Harlem River.

 

             Until the late 1960s, much of the exterior of Yankee Stadium looked as it did when it opened in 1923. I was stationed at Ft. Dix, New Jersey, in the summer of 1964 and luck enough to be an assistant to the base’s three Jewish chaplains.

 

When I had a weekend pass, I spent Shabbos at the Bronx home of my mother’s cousins (the Kolitch family) near the Young Israel of Pelham Parkway. The first Sunday I was there, I went on a self-imposed march from their home to Yankee Stadium.

 

It was almost a two-mile trek to the Grand Concourse, and then almost three miles down that handsome boulevard. Its benches were populated with elderly couples sizing me up as I walked to Yankee Stadium. The complexion of the area was much different then; most of the benchwarmers spoke Yiddish.

 

The excitement of getting to the stadium for a Sunday doubleheader kept me going without looking for a bench to share. I stopped to drink in the view in front of the tall, multi-winged Grand Concourse Hotel, home to many Yankee players during the season.

 

Then it was downward, catching the majesty of the stadium from behind the bleachers. The interior was also impressive because it looked as it did in the 1940s and 1950s. The seats, posts, and the famous frieze ringing around the facing of the roof were still in the original light green color.

 

Later that summer, on another weekend pass, I subwayed to Shea Stadium in its inaugural year, right across the way from the World’s Fair. A stadium with escalators and sweeping views not hindered by posts was something new to New York and most cities at the time.

 

Seeing the high, colorful decks from the outside was impressive. Being inside was not as impressive. A full house was on hand to see the Mets play the Dodgers that Sunday as Don Drysdale went the distance downing the Mets 2-to-1. I ended up in the top row just to the fair side of the left-field foul pole. Shea Stadium’s interior looked more like a giant television studio than a ballpark.

 

Through the years Mets management did what it could to enhance Shea, but it was never lovable or even likable. In the latter part of the 1960s, the Yankees did away with the light green interior, painting the seats blue and the facing of the decks and posts bright white. In the mid-1970s, modernization robbed the impressive stadium of what was left of its personality.

 

Because I experienced the original Yankee Stadium, I maintained a strong dislike for the storied stadium after its renovation. Over the last couple of decades, New York’s big league ballparks were on my least-liked list.

 

I’m heading to the new stadiums armed with the knowledge that the Yankees incorporated some of the best features of the original stadium and the Mets included some of Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds – and that I’m old enough to recognize them.


 


Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring working as a department head in a major league front office. His Baseball Insider column appears the second week of each month in The Jewish Press. Cohen, who is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, is available for speaking engagements and may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

A Look Back At ’08

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

The year is passing quickly. The balls and bats, the lulavim and esrogim, the Phillies World Series memorabilia – all have been put away, and it’s time to look back on the 2008 baseball season.

The biggest surprise to many baseball people, even more than the worst-to-first Tampa Bay Rays, was the collapse of the Detroit Tigers. Picked to win the World Series by many publications and pundits, the Tigers, with baseball’s second highest payroll (behind the Yankees), finished last in the American League Central with a dismal 74-88 record.

While I didn’t predict the Tigers to win the World Series, I did pick them to be in it and lose to the Mets. And, as you know, the Mets skidded at the end of the season to finish at 89-73, three games behind the pennant-winning Phillies.

The Yankees also finished at 89-73, six games behind Boston and eight behind Tampa Bay. One thing’s for sure: both New York teams and Detroit will be bidding for top free agent pitchers this off-season.

The New York teams have a big advantage by playing in new stadiums next year; curiosity seekers will show up in big numbers willing to pay big ticket prices. The Tigers drew over 3.2 million in ’08, but an ailing economy will contribute to much smaller numbers paying to watch an overpaid and underperforming Tiger team.

I can’t recall a team with so many players having off years at the same time as the ’08 Tigers. What’s worse, the front office blundered with poor trades and rewarded undeserving players with megabuck contracts.

Dontrelle Willis was a perfect example. Willis had a 10-15 record with a high 5.17 ERA for the Marlins in 2007. After being traded to the Tigers, Willis had a terrible spring training beset by wildness and was sent to the minors. He ended up ended up not winning a single game in the majors or minors. The Tigers are also stuck with the final year of Gary Sheffield’s $14 million contract next season. Until the Tigers add two good starting and relief pitchers, they won’t be able to compete in the AL Central.

Help, however, may be on the way from within the organization. There are a couple of top pitchers in the low minors who starred in college ball, so look for the Tigers to growl again in 2010, if not next year.

The Angels won 100 games in ’08 season while the Cubs won 97 and both wrapped up playoff spots early. But both were eliminated early in postseason play as they made too many errors. Even top pitchers can’t be expected to get four and five outs in some innings without giving up runs.

It’s not that the Angels and Cubs are bad defensively, they just happened to get sloppy at crucial times in the playoffs. That was the beauty of last season — it wasn’t predictable.

The preseason predictions had the Tampa Bay Rays either at the bottom or close to it. The 2007 version of the Rays actually had 57 more hits, 27 more doubles and seven more home runs than the 2008 club. So how did the ’08 Rays win 97 games while only winning 66 the year before? The answer: pitching. The Rays staff allowed 300 fewer hits and 273 fewer runs and lowered the team ERA from 5.53 in 2007 to 3.62 in ’08.

The Yankees have $86 million dollars freeing up with the expiration of big contract to several veteran players. Of course, the Yanks may elect to re-sign a couple, but will probably opt to get younger replacements.

Jason Giambi (38 in January), who earned $21 million last season (.247, 32 homers, 96 RBI) won’t be getting that much from any team next year. Neither will Bobby Abreu, who’ll be 35 in March. Abreu had a pretty good year by batting .296 with 20 homers and 100 RBI, but won’t command the $16 million the Yanks paid him.

Manny Ramirez will be known as Money Ramirez after he signs his big contract. Coming off terrific numbers with the Dodgers after being traded by the Red Sox in July, Ramirez will be 37 next May and at that age it makes sense only for an American League team to pay him all those dollars on a long term contract as he’ll be best suited for a designated hitter role within two years. The Dodgers are willing to pay him over $20 million per year to retain his services but have to be careful with how many years they give him, especially as he has a habit of wearing out his welcome.

Baseball people couldn’t believe how reckless the Dodgers were with the contract they gave to Andruw Jones. Jones batted .222 for the Atlanta Braves in 2007 and entered free agency and jumped at the Dodgers offer of $36.2 million for two years. Jones proved to be baseball’s worst and most overpaid player in 2008 by batting .158 with only three home runs in an injury shortened season.

Speaking of statistics, only two players hit over 40 home runs in 2008. Ryan Howard of the Phillies led the majors with 48 while Adam Dunn of Arizona hit 40. Carlos Delgado (Mets) hit 38 and four players the 37 mark. Looks like we’re finally out of the steroid era. We’re back to normal statistics as most of the aging stars look washed up instead of beefed up.

I must admit I was rooting for the Red Sox over the Rays to represent the American League in the World Series. I was actually rooting for Fenway Park over Tropicana Field, the ugly domed stadium located in St. Petersburg that the Rays call home. Rays’ ownership spiffed up the dome, but you can put on all the lipstick you want, it’s still not an attractive venue for baseball.

The Rays have plans for an architecturally pleasing open-air ballpark on St. Pete’s waterfront. The project may pick up steam now that Tampa fans jumped on the baseball bandwagon.

How about the year Kevin Youkilis had for the Red Sox?  He batted .312 with 29 homers and 115 RBI while moving back and forth at the infield corner spots. A great defensive first baseman, Yuke played well at third base while filling in for Mike Lowell. Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia (.326, 17 homers, 83 RBI) was the choice for American League Most Valuable Player according to most scribes, but I’d have given it to Youkilis.

One thing’s for sure: Youkilis is the American League’s MVJP (Most Valuable Jewish Player).

Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring working as a department head in a major league front office. His “Baseball Insider” column appears the second week of each month in The Jewish Press. Cohen, who is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

Remembering Bob Fishel

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

It was Bob Fishel’s 20th yahrzeit. Kaddish was said.


Fishel never married but left hundreds of admirers. At the time of his passing at 74, he was an executive vice president of the American League and one of the most loved and respected people in the game.


He was from Cleveland and working as an advertising executive when Bill Veeck bought the Indians in 1946. Veeck hired Fishel to set up a radio network for the Indians and to handle advertising and promotions.


It was a historic time as Veeck signed Larry Doby and broke the color barrier in the American League only weeks after Jackie Robinson opened the 1947 season with the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1948 Veeck signed Negro League superstar pitcher Satchel Paige and brought in the recently retired Hank Greenberg as an executive to help run the baseball side while Fishel handled the business side.


The Indians set an attendance record that year and went on to win the World Series. Fishel left his beloved hometown and went to St. Louis when Veeck bought the American League Browns franchise. Veeck tried many stunts to hike attendance at Sportsman’s Park as the lowly Browns shared the old ballpark with the more popular National League Cardinals. To help the budget, the Veeck family took up residence in a small apartment under the stands.


By August 1951, the Browns and Tigers were battling it out for last place. Veeck schemed to make an upcoming Sunday doubleheader between the clubs the most memorable in baseball history. Veeck hired Eddie Gaedel, a 3-foot-7 midget – in our politically correct times he would be called a little person or a vertically challenged gentleman — and had a special Browns uniform made with the number 1/8 on the back. Between games Gaedel was to jump out of a large birthday cake marking the American League’s 50th anniversary season.


The big secret, of course, was that Gaedel would pinch hit in the second game. Veeck told no one of the plan except Fishel. Gaedel would find out a few days before, as he would have to be signed to an official American League contract before the league office closed for the week on Friday afternoon.


Fishel, a couple of inches over 5 feet, towered over Gaedel as they met outside Sportsman’s Park. The pair entered Fishel’s old Packard, where Gaedel affixed his signature to the contract. Gaedel was sworn to secrecy, helped by the promise of a couple of extra dollars after he batted.


A proper man, respectful of the game, Fishel really didn’t like the idea of a midget going to bat in a major league game, meaningless or not. But he was loyal to Veeck and the duties of his job.


I encountered Fishel for the last time at LaGuardia airport a few months before his passing. We spent the time waiting for our different flights by swapping baseball bits. He looked as I always saw him: suit, white shirt and tie. His dark hair was almost parted in the middle, the style of decades earlier.


In his monotone, and at my prodding, Fishel related how Gaedel’s contract gained approval by the American League office. “I had to make sure it would arrive just before quitting time,” he said. “That way it wouldn’t be looked at too closely as some employees wanted a head-start on the weekend. One contract was for our office, and one for our manager [Zack Taylor] to show the umpire, if needed.”


It was needed.


A festive atmosphere greeted fans that hot St. Louis Sunday as 18,369 paid their way in. It was the largest crowd to see the Browns at home in four seasons. The Tigers took the opener but fans received a free can of beer, slice of birthday cake and box of ice cream. Between games, jugglers amused the crowd with baseballs at third base. Trampolinists did their thing over second base and an acrobat hurled himself over first base. Four Browns players, led by a drum-banging Satchel Paige, produced off-key music at home plate and things were moving along according to Fishel’s preparations.


Gaedel surprised everyone by popping out of the large cake on the infield. Fishel was smiling as he stood clad in a long-sleeve white shirt and dark pants to the left of the cake as Gaedel exited the top. Fishel alerted the photographers and the photos were carried the next day in many newspapers.


Veeck, Fishel, Gaedel and manager Taylor knew baseball history was just minutes away.
In the bottom of the first inning of the second game, Gaedel was announced as the pinch-hitter for Browns’ leadoff batter, right fielder Frank Saucier. Gaedel came out of the dugout swinging three toy bats above his head while making his way to home plate.


Back in Detroit, I was listening to the game — 1951 was the first season I followed baseball closely. Tigers play-by-play man Van Patrick was laughing as he described the goings-on. I was throwing a rubber ball against the steps outside of the first floor of the two-family house my family lived in at the time. My classmate and best friend (now an internationally known rabbi in the yeshiva world) lived in the upper flat.


I raced upstairs to tell my friend a midget was batting against the Tigers. “Come down and listen,” I yelled as I ran downstairs to the big radio I had on the porch. We listened as Patrick said Taylor was showing umpire Ed Hurley a paper he assumed to be a contract.


Gaedel was allowed to bat and Patrick chuckled as he described the four pitches that were called balls but would have been in the strike zone for any other big leaguer. Gaedel trotted to first base, tipping his cap to the cheering crowd before being replaced by a pinch runner. Gaedel’s big league career was over as the American League ruled him ineligible soon after, and in the future players’ heights as listed on contracts would be closely scrutinized.


I always wondered why there weren’t any newsreels recording Gaedel’s historic at-bat. Only one photograph of Gaedel batting, legs spread apart and crouching to make his strike zone even smaller, exists. Tigers catcher Bob Swift has both knees on the ground to offer a lower target to the pitcher (Bob Cain) while umpire Hurley crouches and leans in as close as he can to Swift.


“There’s only one picture because I messed up,” Fishel admitted. “I did a terrible job because I was so nervous. I forgot to tell the photographers to stay for another surprise in the second game. I was lucky that the photographer from the Associated Press stayed and got the famous photo. I was lucky not to be fired.”


Fellow owners disliked the colorful Veeck and the cash-strapped Browns owner was forced to sell the club before it relocated to Baltimore and became the Orioles in 1954. After a short stint in Baltimore, the Yankees hired Fishel as their public relations director.


Fishel gained the friendship and respect of Yankee stars like Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle. He also gained the confidence of Joe DiMaggio and other former players.
Fishel, who liked to help young people as they rose up the front office ladder, hired Marty Appel as an assistant late in the ’67 season. Appel would go on to become a public-relations legend in his own right,.


Leaving the Yankees in 1974, Fishel moved over to the American League’s midtown office and became a special assistant to league president Lee MacPhail. He was rewarded in time and carried the title of executive vice president.


Not one to let something like a respiratory ailment sidetrack him, Fishel worked into the night of Thursday, June 30, 1988. He collapsed and died while exiting a cab not far from his apartment building.


He had the qualities many of us seek – he was hard working, neat, dignified, ethical, friendly, competent, generous, good-humored and a great writer.


What a book Fishel could have written. But he would never do it. He always worried he might hurt someone’s feelings.


Perhaps that sums him up best.


Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring working as a department head in a major league front office. His “Baseball Insider” column appears the second week of each month in The Jewish Press. Cohen, who is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

Ball Fields And Battlefields, 1948

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

      The year was1948 and a great baseball season was unfolding. In the American League, Joe DiMaggio was on his way to a league-leading 39 home runs and 155 RBIs, while Ted Williams would win the batting title with a .369 average.

 

      In the National League, Stan Musial would come close to winning the Triple Crown. He led in average (.376) and RBIs (131) but would finish one shy of the 40 home runs posted by Ralph Kiner and Johnny Mize.

 

      But at this time 60 years ago, Jewish baseball fans were watching the front page more than the sports page. Newspapers in major league cities told of the end of British rule in Palestine, and of Jews around the world celebrating as the State of Israel was proclaimed.

 

      In my hometown of Motown, an estimated 22,000 people gathered on May 16, 1948, at an athletic field of a Detroit public school about three blocks from where my family lived at the time. Older yeshiva students walked to the site while I obediently piled into the yeshiva bus along with the younger kids.

 

      Skywriters outlined the Star of David in white against the blue sky. Hundreds upon hundreds of blue and white flags with the Star of David in the center fluttered gently. I remember shofars blowing and animated dancing, but was really too young to realize the scope of the occasion and wanted the people off the field quickly so our class could play baseball.

 

      For those old enough to follow events through the newspapers, Detroit Free Press staff writer Sam Petok opened his article with the following:


 



       A mournful bray of resolution from Detroit’s Jewry was sounded Sunday and hurled across the seas to the bloodstained soil of a newborn state.

 

       The Shofar, the ram’s horn blown only at sacred holidays, sent its sonorous notes floating into the cloud-flecked skies.

 

       In a hushed moment, 2,000 years of wanderings through the world, of being pilloried, of turning the cheek and of national ignominy flashed through the minds of the throng.

 

       Israel, the Jewish state, had been proclaimed.


 


      A front-page story byWallace R. Duell in the Detroit News provided a sobering reminder of what was ahead:


 



       After almost 2,000 years of aspiration and striving, the new state was being prematurely born. It was not ready for life. Its contours were not yet complete as they had been hoped for and designed. Its organs were not yet fully functioning. Yet it must spring to arms, in the very moment of its birth, for the millions of surrounding Arabs were implacable and would destroy it if they could.

 

       The new Israel was a cartographer’s – and a defending general staff’s – nightmare. It was three almost entirely separate territories, rather than one each touching only one of the others and only at one small point: a narrow coastal strip; a wedge inland in the north at the Sea of Galilee; and a rough triangular shard of a piece of desert in the south pointing to Akaba.

 

       Immediately at hand were the more than 30 million Arabs of seven adjacent states.


 


      While the defenders of the Jewish state fought on, the 1948 baseball season in the United States saw the midseason debut of Negro League superstar Satchel Paige at the age of 42 with the Cleveland Indians. In August, Babe Ruth died at age 53.

 

      As the baseball season wound down, fans of New York teams gave up hope that one of their teams would be in the World Series. The Boston Braves wrapped up the National League pennant by six and a half games over the St. Louis Cardinals, while Brooklyn finished third and the New York Giants came in a distant fifth.

 

      In the American League, the Yankees won 94 games but the Red Sox and Indians finished tied for first with 96 victories, forcing a one-game playoff at Boston’s Fenway Park.

 

      Beantown fans were rooting for a Red Sox victory, which would mean the World Series sites would only be blocks apart. Many Braves players were secretly hoping the Indians would win, as the capacity of Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium was more than twice that of Fenway Park – and more seats meant more ticket sales translating into higher World Series shares for players.

 

      Cleveland manager Lou Boudreau, who also was the Indians’ regular shortstop, would be named the American League’s Most Valuable Player based on his .355 batting average, 18 home runs and 106 RBIs. Boudreau’s two home runs in the playoff game helped defeat the Red Sox.

 

      Johnny Sain, who led the majors with 24 wins, beat Bob Feller 1-0 in the Series opener. Game 5 at Cleveland’s huge stadium drew a then-record attendance of 86,288. The Indians took the Series four games to two. Jewish rookie Al Rosen shared in the excitement but was hitless in his one Series appearance as a pinch-hitter. Jewish superstar Hank Greenberg, who had retired in 1947 with a .313 career average, was in his first year as an executive with the Cleveland Indians.

 

      Each winning player’s share was $6,772 while the losers pocketed $4,571. Now, of course, most players earn more than that for each regular season at-bat. Our national pastime has exploded since Israel fought for its independence. Unfortunately, so has the national pastime in Arab countries – hating Jews and developing ways to destroy Israel.

 

*     *     *

 

      Last month I gave my pennant predictions. My choices to top their divisions in the National League were the Mets, Cubs and Diamondbacks. My wild card pick (the team with the best record other than those topping their divisions) was the Braves.

 

      In the American League, I picked the Yankees, Tigers and Mariners to top their divisions and the Red Sox for the wild card. Of course, I can’t predict the future any better than you can, but I base my predictions on the many hours I spend watching baseball along with the knowledge that a season is full of ups and downs.

 

      I see the Mets and Tigers getting hot in the latter stages of the playoffs and advancing to the World Series. The Tigers have a better lineup and would outpace the Mets over the long daily grind of a season with few days off. In a World Series, however, with an off day after the first two games and another after the fifth game, a team only needs three starting pitchers and the Mets will defeat the Tigers in a thrilling seven-game Series.

 

      Chaim Shapiro, a red-hot Cubs fan who grew up in Chicago and is now living in New York, would disagree. Chaim, a knowledgeable guy who reads The Jewish Press, estimates he’s seen more than a thousand games at Wrigley Field and avidly watches the Cubs from New York through MLB.com.

 

      Chaim says this is the year the Cubs will be in the World Series because they have a good team – not because it’s exactly a hundred years since they won a Series. By the way, the team the Cubs beat in 1908 was Ty Cobb’s Tigers.


 


 


      Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring working as a department head in a major league front office. His Baseball Insider column appears the second week of each month in The Jewish Press. Cohen, president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

The Vanishing Jewish Baseball Player

Wednesday, April 6th, 2005

Whatever happened to Jewish baseball players? Not that they’re an extinct species – several Jews are currently playing in the major leagues or working their way through the minors – but Jewish baseball fans will tell you the present-day crop is relatively unaccomplished and unknown.

Why is this generation different from other generations? Generations that boasted not just a slew of recognizably Jewish ballplayers, but at least one bona-fide Jewish star per decade? Where have you gone, latter-day versions of Harry Danning, Sid Gordon, Hank Greenberg, Al Rosen and Sandy Koufax?

To medicine and law, for starters. As professional opportunities opened up for Jews in the years following World War II, choosing a career as an athlete – never much encouraged by their parents in any event – became an ever less popular option for young Jewish men.

Then there was the matter of baseball’s color line being broken by Jackie Robinson in 1947. Suddenly and dramatically the available talent pool grew, as did the odds of Jews making it to the major leagues now that they had to vie with talented black and brown ballplayers for spots on major league rosters.

“A Wild American Runner”

The Jewish immigrants who poured into the United States at the turn of the last century were bewildered, if not appalled, by the attraction the game of baseball held for their sons.

“It makes sense to teach a child to play dominoes or chess,” a concerned father wrote in 1903 to the Yiddish Forward’s popular Bintel Brief advice column. “But what is the point of a crazy game like baseball….Here in educated America adults play baseball. They run after a leather ball like children. I want my boy to grow up to be a mentsch, not a wild American runner.”

Jewish ballplayers began popping up in the major leagues in the late 1800′s, and by the middle of the 20th century’s second decade there were actually some household names among them, including pitchers Erskine Mayer (whose maternal grandmother converted to Judaism and whose paternal grandparents were German Jews) and Barney Pelty.

It’s impossible to know the precise number of Jewish players of that era since not a few of them operated incognito for fear of anti-Semitism. Ford Frick, who would go on to serve as commissioner of baseball, said in 1925 that “there must have been at least half a hundred Jews in the game but we’ll never know their real names. During the early days… Jewish boys had tough sledding in the majors and many of them changed their name.”

Those name changes could even catch other Jews unawares. In an indispensable essay on Jewish ballplayers that appeared in the 1997 edition of Total Baseball: The Official Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball, David Spaner tells a story concerning Jimmie Reese, who would go on to a long career in the majors, mostly as a coach but also as a player for the Yankees from 1930 to 1932 (rooming for a spell with someone named Babe Ruth).

While playing in the minors, Reese once took part in a celebrity game in which the opposing team used a Jewish battery of pitcher-songwriter Harry Ruby and catcher Ike Danning (whose brother Harry starred for the New York Giants). Rather than use conventional hand signals, Danning called the game in Yiddish, certain that nobody on the other team would understand. Reese collected four hits, and after the game a surprised Ruby remarked to him, “I didn’t know you were that good a hitter, Jimmie.”

“You also didn’t know,” Reese responded, “that my name was Hymie Solomon.”

Greenberg Busts the Stereotype

Until the emergence of Hank Greenberg in the mid-1930′s, there had been no true Jewish superstar in the major leagues. A number of average-to-good players, yes – Andy Cohen, Sid Gordon, Moe Berg, Buddy Myer, Harry Danning – but none approaching Hall of Fame caliber.

Signed at age nineteen by the Detroit Tigers, the Bronx-born Greenberg enjoyed his breakout season in 1934, when he hit .339, driving in 139 runs and helping the Tigers win the American League pennant.

Peter Levine summed up Greenberg’s career in From Ellis Island to Ebbets Field, an examination of American Jews and sports: “A perennial American League All Star, ‘Hammerin’ Hank’ batted a lifetime .313 in a thirteen-year career interrupted by four years of military service during World War II. Four times the right-handed first baseman led the American League in home runs and runs batted in. Four times he led the Detroit Tigers into the World Series. In 1935 he won the league’s Most Valuable Player award. Three years later he hit 58 home runs in a furious chase to reach Babe Ruth’s record 60. Hank’s career totals placed him among the [top 100 all-time] leaders in batting average, home runs, slugging average, ratio of home runs to at-bats, and ratio of RBI to at-bats.”

The hero worship Greenberg inspired among American Jews is impossible to understand without taking into account the currents of anti-Semitism that were blowing across the country as he began his ascendancy.

The most popular radio personality of the time was the anti-Semitic Father Charles Coughlin, whose weekly diatribes were eagerly followed by millions of listeners. Those were years when the worst anti-Jewish stereotypes prevailed — when Jew were commonly seen as being manipulative, untrustworthy, physically weak and un-American.

It was in this milieu that Greenberg – all six feet, four inches, two-hundred and ten pounds of him – strode into the national spotlight. The fact that he played in Detroit, virtually in the back yard of Father Coughlin, whose Shrine of the Little Flower was located in nearby Royal Oak, made Greenberg’s accomplishments all the sweeter to a generation of Jews starved for a genuine hero.

Though he was anything but religious, Greenberg made national headlines in 1934 when he chose not to play on Yom Kippur. The poet Edgar Guest paid tribute to Greenberg in verse:

Come Yom Kippur – holy fast day world wide over

to the Jew –

And Hank Greenberg to his teaching and the

old tradition true,

Spent the day among his people and he didn’t

come to play.

Said Murphy to Mulrooney, “We shall lose

the game today!

We shall miss him in the infield and shall miss him

at the bat.

But he’s true to his religion – and I honor him

for that!”

Despite being subject to verbal abuse from some pposing players and fans, Greenberg had more than his share of non-Jewish admirers. Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner, a broadcaster with the New York Mets since the team’s inception in 1962, was a young player with the Pittsburgh Pirates when Greenberg joined the team in 1947, the twilight of his career. The two immediately hit it off, with Greenberg becoming a mentor to the younger Kiner.
 
“Hank taught me to live with dignity and class,” Kiner has written.

The Greenberg-Kiner relationship extended decades beyond both men’s playing days. And then on September 4, 1986, while broadcasting a game, Kiner was called aside by Mets public-relations director Jay Horwitz. “Ralph, I hope I’m not the first one to tell you this, said Horwitz, “but it just came over the wires that Hank Greenberg has died.”

Kiner would later write: “When I resumed my place behind the microphone, I said, ‘I’ve just received the saddest news I could possibly have heard.’ And I informed the Mets’ television audience of what Greenberg had meant to me and the game of baseball.”

Greenberg was never particularly comfortable in the role of Jewish hero, but in retirement he would reflect on his career with a new appreciation for what he represented. “When I was playing, I used to resent being singled out as a Jewish ballplayer,” he said. “I wanted to be known as a great ballplayer, period….Lately, though, I find myself wanting to be remembered not only as a great ballplayer, but even more as a great Jewish ballplayer. I realize now, more than I used to, how important a part I played in the lives of a generation of Jewish kids who grew up in the 1930′s.”

Greenberg was elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1956, the first Jew accorded that honor.

Rosen to Koufax

As fate would have it, 1947 was not only Hank Greenberg’s last season as a player but also the year that Al Rosen, a promising young third baseman with the Cleveland Indians, experienced his first brief taste of the major leagues.

Fate would soon link the two Jewish ballplayers even further: When the Indians brought Rosen up from the minors for good in 1949, the decision to do so was made by a gentleman who’d purchased a minority share of the team in 1948 and went on to serve as its minor league director and then general manager – Hank Greenberg

In 1950, his first full season with the Indians, Rosen hit more home runs (37) than any previous American League rookie. Rosen’s best year was 1953, a dream season in which he just barely missed winning the Triple Crown, hitting .336 (a point behind batting champ Mickey Vernon’s .337) while leading the league in home runs (43) and runs batted in (145). At season’s end Rosen became the first player to win the Most Valuable Player award by unanimous vote.

Always up front about his Jewishness, Rosen was quick to respond to any perceived slights. In 1951 the television impresario Ed Sullivan, in his popular newspaper column, wrote about Rosen: “Of Jewish parentage, he is Catholic. At the plate, you’ll notice he makes the sign of the cross with his bat.” Enraged, Rosen insisted on a full and public retraction, pointing out that the mark he always made with his bat was the letter “x.”

Rosen told the sportswriter Roger Kahn that as a young player in the minors he had moments when he wished his name were not as obviously Jewish as Rosen. But after he became a major league star, he actually considered changing his name to Rosenthal or Rosenstein so that no one could possibly mistake him for anything but a Jew.

“When I was up in the majors,” he said, “I always knew how I wanted it to be about me….Here comes one Jewish kid that every Jew in the world can be proud of.”

The 1956 season was Rosen’s last as a player (he retired with a .285 lifetime batting average and 192 home runs over seven full seasons and parts of three others.)

In the years immediately following Rosen’s retirement, a young Jewish left-handed pitcher from Brooklyn struggled to prove himself with the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers. From 1955 to 1960 Sandy Koufax was the epitome of mediocrity, compiling a won-lost record of 36-40 and raising doubts about whether his performance would ever match his potential.

But beginning in 1961, three years after Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley moved the team to Los Angeles, Koufax embarked on a six-season odyssey of almost superhuman accomplishment – winning 129 and losing just 47, tossing four no-hitters, leading the major leagues in strikeouts four times, posting the National League’s lowest earned run average five straight years, copping three Cy Young awards (as the league’s best pitcher) and helping the Dodgers win three pennants and two World Series.

Koufax, who like Greenberg made headlines for not playing on Yom Kippur, retired due to an arthritic elbow in the prime of his career (he won 27 games in 1966, his final season). In 1971 he became the youngest player elected to the Hall of Fame.

The Vanishing Jewish Ballplayer

No Jewish player in the past forty years has come close to matching Koufax in terms of accomplishment and celebrity, though a number have enjoyed varying degrees of success. The 1970′s in particular featured several Jewish players who, while never in any danger of being mistaken for stars, had their moments: players like Art Shamsky, who hit .293 with 11 homers for the 1969 “Miracle Mets”; Richie Scheinblum, a .300 hitter for the Kansas City Royals in 1972; Mike Epstein, a slugging first baseman nicknamed “SuperJew” who hit 30 homers for the old Washington Senators in 1969 and 26 with the Oakland A’s in 1972; Ron Blomberg, who for a while in the early 1970′s looked to be on the brink of stardom with the Yankees; and Steve Stone, a journeyman pitcher who won the American League Cy Young award in 1980.

The best Jewish pitcher in the post-Koufax era was Ken Holtzman, who fashioned a solid 15-year career with four teams and was particularly effective between 1972 and 1975, winning 77 games for the Oakland A’s. The best Jewish position player during that period has been the outfielder Shawn Green, recently traded by the Dodgers to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The number of Jewish major leaguers may have steadily diminished over the past 25 years – the list is even shorter than is commonly believed unless one uses the most elastic of criteria to define Jewishness – but Jews are more influential than ever in the baseball universe. The commissioner of Major League Baseball (Bud Selig) is Jewish, as are many team owners (including the Mets’ Fred Wilpon), executives (including Theo Epstein, the general manager of the World Champion Boston Red Sox), broadcasters (including the Mets’ Gary Cohen and Howie Rose) and reporters.

However many or few the number of Jews actually plating the game, baseball has always had a special place in the hearts of Jewish sports fans, perhaps for its rich and unsurpassed lore and history, or maybe simply because it is a less brutishly physical game than football or hockey.

It is also a uniquely fair and democratic game, a point eloquently made by Earl Weaver, manager of the great Baltimore Orioles teams of the late 1960′s and 70′s, when asked to explain the difference between baseball and other sports.

“You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock,” said Weaver. “You’ve got to throw the ball over the plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”


Jason Maoz can be contacted at jmaoz@jewishpress.com 

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