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September 30, 2014 / 6 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Hank Greenberg’

Museum Seeks Jews’ Memories of Baseball

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Josh Perelman is seeking kin — but not his own. Rather, Perelman is on a quest for families and individuals who will share memories, artifacts and pictures that help tell the story of the American Jewish relationship with baseball.

As chief curator for the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, Perelman is mounting an exhibition that will open next March. Instead of focusing solely on American Jewish baseball icons such as Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax, the exhibit is meant to be grass roots and personal, revealing how Jews connected to this country and to each other through America’s national pastime.

The connections need not be related to professional baseball, Perelman said. They could involve memories such as rushing through dinner to make Little League games, reminiscences of playing ball in Jewish summer camps and displays of team uniforms that were sponsored by Jewish businesses.

When a caller mentioned to Perelman a friend’s b’nai mitzvah at which guests were seated at tables named for Jewish Major Leaguers — including Lipman Pike, considered the first Jewish professional baseball player — Perelman expressed interest in obtaining a seating card from the event.

On a website launched last week by the museum, fans are encouraged to alert the museum to what items they might want to donate or lend, as well as to stories about the person’s connections to baseball.

Some items to be displayed in the museum might not relate to Jewish ballplayers at all but will help illuminate the exhibit’s theme, “Chasing Dreams: Baseball and Jews in America.”

For example, Paul Newman of Philadelphia posted photographs of two baseballs that were signed long ago by Pete Rose and Johnny Bench, stars on the Reds’ championship teams in the 1970s. The players personalized their autographs for Newman’s late father, Rabbi Max Newman, of Cincinnati.

Another photo shows former Dodgers pitcher Carl Erskine posing in 2011 with a smiling Rebecca Alpert, a professor of religion and women’s studies at Temple University. Alpert wrote in the post that she “grew up believing that rooting for the Brooklyn Dodgers was what Jews were supposed to do because the Dodgers integrated baseball and represented the working class.”

Many of the items that respondents mentioned, posted or offered to the curators relate, of course, to Jewish Major Leaguers: a brilliant color image of a very young Koufax wearing his Brooklyn cap as he delivered a pitch against a backdrop of trees and a blue sky; photos from the 1970s of Washington Senators first baseman Mike Epstein fielding and sliding; and a black-and-white shot of Greenberg with boxing champion Joe Louis, under which the unidentified emailer wrote, “Jews have long regarded themselves as a people on the outside looking in. African-American heroes like Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson have been part of ‘our crowd.’ ”

“The story of Jews in baseball has typically been told by focusing on Major League Baseball, and counting up how many Jews played in Major League Baseball and disputing who’s a Jew and who’s not a Jew: Was Elliott Maddox Jewish? Was Rod Carew Jewish?” John Thorn, the lead consultant for the exhibition, said by telephone. “To me, the far more interesting story was on the other side of the television set: What was the ordinary Jew’s experience with baseball? How did baseball become a binding, integrating, assimilating force in Jewish life?”

Aside from his professional qualifications as Major League Baseball’s official historian, Thorn is in a unique position to examine the issue. Thorn, who is Jewish, was born in a displaced person’s camp in Germany after World War II and settled with his parents in New York. Baseball, particularly the experience of collecting baseball cards, was how the young Thorn made his way in his adopted country — his “visa to America,” Thorn said.

“The story of baseball being more than a game, which is a cliche, of course, resonated for me particularly,” he said.

Up to 200 artifacts will fill the 2,400 square feet on the museum’s fifth floor. After closing at the end of the 2014 baseball season, the exhibit will tour nationally, with smaller versions visiting Jewish community centers, synagogues, historical societies, libraries and stadiums, Perelman said.

Besides the general public, items will come from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, the American Jewish Historical Society and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. Bud Selig, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, is among those serving on the advisory committee.

A Happy 90th To Ralph Kiner

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

Ralph Kiner turns ninety on the 27th of October.

Where have the years gone?

Many Jewish Press readers grew up watching Kiner’s Korner, the post-game television show featuring yesterday’s heroes and the Mets’ one-day wonders.

Tom Seaver may have been on most often as he frequently was the star of the game. Seaver and Kiner, stars from different generations, formed a relationship that would eventually pair them in the Mets broadcast booth.

Kiner originally teamed with Bob Murphy and Lindsey Nelson; from 1962 through 1978 the trio called Mets games from the team’s debut under Casey Stengel in the fabled Polo Grounds through its first 14 years at Shea Stadium.

To those of us outside New York and born a bit earlier, Ralph Kiner holds memories not of the broadcast booth but of great slugging exploits on the baseball field.

In his first seven seasons (1946-1952), Kiner led the National League in home runs while playing for the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates. He was the big Forbes Field drawing card and drew many a Jewish fan from the nearby Murray Hill district.

The Pirates lured Hank Greenberg for the 1947 season after the 36-year-old Jewish superstar was sold by the pennant-contending Tigers to the cellar-dwelling Pirates.

After Kiner’s slow start in 1947, Pirates management wanted to send the slumping outfielder back to the minor leagues. However, Greenberg lobbied the higher-ups to keep the young outfielder and promised to work with and even room with him on the road.

Kiner, a non-Jew from Alhambra, California, responded warmly to Greenberg, a Jew from the Bronx.

“Hank Greenberg was the biggest influence in my life,” Kiner told me years ago on the baseball beat.

“I idolized him when I was growing up in Los Angeles and he was a young star with the Tigers. The Tigers became my favorite team and he was my idol. So when he came to the Pirates I was thrilled and wanted to get to know him and learn some hitting tips from him.

“The first thing he said to me was, ‘Let’s stay late and take some extra batting practice and extra fielding practice.’

“Hank would spend hours at extra batting practice and extra fielding practice even when we were on the road after games. Most of the time we would be the last ones to take our uniforms off. Hank also taught me how to dress well.

“He took me to a haberdasher and I tried on different clothes. Hank picked out everything that he thought would look good on me. I can still hear him saying, ‘That looks good on you’ and ‘That doesn’t look good.’ ”

Kiner responded to Greenberg’s tutoring by batting .313 with 51 home runs, 28 more than he’d hit the year before. Two years later Kiner hit 54 round-trippers and batted .310.

While Kiner was baseball’s big slugger, Greenberg ascended to the general manager’s position with the Cleveland Indians. Kiner and Greenberg kept in close contact through the years. Greenberg eventually traded for his friend and Kiner spent the last season of his career with the Indians.

A bad back forced Kiner’s retirement in 1955 and Greenberg offered him the GM job with Cleveland’s top minor affiliate – the San Diego Padres, then of the Pacific Coast League. To save some dollars for management, Kiner thought it would make sense for him to double as the radio play-by-play man.

Greenberg joined Bill Veeck in an ownership role with the Chicago White Sox in 1959 and brought Kiner in two years later as a broadcaster. The following season Kiner opted to join the brand new Mets.

“I owe my good fortune to Hank Greenberg,” Kiner acknowledged.

Irwin Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years before
moving to a big-league front office position where he earned a World Series ring. The author, columnist, lecturer and president emeritus of one of Detroit’s leading shuls may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net. His column appears the second week of each month.

Hank Greenberg’s 25th Yahrzeit

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

It was Hank Greenberg’s 25th yahrzeit recently and I said Kaddish for baseball’s biggest Jewish superstar.


 


Greenberg had children, but I doubt any said Kaddish, and if it was said, it more than likely wasn’t in an Orthodox shul.

 

If I hear otherwise, I’ll let you know.

 

I have vivid memories of Hank’s passing 25 years ago.I was working for the Detroit Tigers at the time and was in my Tiger Stadium office.

 

The newspapers called, looking for some quotes.I was the lone Jewish employee around and gave them some memories.Outside of seeing Greenberg in old films, I’d never seen him play; his last season as a player was 1947 and I only began to follow baseball a couple of years later.

 

My personal memories of Greenberg were forged in 1983, when I had the chance to talk to him prior to a doubleheader. The occasion was the retirement of Greenberg’s uniform number between games.I was on the field for the ceremony, covering the event as a photographer for a national publication and some upper management folks of the Tigers.

 

I taped our conversation. Here are some highlights:

 

COHEN: You grew up in the Bronx, not far from Yankee Stadium and not too
far from the Polo Grounds. Did you root for the Yankees or the Giants?

 

            GREENBERG: I was a Giants fan. Most of the kids were, because the Giants were the outstanding team at the time. But the Yankees were the first to scout me and they made the mistake of taking me to the ballpark to watch the team play and they gave me a seat right behind the Yankees dugout. Paul Krichell, who was then the head scout of the Yankees, showed me where Lou Gehrig was. I took one look at Gehrig and saw those shoulders and he looked like he was going to last forever.

 

Fortunately, the Detroit club was interested in me and Detroit, even back then, had a reputation of being a great baseball town. So I decided to cast my lot with the Tigers and it was a great ballpark for a right-handed hitter to hit in and it was a great baseball town.

 

COHEN: What was your parents’ reaction to your chosen occupation?

 

GREENBERG: Growing up in the Bronx with Jewish parents, they wanted me to be doctor or a dentist or a lawyer. I decided to be a ballplayer, which automatically characterized me as a bum. The neighbors used to say my parents had three nice children and one bum. But little did they realize that 40 years later the athletes [would be] the millionaires and the lawyers and the dentists and doctors are the working stiffs. I was just a little ahead of my time.

 

COHEN: Did the Giants have any interest in you?

 

GREENBERG: I tried to get a tryout with them and I was the all-scholastic first baseman for the entire city of New York but they said they saw me play and that I didn’t have a chance to make it in the big leagues. They wouldn’t even let me in the ballpark just to shag balls.

 

 


Irwin Cohen took this picture of Hank Greenberg at the

Tiger Stadium ceremony to retire Greenberg’s uniform number.

 

 

COHEN: In 1934 – your second season in the majors – you batted .339 and hit 26 home runs, helping lead the Tigers to the pennant. Was that your biggest thrill?

 

GREENBERG: I can’t say it was the biggest. We had a great infield that year. The Detroit infield played in every game except one. I played in every game except one. I played 153 games and everyone else [third baseman Marv Owen, shortstop Billy Rogell, second baseman Charlie Gehringer] played in all 154 games. And we drove in 462 [a record that still stands]. I guess the “Million Dollar Infield” of the old Philadelphia team didn’t even have half that much.

 

COHEN: You had some fantastic years. In 1937 for example, you hit 40 home runs and knocked in a staggering 183 runs while hitting .337. In 1938 you had 58 home runs. Were you disappointed you didn’t break Babe Ruth’s record?

 

GREENBERG: No. It wasn’t that much of a disappointment to me, as Babe Ruth was head and shoulders above everybody. I wasn’t in his class as a home run hitter.

 

 COHEN: You had five games to go and already had 58 home runs. What happened?

 

GREENBERG: Of the last five, two were in Detroit and three in Cleveland. The
last two – the doubleheader – they moved from old League Park to Municipal Stadium and it wasn’t very easy to hit a home run there because they didn’t have the enclosed fences in those days. You had to hit home runs into the seats.

 

Some Jewish fans still feel pitchers didn’t want a Jew to break Babe Ruth’s record.Greenberg disagreed.He felt many opposing players wanted him to break the single-season home run record, which at the time was 60.Greenberg went on to say that his 57th homer was a gift. He tried to stretch a triple into an inside-the-park home run andI was out by a mile at the plate but the umpire was a friend of mine and so was the catcher, who didn’t argue the call.”

 

            I can still hear Greenberg’s voice and his charismatic manner of speaking with a trace of the Bronx. Even though it’s 64 years since he played, he remains the biggest Jewish sports star of all time.


 


Irwin Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years and earned a World Series ring. To read his illustrated biography on how he made it to the baseball field, send a check payable for $19.95 to Irwin Cohen, 25921 Stratford Place, Oak Park, Michigan, 48237. Cohen, the president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

Hammerin’ Hank’s 100th

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

   January 1 will be the 100th anniversary of the birth of Hank Greenberg. And Greenberg’s 25th yahrzeit will be marked next August.

 

   When you think of dynamic duos on the same team, you think of the Yankees’ Gehrig and Ruth or the M & M Boys, Mantle and Maris. But the Tigers’ Hank Greenberg and Charlie Gehringer – the G-Men – were baseball’s main run producers from the mid-1930s through 1940.

 

   From 1937 through 1940, Greenberg blasted 172 home runs, an average of 43 per year. During that span, Hammerin’ Hank drove in 591 runs, an average of just under 148 per season.

 

   Gehringer, a smooth-fielding second baseman, had a .320 lifetime batting average in 19 years with the Tigers and led the league in 1937 with a .371 average. The G-Men were models of consistency during their careers, both in the regular season and in post-season play.

 

(L-R) Hank Greenberg, Babe Ruth, Charlie Gehringer and Lou Gehrig in 1934. The pennant-bound Tigers would finish seven games ahead of the Yankees. The entire Tigers infield played every single game that season – with the exception of first baseman Greenberg, who chose not to play on Yom Kippur.

 

 

   While Gehringer batted .321 over three World Series, Greenberg holds the Tigers’ record for appearing in the most Fall Classics (1934, 1935,1940 and 1945). In 85 Series at-bats, Greenberg hit five home runs and batted .318, which correspond to his regular season career numbers.

 

   Greenberg posted a .310 career average and 331 home runs despite missing four and a half seasons while serving in the military. He also had an amazing on-base percentage. He led the league in walks a couple of times and if his bases-on-balls were added to his hits, his average would be .410

 

   Translation: Greenberg averaged being on base 41 times for every 100 at-bats.

 

   Let’s take a look at another superstar from the same era – Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio. DiMag had a .325 career average and hit 361 home runs, but had 1,628 more career at-bats than Greenberg. Even with more career at-bats than Greenberg, DiMaggio walked less often (710 times to Greenberg’s 852). So Joltin’ Joe’s on-base percentage was .395.

 

   Greenberg also bested DiMaggio in the long ball category, homering every 15.69 at-bats to DiMaggio’s once every 18.79.

 

   While on the baseball beat, I was lucky enough to meet both men, long after they’d retired, of course. DiMaggio was more guarded and distant while still exuding a quiet grace. Greenberg was far more engaging and charismatic and enjoyed the give and take of being interviewed.

 

*     *     *

 

   Sparky Anderson, who passed away a few weeks ago, was one of baseball’s greatest personalities. More important, though, he was one of the most charitable people in the world. He spent countless hours visiting youngsters in hospitals and started a charity in the Detroit area raising funds to help hospitalized children.

 

   Everyone loved the charismatic former manager of the Reds and Tigers. From the stadium sweepers to the biggest big shot, Sparky treated everyone the same. Hours before night games, Sparky would sweep through the front office to chat with employees regardless of rank.

 

   Detroit was hit hard with the passing of four of its most popular baseball personalities in the last 20 months – Hall of Fame third baseman George Kell, who became a popular broadcaster; Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, the most popular player in Tigers history; Ernie Harwell, the great play-by-play man; and Anderson. All were great people to be around; they’ll certainly always be around in my memories. And all play a big part in my upcoming book.

 

*     *     *

 

   The media generally tag a player as “Jewish” if he has one Jewish parent. Players are routinely referred to as Jewish even if their one Jewish parent is or was the father and the player himself is married to a non-Jewish woman and their children are being raised as non-Jews. In other words, even if their alleged Jewishness is tenuous at best (never mind the fact that it doesn’t meet basic halachic criteria), sportswriters still refer to them as “Jewish.” So unless one has a player’s genealogy handy, it’s hard to figure out who’s Jewish according to our halachic umpires.

 

   With this in mind, I’ll tell you about a great website – JewishBaseballNews.com, operated out of St. Petersburg, Florida, by transplanted Chicagoan Scott Barancik. It counts players as Jewish even if they only have a Jewish father, but it’s well written and informative. The site also includes minor leaguers. Scott works hard on it and I check it out several times a week.

 

   “Time in the Minors” is a documentary DVD telling of the trials and tribulations of playing and staying in the minor leagues in the hope of advancing to the major leagues.

 

   Tony Okun, born, raised and bar mitzvahed in Omaha, Nebraska, produced this great documentary. I saw the 85-minute version and recommend it. You follow the lives of two minor leaguers, one of whom, according to Tony, is Jewish.

 

   For further info on how you can get a copy, click on to ohshowproductions.com.

 

   The real expert on which players are really Jewish is Shel Wallman of Jewish Sports Review. Shel works hard digging up facts and I recommend a subscription.

 

 

   Irwin Cohen – whose eighth book, out next month, tells the story of an Orthodox Jew in baseball – is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul. He can be reached in his dugout at irdav@scbglobal.net.

Hammerin’ Hank’s 100th

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010



   January 1 will be the 100th anniversary of the birth of Hank Greenberg. And Greenberg’s 25th yahrzeit will be marked next August.

 

   When you think of dynamic duos on the same team, you think of the Yankees’ Gehrig and Ruth or the M & M Boys, Mantle and Maris. But the Tigers’ Hank Greenberg and Charlie Gehringer – the G-Men – were baseball’s main run producers from the mid-1930s through 1940.

 

   From 1937 through 1940, Greenberg blasted 172 home runs, an average of 43 per year. During that span, Hammerin’ Hank drove in 591 runs, an average of just under 148 per season.

 

   Gehringer, a smooth-fielding second baseman, had a .320 lifetime batting average in 19 years with the Tigers and led the league in 1937 with a .371 average. The G-Men were models of consistency during their careers, both in the regular season and in post-season play.

 


(L-R) Hank Greenberg, Babe Ruth, Charlie Gehringer and Lou Gehrig in 1934. The pennant-bound Tigers would finish seven games ahead of the Yankees. The entire Tigers infield played every single game that season – with the exception of first baseman Greenberg, who chose not to play on Yom Kippur.

 

 

   While Gehringer batted .321 over three World Series, Greenberg holds the Tigers’ record for appearing in the most Fall Classics (1934, 1935,1940 and 1945). In 85 Series at-bats, Greenberg hit five home runs and batted .318, which correspond to his regular season career numbers.

 

   Greenberg posted a .310 career average and 331 home runs despite missing four and a half seasons while serving in the military. He also had an amazing on-base percentage. He led the league in walks a couple of times and if his bases-on-balls were added to his hits, his average would be .410

 

   Translation: Greenberg averaged being on base 41 times for every 100 at-bats.

 

   Let’s take a look at another superstar from the same era – Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio. DiMag had a .325 career average and hit 361 home runs, but had 1,628 more career at-bats than Greenberg. Even with more career at-bats than Greenberg, DiMaggio walked less often (710 times to Greenberg’s 852). So Joltin’ Joe’s on-base percentage was .395.

 

   Greenberg also bested DiMaggio in the long ball category, homering every 15.69 at-bats to DiMaggio’s once every 18.79.

 

   While on the baseball beat, I was lucky enough to meet both men, long after they’d retired, of course. DiMaggio was more guarded and distant while still exuding a quiet grace. Greenberg was far more engaging and charismatic and enjoyed the give and take of being interviewed.

 

*     *     *

 

   Sparky Anderson, who passed away a few weeks ago, was one of baseball’s greatest personalities. More important, though, he was one of the most charitable people in the world. He spent countless hours visiting youngsters in hospitals and started a charity in the Detroit area raising funds to help hospitalized children.

 

   Everyone loved the charismatic former manager of the Reds and Tigers. From the stadium sweepers to the biggest big shot, Sparky treated everyone the same. Hours before night games, Sparky would sweep through the front office to chat with employees regardless of rank.

 

   Detroit was hit hard with the passing of four of its most popular baseball personalities in the last 20 months – Hall of Fame third baseman George Kell, who became a popular broadcaster; Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, the most popular player in Tigers history; Ernie Harwell, the great play-by-play man; and Anderson. All were great people to be around; they’ll certainly always be around in my memories. And all play a big part in my upcoming book.

 

*     *     *

 

   The media generally tag a player as “Jewish” if he has one Jewish parent. Players are routinely referred to as Jewish even if their one Jewish parent is or was the father and the player himself is married to a non-Jewish woman and their children are being raised as non-Jews. In other words, even if their alleged Jewishness is tenuous at best (never mind the fact that it doesn’t meet basic halachic criteria), sportswriters still refer to them as “Jewish.” So unless one has a player’s genealogy handy, it’s hard to figure out who’s Jewish according to our halachic umpires.

 

   With this in mind, I’ll tell you about a great website – JewishBaseballNews.com, operated out of St. Petersburg, Florida, by transplanted Chicagoan Scott Barancik. It counts players as Jewish even if they only have a Jewish father, but it’s well written and informative. The site also includes minor leaguers. Scott works hard on it and I check it out several times a week.

 

   “Time in the Minors” is a documentary DVD telling of the trials and tribulations of playing and staying in the minor leagues in the hope of advancing to the major leagues.

 

   Tony Okun, born, raised and bar mitzvahed in Omaha, Nebraska, produced this great documentary. I saw the 85-minute version and recommend it. You follow the lives of two minor leaguers, one of whom, according to Tony, is Jewish.

 

   For further info on how you can get a copy, click on to ohshowproductions.com.

 

   The real expert on which players are really Jewish is Shel Wallman of Jewish Sports Review. Shel works hard digging up facts and I recommend a subscription.


 



 


   Irwin Cohen – whose eighth book, out next month, tells the story of an Orthodox Jew in baseball – is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul. He can be reached in his dugout at irdav@scbglobal.net.

My Uncle, A Hall Of Fame Jew

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

      When an elderly, scholarly person passes away, a rare book is lost forever. There are historical stories and Torah insights we will never have a chance to hear again, at least in this world.

 

      My uncle, Rabbi Irving Goldman, zt”l, passed away recently. He was born in Detroit in 1920 and knew early on that he wanted to be a pulpit rabbi. He went to public school because the Detroit he grew up in did not yet have a yeshiva day school. Though he was close to his parents, two sisters and brother, he opted to go to a yeshiva in New York in 1935.

 

      The Detroit of that time was unusual because of the fame of some of its local citizens who had a national stage.

 

      Henry Ford penned and funded many anti-Semitic articles while Father Coughlin (the radio priest) spewed anti-Semitism over the national airwaves. Boxer Joe Louis, Detroit’s Brown Bomber, struck blows for people of color while Jews around the country idolized Detroit Tigers slugger Hank Greenberg.

 

      The Lone Ranger, Green Hornet and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon became heroic figures to a national audience from the top floor of Detroit radio station WXYZ. The programs that originated from Detroit for decades featured an ensemble of actors including several from the local Jewish community. Also from the local Jewish community, the Purple Gang left its mark and operated mainly from the wrong side of the law.

 

      After World War II, my uncle married and became spiritual leader of a shul in New Orleans. On a visit to Detroit in August 1951, he took me to my first-ever night game. I don’t remember who won the game between the Yankees and Tigers, but I do remember we sat on the first base side of the lower deck.

 

      It was late in the game when Joe DiMaggio came out of the dugout to pinch hit. My uncle, who was sitting to my right and who’d seen Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Hank Greenberg on the same field, turned to me and said, “Now, you can say you saw the great DiMaggio hit. He’s retiring this year.”

 

      I watched intently and expected DiMaggio to hit a home run. Instead, he popped up to shortstop Neil Berry, an obscure backup infielder.

 

      Fast forward to July 1977. It was the eve of the All-Star Game, which was played that year at Yankee Stadium. Since I headed a national baseball publication at the time, I was in a small circle of media types allowed access to DiMaggio at a George Steinbrenner-hosted party at the Plaza Hotel.

 

      “I saw you pinch-hit in a night game in Detroit in August, 1951,” I told DiMaggio as we were introduced. “Couldn’t be,” DiMag said a bit skeptically. “You look too young to have seen me play.”

 

      “Yes, I was young, but my uncle took me to the game and you popped up to Neil Berry,” I earnestly told the dapper Hall of Famer, neatly attired in an expensive blue suit, white shirt and red tie. “Neil Berry!” DiMaggio exclaimed before smiling, probably thinking no one would remember Neil Berry.

 

      The word on DiMaggio was that he could be cold, aloof, selfish and downright unfriendly. But I felt we bonded somewhat, at least enough to where I was comfortable enough to ask for an autograph. He complied, and I’m looking at it now on my dugout wall as I write these words.

 

      I ran into DiMaggio again a couple of years later on the baseball beat and he opened the conversation by saying, “I remember you. Your uncle took you to see me pop up to Neil Berry.”

 

      My uncle became rabbi of a shul in South Bend in the early 1950′s. The move meant his wife, son and daughter would be closer to the family in Detroit and Chicago’s kosher shopping. Rabbi Goldman saw a lot of potential in one of the South Bend boys and spent a lot of time convincing his parents to allow their son to attend yeshiva in Detroit.

 

      The youngster went on to star in the yeshiva world and affected his family in South Bend. In time, the family was instrumental in bringing a yeshiva to South Bend. So you could say that all those now working in Torah-type jobs in South Bend are there because of my uncle.

 

      But the yeshiva wasn’t there as the 1950′s ended and the Goldmans opted to move to Chicago. My uncle accepted an opportunity to go into a catering business and my cousins were able to attend day school.

 

      On my first visit to Chicago, in 1963, my uncle took me to see my first National League game and my first game in Wrigley Field. It was the Cubs of Ernie Banks against the Dodgers of Sandy Koufax. Koufax mowed them down on his way to his first great year (25-5,1.88 ERA)

 

      On subsequent visits to Chicago and Wrigley Field in the 60′s, I saw two more games featuring the great Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. The Atlanta Braves downed the Cubs on Aaron’s home run and two years later the San Francisco Giants beat the Cubs on a Mays home run.

 

       The Cubs lost most of the time in the 60′s and lost the Goldmans in the 70′s. Rabbi and Mrs. Goldman made aliyah and took up residence in Jerusalem. Their children were married and also left Chicago. Son Simcha, a rabbi and psychologist, settled in Los Angeles and daughter Judy married a Chicagoan who became a neurosurgeon and took a position in Detroit.

 

      Diagnosed with a disease that couldn’t be cured but had to be endured, Rabbi Goldman returned to Detroit with his wife and moved in with their daughter and son-in-law. Between medical appointments, my uncle busied himself with learning, following current events and the Tigers.

 

      In his final weeks, my uncle did without the pain-killers as much as possible so he could focus more on learning daily with his son-in-law, Dr. Phil Friedman. Phil is one of the three Friedman brothers who sponsored the new Mishna Berura Yomi website (www.mishnaberurayomis.org). You’ve probably seen the ad for it in The Jewish Press.

 

      My uncle had a great laugh and the last time I heard it we were talking baseball, discussing the long-term mega-contracts players get today and how agents really run the game. I told him the story of how negotiations used to be and how Ralph Kiner, who led the league in home runs, came to negotiate a new one-year contract with Pittsburgh executive Branch Rickey.

 

      “Listen here, Kiner,” Rickey bellowed, “we [the Pirates] came in last place with you and we could come in last place without you. This is all you’re getting, so you better sign it.”


      Now every time I hear some of the great names of those Hall of Famers, I think about my uncle. If there is a Hall of Fame for great Jews, I’d like to nominate Irving Goldman for induction.

 

      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.

Greenberg To Green To…Braun?

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

        The 1947 baseball season was Jackie Robinson’s first and Hank Greenberg’s last. It also marked the debut of another Jewish slugger, Al Rosen. Three years later, at the age of 26, Rosen became the regular third baseman of the Cleveland Indians and batted .287 with a league-leading 37 home runs.

 

         The following season, Rosen dipped to .265 with 24 homers but bettered it in 1952, batting .302 with 28 home runs. In 1953, Rosen nearly won the Triple Crown. His 43 home runs and 145 RBIs led the American League, but his .336 average was one point lower than Mickey Vernon’s league-high .337.

 

         Rosen had a pretty good year in ’54 (.300 average, 24 homers, 102 RBIs) at the age of 30, but his skills eroded rapidly. His .244 average and 21 home runs in l955 was followed by final season stats of .267 and 15 homers.

 

         Rosen could have played another season or two, but Hank Greenberg, by that time the general manager of the Indians, had a trade worked out sending Rosen to the Boston Red Sox. Rosen refused to go as his wife had some health issues and he made a name for himself as a stockbroker in Cleveland during the off-season.

 

         Rosen’s career stats – batting average of .285 with 192 home runs – were fairly impressive, but hardly Hall of Fame material. Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg hit .313 over 13 seasons and his 331 home runs averaged about six homers more a year than Rosen.

 

         Shawn Green, who’ll be 35 in November, has a career batting average a couple points lower than Rosen’s and probably will overtake Greenberg’s career home run total early next season, making him the all-time Jewish home run leader. But when Green does pass Greenberg, it will have taken him some 2,000 more at-bats than the 5,193 it took Greenberg to reach his 331 home runs.

 

         A Jewish slugger on the rise is rookie Ryan Braun. The 23-year-old Milwaukee third baseman made his major league debut the last week of May and is on pace to end the season with great big league numbers, with a plus .300 average and almost 30 home runs.

 

         Braun played for Triple-A Nashville before his call-up and tore up the minor league’s highest level with a .354 average and 10 home runs. So he’s the real deal – and much faster than either Greenberg or Rosen, so he’s always a threat to steal a base. The 6-foot-2-inch right-handed batter from southern California could be to hitting what Sandy Koufax was to pitching.

 

         Braun’s already been dubbed “The Hebrew Hammer” and he says he’s cool with that. His big test, as far as most of us are concerned, will come on Friday night and Saturday, September 21 and 22. That’s Yom Kippur, and the Brewers are scheduled to be playing in Atlanta with both clubs figuring to be in the pennant race.

 

         Will Braun play? Will he suit up and just watch from the dugout? Will he stay away from the ballpark? Kevin Youkilis was in uniform last Yom Kippur and watched his Red Sox teammates from the dugout. Because he didn’t play, one of the papers called Youkilis an observant Jew. I call him a Jew who observed the game from the dugout.

 

* * * * *

 

         Coaches have been dodging bullets for decades without tragedy. Every season has its share of injuries (usually not serious) and near-misses, especially in pre-game batting practice with so many players on the field.

 

         During games, coaches station themselves according to their own scouting reports. When Gary Sheffield bats, third base coaches move some ten feet backward because the Tigers right-handed slugger hits many wicked line drives and grounders outside the foul line.

 

         For decades, Dodgers play-by-play man Vin Scully has been trumpeting the use of batting helmets for third- and first-base coaches. Third-base coaches should use a lefty batters helmet and first-base coaches a righty helmet. “That way,” Scully says, “the flap will protect the part of the face closest to the batter.”

 

         Would Mike Coolbaugh still be alive and coaching first base in the minors if he had worn a helmet? As you recall, last month a line drive foul hit Coolbaugh in the back of the neck, just below the left ear. A ruptured artery resulting in blood loss to the brain caused his death. A runner on first base may have diverted some of Coolbaugh’s attention until it was too late.

 

         Only 35, Coolbaugh had two little kids and a pregnant wife. He was a wonderful guy, a great father and husband. He wasn’t a great player and had been released by nine teams on several levels. He was good enough, however, to play a short time in the majors as an infielder. Being a former infielder and 35 meant he was younger and more agile than big league coaches. Still, he couldn’t dodge the ball.

 

         Baseball is the toughest of all sports to excel in (usually one must succeed on several minor-league levels before making it to the big leagues, and superstars from other sports, such as Michael Jordan, have tried baseball and discovered they weren’t even good minor leaguers), but what most casual observers don’t realize is just how dangerous baseball is.

 

         Former Dodgers first baseman Steve Garvey told me there’s no such thing as a batting slump. “Most players,” Garvey said, “go through times when they’re scared of the ball.”

 

         Yankees manager Joe Torre’s experience while playing for the Atlanta Braves some 40 years ago may explain it best. Torre missed almost a month after being hit in the left side of the face. He returned to the lineup and couldn’t hit well because he feared being hit again. As his average fell, Torre psyched himself up and his fear of embarrassment became greater than his fear of the ball.

 

         I was twice hit by balls during batting practice. A liner off the bat of George Brett found my toe while I was well in foul territory near the Kansas City dugout. Luckily, my shoe absorbed most of the blow.

 

         I could have used a batting helmet the other time. I was interviewing Reggie Jackson, and the Yankees star decided we’d sit in the on-deck circle to the third-base side of home plate. Yankees coach Yogi Berra was hitting fungoes to right field, tossing a ball up and hitting it when it came down.

 

         A Yankees outfielder was catching Yogi’s offerings and tossing them back on a bounce or two. Berra would stop the ball with his bat and the ball would roll a few feet before stopping. One ball popped off Yogi’s bat about 40 feet southeast and caught me on the left cheek. Hospital x-rays revealed a broken cheekbone. Even though the ball didn’t come off the bat as fast as pitchers throw it, it made a lasting impression.


 

         If you’re a baseball insider, you quickly learn respect for the ball and the talent it takes to play baseball.

 

         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.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/sports/greenberg-to-green-to-braun/2007/08/08/

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