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September 17, 2014 / 22 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Sandy Koufax’

The Dodgers Never Left Brooklyn

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

I’m not talking about Duke Snider, Carl Furillo, Joe Campanella, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Junior Gilliam, Don Newcombe, Don Drysdale, Johnny Padres, Sandy Amaros, the young Sandy Koufax, and the rest of the old-time Brookline Dodgers.

(For your information, I remembered all those names without having to look them up on Google. In fact, when the old Dodger ballpark, Ebbets Field, was being torn down to make room for apartment buildings, my Dad snuck us into the stadium, where we dug up some earth from center field, where Duke Snider once roamed – as if it were blessed soil from the Holy Land – and took it home to put in our planter as a lasting memorial. Woe that I don’t remember Mishnayos as well as I remember starting Dodger line-ups!)

No, I’m not talking about those famed Brooklyn Bums, who stuffed their bats and gloves into duffle bags and deserted New York for the even smoggier shores of LA. I am talking about the other dodgers of Brooklyn, all those who still linger in Boro Park and Flatbush and Williamsburg and Crown Heights and Ocean Parkway and don’t come on aliyah.

I’m speaking about the Aliyah Dodgers, the Diaspora Giants, the Ultra-Orthodox Williamsburg White Sox, the Assimilated Cardinals, and the OU Washington Nationals.

Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook would tell his students: “We don’t pick and chose what mitzvot to do. We don’t say, ‘This mitzvah is easy and pleasing to me, I will do it, but this mitzvah is hard and not so pleasing, so I won’t. We aren’t half-believers like the Spies in the Wilderness, about whom the Torah testifies, ‘In this matter, you didn’t believe in the Lord your God’ (Devarim, 1:32). In the matter of making aliyah to Israel they didn’t believe. In contrast, we find the true approach to Torah of, ‘Everything that the Lord said, we will do and listen’ (Shemot, 24:7). We will do it whether it pleases us or not. We believe in all of the Torah with complete emunah” (See, Torat Eretz Yisrael, Ch.1).

Once again, I am not speaking about people who, for whatever valid reason, are unable to come on aliyah. Let’s say, in a rough approximation, that 20% of the Jews in America fall into this category. Whether it’s because they have sick parents to care for, or no way of making a living in Israel, or any other legitimate excuse, let’s agree for the moment that they can’t come – but what about their children? What’s preventing them? Are they any less Jewish than my children? Why should my children have to serve in the Israeli Army (which is a great mitzvah that we are happy to do) and fight to defend the Jewish Homeland, while the Diaspora Dodgers go to ball games and spend the same three years getting stoned in college? And what about the 80% who could come – but don’t?

Let’s remember that the root cause of the destruction that befell our Nation on Tisha B’Av was the unwilling of the Spies in the Wilderness to journey on to the Land of Israel, which occurred on the very same date (Megilla 29A. See The Book of our Heritage, Ch.16, on the month of Av).

My beloved brothers and sisters in the Diaspora- when you are in shul this coming Shabbos, during the Torah reading of Matot, before the typical lavish Diaspora Kiddush and free open bar (which could make even the most ardent Zionist forget about Jerusalem with its line-up of Chivas Regals, Jack Daniels, and Johnny Walker Blacks), try to concentrate on the message of the parsha:

“Now a very great multitude of cattle had the children of Brooklyn, and the children of the Five Towns and Boca, a very great multitude… and they said to Moshe, ‘If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given unto thy servants for a possession – bring us not over the Jordan.’ And Moshe said, ‘Shall your brethren go to war, and shall you sit here? And wherefore will you turn away the heart of the Children of Israel from going over into the Land which the Lord has given them? Thus did your fathers when I sent them from Kadesh Barnea to see the Land. For when they went up unto the valley of Eshkol and saw the Land, they turned away the heart of the Children of Israel, that they should not go into the Land which the Lord had given them. And the anger of the Lord kindled on that day (Tisha B’Av), and He swore saying, ‘Surely none of these men that came up out of the land of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the Land I swore unto Avraham, unto Yitzhak, and unto Yaacov, because they have not wholly followed Me, save Calev ben Yefuneh and Yehoshua ben Nun, because they have wholly followed the Lord’” (Bamidbar, 32:1-12).

The American Jewish Love Affair With Baseball: An Interview with Director Peter Miller

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

             In September I wrote in my Baseball Insider column (which appears the second week of each month in The Jewish Press) of my very positive reaction to an advanced screening of the new documentary “Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story.”

 

The film debuts Nov. 5 in movie theaters inNew York (at the Quad Cinema in Manhattan, Malverne Cinema in Long Island, and Kew Gardens Cinema in Queens) before opening in cinemas in Los Angeles and Kansas City on November 19 and after that in theaters and film festivals all over the country. (A listing of screenings is available at www.jewsandbaseball.com).

 

“Jews and Baseball” director Peter Miller – an award-winning documentary filmmaker whose works include “Sacco and Vanzetti,” “A Class Apart,” and “The Internationale” – spoke recently with The Jewish Press about baseball, Jews, and his new film.

 

             The Jewish Press: Why did you choose to make a film about Jews and baseball – what does the subject say to you?

 

              Miller: The relationship between Jews and baseball serves as a wonderful lens for looking at the broader experience of Jews in America. The story of a once marginalized people finding their way into the American mainstream offers lessons for a country that continues to grapple with its ideal as a place where talent should overcome prejudice, where we can retain our differences while still being American, where anyone who can hit or pitch or run can be a part of the magic and drama of our national game.

 

             How comprehensive is the film?

 

There have been over 160 Jews out of the 17,000 players who have made it to the majors. Our story goes from the first Jewish baseball star, Lipman Emanuel Pike in the 1870s, to the stories of Jewish stars like Hank Greenberg, Al Rosen, Sandy Koufax, as well as the present crop of great Jewish players. In recent years there have been many Jewish All-Stars, including Shawn Green and Kevin Youkilis – and there was more than a minyan of Jewish players in the majors this past year.

 

Jews have also played an important role as owners, executives, writers, and fans.

 

How difficult was it to make a documentary like this?

 

            We found that many Jewish ballplayers were eager to help bring this story to life. Our first interview was with the amazingly articulate slugger Al Rosen, who was a big star in the 1950s. We were able to film an interview with the legendary Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax, who rarely gives interviews but felt that is was important to participate in this film.

 

           We also interviewed Jewish ballplayers including Ron Blomberg, Elliott Maddox, Kevin Youkilis, Shawn Green, White Sox leftie Marv Rotblatt, as well as two gentile Hall-of-Famers, Bob Feller and Yogi Berra, and we filmed with family members of Hank Greenberg, Harry Danning, and others.

 

We had the honor of filming with players’ union legend Marvin Miller, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, and team owners Fred Wilpon of the Mets and Charles Bronfman of the Expos. And we interviewed writers Roger Kahn (The Boys of Summer), Peter Levine and the late Maury Allen, as well as Jewish baseball card-maker Martin Abramowitz and passionate fans including the film director Ron Howard – a huge Sandy Koufax fan – and the talk show host Larry King.

 

Where did you grow up and did you have a favorite team?

 

             I grew up near Boston, and have always been a Red Sox fan. The teams of my childhood in the late 1960s and early ’70s always had a way of breaking our hearts, but I think watching their struggles offered valuable life lessons. Of course they also had some terrific players and some great personalities. I especially loved Bill Lee and Luis Tiant, two of the great characters in baseball.

 

Have you always rooted for Jewish players?

 

As a kid I connected early on with the Jewish players I was aware of. I remember prizing Mike Epstein’s baseball card back when he was a member of the Washington Senators. And while I was too young to remember Sandy Koufax as a player, his name was definitely spoken in my home late every season in relationship to the high holy days. So while my team was the Red Sox, I began to define my affiliation more broadly: rooting not only for Jewish players but for underdogs of all kinds.

 

Then in the 1980s I married a New Yorker and moved to Manhattan where I have taken on the Mets as my other favorite team in addition to the Red Sox. It’s been a challenging last few seasons for the Mets, but I am always optimistic. And it’s great to watch their exciting rookie first baseman Ike Davis, who may well be one of the next great Jewish baseball stars.

 

             Dustin Hoffman narrates the film. Were any Jewish play-by-play broadcasters considered for that role?

 

When our filmmaking team – my producing partner Will Hechter, writer Ira Berkow, editor Amy Linton, and I – first sat down to discuss who would narrate the film, we immediately thought of Dustin Hoffman. We didn’t have a second choice or a fallback position, which was probably foolish since Dustin doesn’t often narrate documentaries and is obviously in great demand. Fortunately, after he screened a cut of the film Dustin committed to record the narration, and his gorgeous voice lends a gravitas and clarity to the film that I think no other actor or announcer could have provided.

 

Working with him was a treat; he is a brilliant actor and a delight to work with. There have been a great many wonderful Jewish baseball announcers, and I’m certain many would have also been excellent choices to narrate, but Dustin’s voice and humanity are an irreplaceable part of the film.

Kaddish For Barney Dreyfuss

Wednesday, March 7th, 2007

    “Who are you saying Kaddish for today?” one of the kollel young men asked. I pulled out a baseball card from my pocket, showed it to him and told him about the former Jewish big leaguer whose yahrzeit fell on that day.

 

      Here’s how it came about.

 

      I start my day with a four-minute walk to the kollel. The daily Daf Yomi shiur is at 6:45 and davening is at 7:30. Evenings, Shabbosim and Yom Tovim, I usually walk another few minutes past the kollel and cross the street from Oak Park to Southfield to my shul, the Agudas Yisroel Mogen Avrohom.

 

      On one of these walks it occurred to me that no one, in all probability, says Kaddish for former big league Jewish players. Certainly not in an Orthodox shul. So I decided to say a Kaddish for some 80-plus deceased Jewish players, owners and baseball writers.

 

      I’ll tell you about one or two each month, even though some months have ten or more yahrzeits. Hopefully we’ll be together for extra innings, so just about every yahrzeit will be remembered over the course of time.

 

      I recently said Kaddish for Barney Dreyfuss on his 75th yahrzeit. Dreyfuss may have been the best owner of all time. He was innovative, smart and generous – a shrewd businessman who was considered a great judge of baseball skills and often scouted players.

 

      Born in Germany in l865, he came to America at the age of l6 and worked his way up in his uncle’s Kentucky brewery from bookkeeper to part owner. A small, slight man who was told by doctors to exercise for better health, Dreyfuss developed a passion for baseball and bought into the Louisville Colonels, one of the original National League clubs. He bought a half ownership of the Pittsburgh Pirates in l900 and his partners, recognizing his business skills and ability to judge baseball talent, elected him president.

 

      Dreyfuss signed Honus Wagner, who became arguably the greatest shortstop ever. On the business side, it was Dreyfuss who made the shidduch between National League and American League owners that led to the creation of the World Series, the championship showdown between the best teams of each league.

 

      Dreyfuss also got the players a bigger slice of the money pie by allowing them to share in the revenue of the first four games of the World Series. In l909, Dreyfuss built the first concrete and steel multi-decked baseball stadium. It became the model for other franchises.

 

      In l93l Dreyfuss urged his son, Sammy, a Princeton graduate and Pirates vice-president and treasurer, to take over the presidency of the club. Tragically, a serious bout of the flu developed into pneumonia and the younger Dreyfuss died at the age of 34. Grief-stricken at the loss of his only son, Barney asked his son-in-law, Bill Benswanger, a baseball fan engaged in another business at the time, to take over. Bill agreed and Barney slid into retirement and ill health, passing away less than a year later at the age of 67.

 

*     *     *

 

      Before we talk about today’s players in the coming months, it’s time to say goodbye to some of yesterday’s, both Jewish and non-Jewish. I saw all of them play and collected their cards. I viewed them up close in their later years when they came to Old-Timers games or were coaches.

 

      Larry Sherry, a pitcher who compiled a 53-44 won-lost record with a 3.76 earned run average from l958 through l968, died recently at 7l. With the Dodgers he teamed with his brother Norm, a catcher, for the first time on May 7, l960. Larry pitched the last four innings in relief and Norm homered as the brothers combined to down the Phillies, 3 to 2.

 

      Norm managed the California Angels in l976 and l977. Five years earlier, another Jewish manager, the late Harold “Lefty” Phillips, managed the Angels. Phillips and Sherry are the answers to the trivia question in my last column.

 

      Vern Ruhle had a long career as a pitching coach after his pitching days (l974-l986) and died within days of his 56th birthday…Steve Barber, who won 20 games for Baltimore in l963 died at 67. Barber had a l4-year career and also pitched for the Cubs and Yankees… Pat Dobson, who won 20 games for the l97l Orioles and l9 for the ’74 Yankees, died at 64. He was a pitching coach for major league clubs before becoming a special assistant to the general manager of the San Francisco Giants.

 

      Joe Niekro died from an aneurysm at the age of 6l. I got to see him often during his pitching days for the Cubs, Padres, Tigers, Braves, Astros, Yankees and Twins (l967-’88). Ironically, the only home run he hit in 22 years was off his Hall of Fame brother, Phil, on May 29, l976, in Atlanta. The brothers combined won 28 more games than the 5ll that Cy Young won by himself. (Phil won 3l8 while Joe accounted for 22l.)

 

      Lew Burdette, who won three complete games for the old Milwaukee Braves against the Yankees in the l957 World Series, died at the age of 80. Burdette had back-to-back 20-game winning seasons in l958 and l959 and had a lifetime record (l950-’67) of 203-l44 with a 3.66ERA… Max Lanier was 9l and the father of infielder Hal Lanier. Max pitched in three consecutive World Series for the Cardinals (l942-3-4) and spent l2 years with St. Louis before going to the New York Giants. He was buried wearing his Cardinals cap.

 

      Hank Bauer was a good player, fair manager and an excellent marine. He saw action in several battles in the Pacific and was wounded at Okinawa before embarking on a pro baseball career. After a couple of seasons in the minors, Bauer made the Yankees and played in nine World Series in ten years. He still holds the record for hitting safely in l7 consecutive World Series games. Bauer, who died at 84, managed a couple of teams in the l960′s and enjoyed his greatest success in l966, when he piloted the Orioles to a sweep over Sandy Koufax and the Dodgers. Bauer was a pleasant man whose high-pitched voice didn’t seem to fit with his square-jawed face.

 

      Art Fowler, a pitching coach with many Billy Martin-managed teams, passed away at 84. Fowler was a teammate of Sandy Koufax on the l959 championship Dodgers team, and picked up two more World Series rings coaching for the l977 and l978 Yankees. Fowler was Martin’s favorite drinking buddy – the pair helped support many bars around the old ballparks.

 

*     *     *

 

      The one player I’m focusing on more than any other during spring training is Red Sox pitcher John Lester. A left-handed rookie who had a 7-2 record last season before being diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lympoma, Lester underwent six chemotherapy treatments and was given a clean bill of health. Lester makes a strong Boston starting pitching staff stronger – even stronger than the Yankees. The Yanks, though, have a stronger bullpen and starting lineup.

 

*     *     *

 

      As you may have read in The Jewish Press and elsewhere, former Jewish big leaguers Ron Blomberg, Ken Holtzman and Art Shamsky will be managing three of the six Israel Baseball League teams. Other managers include experienced college baseball coaches for the inaugural season, which opens June 24. The 45-game regular season ends on August l7.

 

      The six teams will use three fields. The Tel Aviv and Netanya teams will play at Sportek in Tel Aviv. Ra’anana and Petach Tikvah will share a field at the Yarkon Sports Complex, while Kibbutz Gezer will host the Modi’in and Bet Shemsh teams. Stay tuned to this column for news on the Israel Baseball League.

 

*     *     *

 

      The tenth yahrzeit of a Jewish major leaguer who did more for baseball in Israel than any other former player will be observed about the time you’re reading this. I’ll tell you about him next month and also give you my predictions for the 2007 baseball season.

 

      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 is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul.

Baseball Is Dull Only To Those With Dull Minds

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

         Let’s talk some baseball.

 

         Each month we’ll talk about the past and present. Who’s Jewish and who’s not. What should happen and what won’t.

 

         We’ll leave the serious stuff – the situation in Israel, the shidduch crisis, and other issues of concern to the Jewish community – to the other qualified Jewish Press columnists.

 

         Now, you might wonder what my qualifications are to be a baseball gadol - to be as accomplished and knowledgeable in the baseball field as the columnists on the other pages are in theirs.

 

         I’ve been watching and writing about baseball for decades. I’ve seen the Philadelphia Phillies play in their three different homes – Connie Mack Stadium, Veterans Stadium and Citizens Bank Ballpark. I’ve seen the Pittsburgh Pirates play in their three ballparks – Forbes Field, Three Rivers Stadium and PNC Park. I’ve been to Cincinnati’s old Crosley Field (even wrote a book about it – Crosley Field, Arcadia Publishing, 2005), Riverfront Stadium and the current Great American Ballpark.

 

         Well before big league baseball returned to Washington a couple of years ago, I saw the Senators play in old Griffith Stadium and D.C. Stadium before it was renamed RFK Stadium. I’ve been to Brooklyn’s famed Ebbets Field and the most unusual ballpark of all-time, the odd-shaped Polo Grounds across the Harlem River from Yankee Stadium. I’d been to Yankee Stadium numerous times before modernization robbed it of its uniqueness.

 

         I’ve been lucky enough to be in clubhouses, dugouts and on the field with many of baseball’s greats and had the chance to interview yesterday’s heroes and tomorrow’s Hall of Famers. I was lucky enough to spend time with Joe DiMaggio and Hank Greenberg. I sat in press boxes next to Howard Cosell and perhaps the greatest sports columnist of all-time, Red Smith, then of The New York Times.

 

         I love these lines Smith is famous for writing: “Baseball is dull only to those with dull minds,” and “Ninety feet between the bases is the closest to perfection that man is yet to achieve.”

 

         How did I get into baseball writing? That may be a story for Yitta Halberstam’s Small Miracles books. I’ll tell you about it sometime. In the meantime, let’s talk about others.

 

         One of the DVDs I enjoy watching and listening to is “HASC Highlights: A Time for Music l9.” I loaned it to a shul friend who also loved it, but he was so proud of his daughter for picking up on something in Abie Rotenberg’s “The Ninth Man.” There’s a part of that great song that goes, “when we were young yeshiva boys back in ’65….we talked about the Yankees, the Dodgers and the Mets.”

 

         “Why did they talk about the Dodgers?” my friend’s daughter, a local Bais Yaakov graduate, asked. “They weren’t in Brooklyn in l965.” (The Dodgers left Brooklyn after the l957 season. Their heimish little ballpark, Ebbets Field, was replaced by a high-rise apartment complex in the early 1960′s.)

 

         I told my friend to tell his daughter that she’s very observant but the boys were talking about the Dodgers because of Sandy Koufax. In fact, most yeshiva boys around the country were talking about the great Dodgers lefthander who was on his way to winning 26 games in l965. Koufax also racked up his fourth career no-hitter in ’65, so Abie got it right.

 

         “So,” my friend’s daughter said, “a better line in the song would be, we talked about the Yankees, Sandy Koufax and the Mets.”

 

         Those of us who remember the Brooklyn Dodgers will never forget October 3, 1951, when Bobby Thomson’s late afternoon home run sent the New York Giants to the World Series and Brooklyn into mourning.

 

         The best book you can get about Thomson’s homer, the 1951 season, the players, sign-stealing and more is Joshua Prager’s The Echoing Green. Prager, who grew up in New Jersey, went to Moriah Day School, Ramaz High School and spent a year in yeshiva after high school before going on to college and a writing career with The Wall Street Journal.

 

         As many of you know, Thomson homered off Ralph Branca. What many of you may not know is that Bobby Valentine is Branca’s son-in-law. The former Mets manager skippered in Japan last year and had many opportunities to see the Boston Red Sox’ expensive new Japanese import known as D-Mat. As you recall, Boston recently beat out New York for the right to sign pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. Valentine says that while D-Mat isn’t too big and his fastball has been clocked in the low 90′s, he has excellent control and command of six different pitches. D-Mat is also a good fielder and very adept at keeping runners close to bases.

 

         “Brian Cashman is a genius,” says Rabbi Mordechai Katz, the baal koreh (Torah reader) in our shul, referring to the Yankees general manager. “He unloaded Randy Johnson and Gary Sheffield’s big salaries and rebuilt the pitching staff with good young prospects.”

 

         Rabbi Katz, a transplanted Easterner, is a staunch Yankees fan and one of the most knowledgeable baseball fans I know. He says the Yanks will win more games than any other team this season and that Cashman has positioned his team to add a major contract if the occasion arises during the season.

 

         Boston’s general manager Theo Epstein also did a good job in the off-season and the Red Sox should finish a strong second in the American League East. New York and Boston should pull far ahead of the rest of their division.

 

         But even though the Yankees have topped the A.L. East nine straight times and should do it again this year, it’s not like the old days when the top team in each league advanced to the World Series. As you know, there are two levels of playoffs a team has to win before going to the Series. Amazingly, there have been seven different World Series winners in the past seven years. The Yankees and Red Sox each won once.

 

         The Mets could have three Jewish players on the club after the final spring training cuts. Besides holdover outfielder Shawn Green, the Mets signed lefty reliever Scott Schoeneweis and reserve outfielder David Newhan. The latter is the son of veteran Los Angeles Times writer Ross Newhan (who was a columnist for the national baseball publication I headed when David was a youngster). David, now 33, hit .252 with four homers for the Orioles last season in only 39 games, as a broken leg kept him on the disabled list.

 

         Newhan could fill an important role for the Mets as he can play all outfield positions and do a good job in the infield (except shortstop). Schoeneweis, also 33, could be another valuable addition to the Mets. He’ll give up his share of runs, but a high-scoring team like the Mets should bail him out more often than not.

 

         Think about this one: One major league team had two Jewish managers for a total of four years during a seven-year span in the l970′s. I’ll tell you about them next time. Hint: one was a former big league catcher whose brother, a former big league pitcher, died recently.

 

         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 will appear the second week of each month in The Jewish Press. Mr. Cohen is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/sports/baseball-is-dull-only-to-those-with-dull-minds/2007/02/07/

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