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April 25, 2014 / 25 Nisan, 5774
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All-Star Musings And Memories

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

        Hope everyone enjoyed this year’s All-Star Game, which was played on Tuesday this week, after this column was prepared.

 

         Shawn Green was the last Jewish player to appear in the starting lineup at an All-Star Game. Green, then an outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, had one hit in three at-bats in the 2002 All-Star Game in Milwaukee. It was in Milwaukee some seven weeks earlier, on May 23, 2002, that Green had his real dream game, hitting four home runs, a double and a single for a major league record 19 total bases.

 

         (Green doesn’t have all-star stats this year but is having a pretty good season for the Mets.)

 

         A different shade of Green, Rabbi Simcha Green, was the spiritual leader of a shul in Portland, Maine, around that time Kevin Youkilis played there as a member of the Sea Dogs, a Red Sox minor league club. Rabbi Green led a delegation to meet Youkilis and told manager Ron Johnson that the synagogue was a 10-minute walk from the ballpark. “I want you to drop in there on occasion,” the manager advised his young Jewish player. Kevin scored by answering, “Fine, I will.”

 

         Before the next day’s davening rolled around, Youkilis left for a promotion to triple-A Pawtucket, one step away from the big leagues. Rabbi Green credits the blessings of the delegation of shul congregants for Youkilis’s quick trip upward. While Youkilis made it to Boston and is having an all-star year, he failed to receive enough votes to be named to the starting lineup and didn’t make it as a reserve, either.

 

         Rabbi Green, however, became a free agent and went from one end of the country to the other; he is now the spiritual manager of the Young Israel of Santa Barbara in sunny California.

 

         Second baseman Charles “Buddy” Myer of the Washington Senators was the very first Jewish player to become an all-star. Myer made the all-star team in 1935, two years after the first ever All-Star Game was played. Tigers star Charlie Gehringer, however, played all nine innings at second base. In 1937 Myer became an all-star again but sat and watched as Gehringer, again, was stationed at second for the whole game.

 

         Hank Greenberg made it for the first time in ’37 but also rode the bench as Lou Gehrig played first base. So the two Jewish all-stars never showed up in the American League box score. Meyer never got another all-star nod, but Greenberg did in 1939. Hank played the entire game, going one-for-three as the National League downed the A.L. before nearly 63,000 fans at Yankee Stadium, not far from Greenberg’s boyhood Bronx home.

 

         By the way, next year’s All-Star Game will be held in Yankee Stadium, the last year of the storied stadium’s existence. The new version now rising behind the left field bleachers is scheduled to open in 2009. The present Yankee Stadium, which opened in 1923, hosted All-Star Games in 1939, 1960 and 1977.

 

         I covered the latter, but the one in Philadelphia the year before was much more memorable for me. Philly got the nod because it was America’s Bicentennial year and the evening before Tuesday’s game found Independence Mall roped off for food and festivities for baseball’s stars, officials and media.

 

         It was a very memorable Monday. I flew to Philadelphia that morning with the American League’s announced starting pitcher, Mark Fidrych — tagged “The Bird” because the tall, lanky, curly-haired youngster looked like Sesame Street’s Big Bird.

 

         Only 21 and in the Detroit starting rotation for two months, The Bird was a national sensation, winning nine of his first 11 starts and compiling a low ERA of 1.79. The colorful Fidrych patted the dirt on the mound before each inning, talked to the ball, congratulated infielders on good fielding plays and quickly endeared himself to Tigers fans.

 

         America had only recently discovered The Bird. The ABC Monday Night Baseball crew of Al Michaels and Bob Prince had come to Detroit on June 28 to cover the game between the Tigers and the Yankees. Fidrych, who sported a 7-1 record at the time, was going against lefty Ken Holtzman, who was 5-5. The quick-working Bird dispatched the Yanks, 5-to-1, in a game that took just an hour and 51 minutes.

 

         The Tiger Stadium crowd of over 48,000 wouldn’t stop cheering and The Bird shook hands with everyone he could reach as he made his way to the dugout. After several curtain calls, The Bird was ready to be interviewed. Baseball had its newest phenomenon. The national press vied for his attention but Tigers skipper Ralph Houk and the team’s upper management couldn’t and wouldn’t grant most requests.

 

         Two weeks later, at the all-star festivities in Philadelphia, the national media all wanted a crack at The Bird, and many pleaded with me to get them to him.

 

         A bunch of reporters had seen us arrive together (we shared a ride from the airport) and register at the all-star headquarters hotel, the Bellevue Stratford in downtown Philadelphia. As the reporters moved toward Fidrych, I whispered that we should switch rooms so he could get some sleep. “Thanks,” he said, “but I’ll just take the phone off the hook.” With those words of wisdom, he sprinted to the stairwell.

 

         After unloading my gear – including gefilte fish cans and salami – in my room, I headed to the media buses for a shuttle to Veterans Stadium to watch the player workouts and, hopefully, to get a couple of interviews.

 

         The Bird was already in uniform in the clubhouse. I told him he should stay in fair territory on the field. “Because,” I said, “once you’re in foul territory the media will be all over you. Especially the ones from National League cities. Remember, you have a press conference tomorrow morning at the hotel, so they’ll get a crack at you then.”

 

         The Bird shook those curly locks and made his way onto the field where he heeded my advice. Outside the dugout, a photographer from Philadelphia who did some work for the publication I headed, introduced me to a slim, distinguished-looking older man. “This is James Michener,” the photographer said. I offered my hand, and as we shook, Michener said he subscribed to my monthly.

 

         The famous author of umpteen best-sellers asked me about The Bird and told me how lucky he felt that he’d been granted media credentials. Michener had a soft spot for Philadelphia because he was raised and went to college in Pennsylvania.

 

         The photographer asked if we’d like to see Connie Mack Stadium, home of the old legendary Philadelphia Athletics until they moved to Kansas City in 1954. The Phillies played there before moving to Veterans Stadium in 1971. We jumped at the chance, as the old ballpark was in the process of being demolished. It was also a chance to spend more time with Michener, who was 69 at the time.

 

         A short time after arriving home, I received a letter from Michener telling me about his old friend, former Postmaster James Farley, who expressed a desire to write a column for my publication.

 

         Tall and thin and always wearing a flat-topped straw hat in the summer, Farley was the longest-running season-ticket holder at Yankee Stadium. The former head of the Democratic Party, he almost bought the Yankees prior to World War II. A close confidant of FDR, Farley, who had been urged by some to run for president, witnessed history as few had.

 

         Flying and driving with The Bird, spending time with and getting a letter from James Michener, roaming Independence Mall with baseball people, all teamed to make the time spent around the 1976 All-Star Game in Philadelphia the most memorable ever for me.

 

* * * * *

 

         Score one for Avi Rosalimsky. The 13 year old went with the Senter family to Shea Stadium to see a Mets-Phillies game. An 11th inning Phillies homer broke a tie and almost the hand of a fan.

 

         The ball bounced off the man’s hand and headed downward. Avi, whose uniform was topped off by a yarmulke and tzitsis, scampered toward the ball, found it and handed it to the surprised fan, who hadn’t bothered to chase it.

 

         Avi was hoping the fan would give it back to him, but the man didn’t. Perhaps he was too surprised by what the boy did. While Avi didn’t go home with the home-run ball, many went home with a memory of a great young member of the Orthodox Jewish team.

 

         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.

Just One Pitch

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

      Adam Greenberg holds a major league record.

 

      He was hit in the head by the very first and only pitch he ever saw – or almost saw – in his big league career.

 

      Only one other player was hit in the head in his first at-bat and never batted again in the major leagues. That happened fifty years before Greenberg was hit. Fred Van Dusen was with the Philadelphia Phillies on September 11, 1955, when he was beaned, but on the fifth pitch to him.

 

      Born in New Haven, Greenberg starred in several sports at Guilford High School in Guilford, Connecticut. He graduated with honors in addition to being tagged as Connecticut’s male athlete of the year in 1998-1999. Unlike most recent Jewish athletes who grew up with little or no attachment to Judaism, Greenberg attended Friday night services regularly and had a bar mitzvah.

 

      The 5-foot-9 lefthanded batter went on to become a star outfielder and hitter at the University of North Carolina and was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in June 2002. After three years in the minor leagues, Greenberg was called up to the majors on July 7, 2005. Greenberg phoned his parents and shared the good news. They gathered three of Adam’s siblings and flew to Miami where Adam was waiting and the Cubs were playing.

 

      On July 9, the Greenbergs were patiently sitting in the stands wondering when their favorite Cub would get a chance to play. With the Cubs leading the Marlins 4-to-2 in the top of the 9th and one out, Greenie, as he was quickly nicknamed, was told to grab a bat and hit for the pitcher. Applause could be heard from the Greenberg contingent among the crowd of 22,863 as Adam stepped in the batters box ready to begin his major league career.

 

      A 91-mile-per-hour fastball caught Adam in the side of the head. His batting helmet absorbed part of the blow, but Adam went down as his family rose in concern. Mrs. Greenberg, a nurse, waited patiently for word on her son’s condition while he was attended to in the trainer’s room by doctors from both the Cubs and Marlins.

 

      Adam never lost consciousness. His mother stayed with him that night tending to his needs before results of a CAT scan revealed he had a mild concussion. That was the good news.

 

      The bad news was that the next few weeks brought bouts of dizziness every time he tried to tie his shoes or tilt his head back at a certain angle. Adam found relief by sleeping upright. He also discovered he had more problems looking down trying to field ground balls than he had trying to hit pitches.

 

      Before the beaning, scouts had him pegged as a prospect with good speed, not much power, a good batting eye who’d get his share of walks, could get a key hit every now and then, a real hard worker with a great attitude. After the beaning, he went from prospect to suspect.

 

      Hoping a new location would change his luck and improve his stats, Greenberg prevailed on the Cubs to grant him a release. He caught on in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ minor league system. The vertigo was long gone but his ability to hit for a high average disappeared as well – his batting average was .228.

 

      The Dodgers were unimpressed and let him go. After a winter of strenuous workouts, Greenberg accepted a spring training chance with the Kansas City Royals. He made the Royals’ Double-A Wichita team in the Texas League, two rungs below the major league level.

 

      Greenberg showed speed on the bases and patience at the plate; he was among the team leaders in stolen bases and walks. Unfortunately, his batting average remained low.

 

      Greenberg is now 26, so a return to the majors doesn’t seem to be in the cards. My advice to him would be to try to stay in the game as a coach or manager in the lowest rung of the minors and work his way up to the big leagues. Or there’s the new Israel Baseball League – he could be a big star there and capitalize on his fame by opening a baseball training academy.

 

      At any rate, good luck to Adam Greenberg. By the way, he’s not related to Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg. He does, though, have a grandfather named Hank Greenberg.

 

*     *     *

 

      One of the rewards of writing this column is that I get numerous e-mails from readers. They’re from great baseball minds and from people I’d like to meet. Of course, unless they tell me, I don’t know where they’re from or how old they are. I wish they’d include more information about themselves. One recent e-mail that made me put on my thinking cap was from ZF of NYC.

 

      ZF wonders how the career of Babe Ruth might have been affected if the designated hitter rule had been in place back when he played. Perhaps the Babe would have remained a pitcher and bat on days when he wasn’t on the mound. Personally, I think Ruth would have preferred pitching. Ruth loved to be the star – the dominant figure – and as a pitcher he would control each pitch.

 

      Ruth was a great pitcher for the Boston Red Sox (89 wins, 46 losses); with the Yankees he pitched once in 1920, twice the following year, once in 1930 and one last time in 1933. He won all five times for the Yanks, bringing his career stats to 94-46, (2.28 ERA). Ruth pitched in the 1916 and 1918 World Series for the Red Sox, winning three games, losing none and allowing only 19 hits in 31 innings with a super low ERA of 0.87.

 

      With those great-hitting Yankees teams, Ruth should have easily won 300 games, and not having to play the field between starts would have enabled him to improve on his already staggering career stats (.342, 714 home runs). And that doesn’t include the 15 homers he slugged in 41 World Series games.

 

*     *     *

 

      Even if the Red Sox continue to widen their margin over the Yankees, this won’t be a wasted season for the Bronx Bombers. The Yankees never before had five rookie pitchers make their debut in one season, but because of injuries, five rookie pitchers started 20 of the Yanks’ first 42 games. At least the Yankees now know they have some pretty good young pitching, and while prospects for postseason play this year look bleak, the team is in pretty good shape, starting-pitching wise, for the future.

 

      A great place to see future Yankees is at Scranton’s suburban PNC Field, home of the team’s Triple-A farm team. A nice woodsy background is quite a change from New York’s crowded backdrops. Columbus -where the Yankees had their top farm club for decades – was too far from New York. Detroiters are lucky to have the Tigers’ top minor league club in downtown Toledo, only an hour away from most of our shuls.

 

*     *     *

 

      Martin Berger, 40, a trial lawyer from Miami who had been a vital player in setting up the Israel Baseball League, now has the title of president and chief operating officer of the IBL. The six teams in the league boast new colorful caps that can be purchased on the IBL website (www.IsraelBaseballLeague.com).

 

      Three of the team’s managers are former major leaguers – Ron Blomberg, Ken Holtzman and Art Shamsky – while the three other managers also have baseball yichus: Steve Hertz is a college baseball coach in the U.S.; Shaun Smith is well known in Australian baseball circles; and Chicago-born Ami Baran, a legend in softball and baseball coaching in Israel, is also a major in the Israel Police, active in the High Crimes Investigation Unit. It’ll be interesting to see if his team, the Netanya Tigers, leads the league in stolen bases.

 

      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/just-one-pitch/2007/06/06/

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