I found Sandy Eller’s article on the passing of Rabbi Jack Simcha Cohen (Jewish Press, Aug. 8) informative and touching.
She wrote that Rabbi Cohen “was a man of many accomplishments: pulpit rabbi, prolific author, master orator, talmid chacham, and eloquent spokesman for Judaism.”
I was lucky enough to meet Rabbi Cohen at West Palm Beach’s Aitz Chaim shul across the street from Century Village where I have my winter dugout.
It was January 2013, my first winter as a member of the shul. He was retired as the spiritual leader there but sat up front next to newly installed Rabbi Shlomo Goldstein. I was introduced to Rabbi Cohen as “the other Cohen who writes for The Jewish Press.”
Over the course of time Rabbi Cohen told me of the love for baseball he developed while a youngster in Cleveland. He had an intense fondness for the Cleveland Indians and the team’s star pitcher, Bob Feller.
The next morning after davening I presented Rabbi Cohen with a Bob Feller 1952 Topps reprint card, one of several cards I’d brought with me to Florida. I suggested to Rabbi Cohen that the Feller card would make a good bookmark for the sefer he was studying so intensely.
He smiled and thanked me for the card. “It will bring back many happy memories,” he said.
For those of us who knew Rabbi Cohen, heard him speak, or read his books, he left many happy memories.
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Many former baseball players who left us with happy memories also passed away in the past year. They were familiar faces to me, as I’d collected the 252-card Topps inaugural set as a youngster in 1952.
Just as Bob Feller appeared in Topps’s first ever baseball card set, so did Lou Brissie, also a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians.
While he was serving in the U.S. Army in Italy in 1944, his unit came under German artillery fire that killed 11 men. Shrapnel broke both of Brissie’s legs; his lower left leg was shattered.
Doctors told Brissie amputation was the best option, but Brissie told them he was a ballplayer and would take his chances. Doctors operated on him some 23 times in a Naples hospital. A painful year later Brissie was able to walk with crutches and in 1946 was pitching in the low minors in his native South Carolina.
With his left leg more than an inch shorter than his right and wearing a big bulky protective brace, Brissie impressed scouts enough to earn a minor league contract with Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics.
An eye-opening 23-5 record was rewarded with a big league call-up in the waning days of the 1947 season. He stayed in the bigs until 1953, the last two seasons with Cleveland, compiling a career 44-48 record with a 4.07 ERA.
Brissie was 89 when he died in Augusta, Georgia.
Connie Marrero was two days shy of his 103rd birthday when he died in Cuba in April. His face seemed to turn up more often than others when would buy a few packs of cards every week or so back in 1952. As I started to learn more about baseball and its players via The Sporting News and Baseball Magazine, I learned that Marrero was considered quite a character. He joined the Washington Senators as a 39-year-old rookie in 1950, had a thick Spanish accent, and always carried a couple of thick cigars.
He stood at 5 feet 6 inches but Ted Williams called his curveball the best he ever saw. Marrero pitched for Washington for four seasons, recording a 39-40 record and 3.67 ERA. Pretty good numbers for a diminutive older pitcher toiling for a lousy team that lost many more games than it won.