“Take me out to the ballgame, take me out to the crowd...
Buy me knishes and hummus, too,
Kosher food and third baseman a Jew...”
When you cheer for the New York Yankees this coming season, in addition to chomping down at the Stadium on a kosher menu serving baba ghanoush, hummus, hot dogs and knishes, you could also be rooting for the newest Yankee player with Jewish roots: third baseman Kevin Youkilis.
That being said, it’s too early to tell if the Yankees souvenir stands this season will be selling “Youkilis Yarmulkas,” to mark their latest big-name signing.
But the fact is, when it was announced that Kevin Youkilis would be a Yank, The New York Times devoted a full page to both the biographical story of the Yankees latest signing who happened to be born Jewish as well as an accompanying story on Jewish ballplayers in general.
Historically speaking, Jewish major leaguers --and stories about them--are as rare as Boston Red Sox World Series championships.
Baseball’s first Jewish superstar was Hank Greenberg (nickname: The Hammerin’ Hebrew). He played most of his career in Detroit. According to biographers, Greenberg refused to play in a World Series game back in 1934 because it was Yom Kippur. That feat was matched decades later. It was a big story back in 1965, when Jewish ballplayer and Dodger great Sandy Koufax announced that he, too, would not pitch a World Series game because it was Yom Kippur.
Then there’s the New York Yankees Ron Bloomberg. He made the record books by becoming the major leagues’ first ever designated hitter.
With rare noteworthy exception Jewish baseball players have not generally been considered superstars during their major league careers. Almost a decade ago, no less authority than the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, hosted a program with the title “A Celebration of 143 American Jews in the National Pastime, 1871-2004.” Major leaguers including Mike Epstein, Ken Holtzman and Joe Ginsberg were on the program helping to explore the connection between baseball and its Jewish ethnic heritage.
If I was writing a movie script about an unknown ball player, I probably couldn’t resist focusing on a pitcher named Izzy Goldstein. Born in Odessa, Russia, he pitched in all of 16 games for the 1932 Detroit Tigers. He was also a pretty good hitter for a pitcher. He died in 1993 in Delray Beach Florida and is buried nearby. After baseball, he became a successful menswear salesman. In his later years became somewhat of a minor local celebrity as word got out about his Jewish baseball connection. Currently for sale on the auction website eBay, is a 1932 Diamond Matchbook Proof featuring a picture along with the statistical record of Izzy Goldstein. The price for this rare collector’s piece? $10,000.
Nonetheless, from one season to the next, the count of Jewish major league baseball players can barely make a minyan, But no doubt the unorthodox media attention that greeted the announcement of the Yankees Youkilis signing continues to reinforce the k’velling that goes on in the Jewish community when one of our own becomes a potential local major league superstar.
Baseball’s Jewish roots are showing. In addition to seeing Youkilis in pinstripes, also stepping up to the plate in ballparks around the country this season will be major leaguers including Scott Feldman (Houston), Danny Rosenbaum (Colorado), Ryan Braun (Milwaukee), Adam Greenberg (Miami), Nate Freiman (Houston), Ian KInsler (Texas) and Craig Breslow (Boston).
Play ball. And have a knish at the ballpark. But of course, not on Yom Kippur.