There has been a disturbance in the baseball force on the other side of the world. With teams like Cuba, South Korea, Japan, and others, Israel won their first four games, and have become the darling of the World Baseball Classic. With a mixture of major leaguers and minor leaguers of Jewish heritage, they have put on a show with pitching, defense, and even a little power. In honor of that club, we present a lineup of the best Jewish major leaguers in history.
Remember the scene in the movie Airplane! where the flight attendant is handing out magazines? One passenger says he just wants some light reading. She says, “Here. Jewish sports heroes. It's a leaflet.” Don't tell that to these guys.
Other websites have done an all-Jewish team, so we figured here we'd put together a batting order. As Jim Lange would say on The Dating Game, “And here they are...”
Leading off—Ian Kinsler, 2B: In eight years with the Texas Rangers and three with the Detroit Tigers, Kinsler has amassed 212 home runs, and is just four shy of 1700 hits. Only once has he failed to homer ten times in a season, and he has double digits in steals every year, with his high of 31 in 2009. His career batting average is .277, and he hit .319 in 2008.
Batting second—Joc Pederson, CF: Joc (that's his real first name) has only had two full big league seasons, but is already one of the best true center fielders out of the few hundred out Jews out there. Pederson has 51 home runs (26 in 2015 and 25 last year), but only a .224 average. There are speedier CFs available, but we're going with Pederson. Joc is also one of only two left-handed hitters in this lineup, which is why we are batting him second, to space them out.
Hitting third—Hank Greenberg, 1B: With the theory that you bat your best hitter third, we bring in the Hall of Famer. Henry Benjamin Greenberg actually got into a game with the Detroit Tigers in 1930 at the age of 19, but didn't re-appear until 1933. He hit .301 that year. Not very many people seem to know this, but he hit 58 home runs in 1938—two shy of Babe Ruth's then-record. The previous year he hit 40 homers with 184 RBIs. Three times, Greenberg had 150 or more RBIs in a season, and five times drove in 130 or more. He missed the 1942-44 seasons to serve in World War II, got into 78 games when he returned in 1945, and batted .277 (his second worst average) with 44 HRs and 127 RBIs in '46. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame ten years later.
In the cleanup spot—Al Rosen, 3B: Rosen won a World Series ring with the Cleveland Indians in 1948 (the first year of Israel as a nation, we should point out), but he had only five at-bats that year. He would have to wait two more seasons before he got to play regularly. He hit 37 home runs in 1950, but put up stupefying numbers in 1953, batting .336 with 43 homers and 145 RBIs. He missed the batting title and a triple crown by one hit. The next year, his Indians would get to the World Series, but lose to the Giants—the only title for that franchise before moving to San Francisco.
In the five hole—Sid Gordon, LF: Gordon may be one of the best players, Jewish or otherwise, that you've never heard of. After a cup of coffee with the New York Giants before the war, Gordon was back in 1946. He had four seasons with the Giants, three with the Boston Braves, moved with them to Milwaukee for one year, and split 1955 with Pitsburgh and the Giants again. He batted .283 in his 13-year career, hit 202 home runs, including 30 in 1948 (the birth of Israel again), and had three 100+ RBI seasons, including 109 with Boston in 1951. He never struck out 50 times in a season.
Batting sixth—Shawn Green, RF: Back to one of the more modern players, Green came up with Toronto in 1993, played five years with the Dodgers starting in 2000, and also added a couple of seasons with the Diamondbacks and Mets. Even in an era where you probably saw him play, you're likely not to realize he had 328 career homers, 1070 RBIs, and a lifetime batting average of .283. He swatted 42 homers with Toronto in 1999, and a Dodger record 49 in 2001. He's also the only other lefty besides Pederson in our lineup.
Hitting seventh—Lou Boudreau, SS: Baseball-almanac.com says Boudreau's mother was Jewish, and that's good enough for me. Boudreau is in the Hall of Fame, but a quick glance of his numbers would have you asking yourself why. He only hit ten or more home runs in a season twice (18 in 1948 (Israel again)), and had 199 hits and drove in 106 runs that year. He only had 68 homers in his 15-year career and was a lifetime .295 hitter, but batted .327 with Cleveland in 1944—earning the batting title that year. Boudreau was an eight-time All-Star with the Indians, and spent all but his final two years as an Indian, before finishing up as a player with the Red Sox in 1952.
Batting eighth—Kevin Youkilis, DH: The late A's announcer Bill King had a line about Youkilis' career, especially against the A's. He said the name shouldn't be pronounced YOU-kul-us, it should be pronounced “you kill us.” Youkilis played in the bigs from 2004-13, mostly with the Red Sox. He didn't get an at-bat in the '04 World Series, but won a ring in 2007. His best year was in 2008, when he batted .312 with 29 homers and 115 RBIs. There might be several choices for DH here, but we're going with Youk.
And batting ninth—Steve Yeager, C: You are all saying this. “I didn't know Steve Yeager is Jewish!” According to Wikipedia, he converted to Judaism when his career was over. The 1981 World Series Tri-MVP (with Ron Cey and Pedro Guerrero) spent all but his final year of his 15-year major league career with the Dodgers, before ending up in Seattle in 1986. While his Dodger successor Mike Scioscia was known for his ability to block the plate, Yeager was known as one of the best throwing catchers in the game. Yeager hit 102 home runs along the way. If you think Yeager made the all-Jewish team on a technicality, feel free to sub either Mike Lieberthal or Brad Ausmus—both worthy candidates.
Where's Ryan Braun??: I know, I heard you, but Braun is busy competing on the all-steroid team, so we placed him on the restricted list. His 2011 MVP year (.332, 33HR, 111RBI) is tainted, and so is his .319, 41HR, 112RBI season in 2012. Our list, our rules, but if you think we are being petty, he could slot in fifth replacing Gordon in left field.
Mensch on the bench: Not just team Israel's mascot (mensch: a Yiddish word meaning a person of integrity or honor, but I always thought it was more of a character or smart aleck), but some good players. Gabe Kapler (.268 hitter in 12 MLB seasons from 1998-2010) would be a great fourth outfielder, and Ike Davis (currently with Team Israel) could be that left handed bat off the bench. Kevin Mench, an outfielder with Texas, Milwaukee, Toronto, and Washington from 2002 to 2010, is not Jewish as far as we know, which disqualifies him as the "Mench on the Bench". (The above photo features Team Israel with their 'mensch on the bench' mascot)
Out of the bullpen—Ralph Branca, RHP: Poor guy. He'll always be known as the one who gave up the home run to Bobby Thompson in 1951, which meant “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” Branca won 21 games as a starter in 1947 for the Brooklyn Dodgers, but was the best Jewish pitcher we could find with more relief appearances than starts. In 322 appearances, his ERA was 3.79. He only had 19 career saves, but pitched in an era when starters completed most of their outings. Ralph Theodore Joseph Branca was former manager Bobby Valentine's father-in-law, and died last year at the age of 91.
And on the mound—Sandy Koufax, LHP: We saved the best for last. If I asked you to name three Jewish baseball players, you might not be able to do it. If I asked you to name two, you'd have to come up with Greenberg and Koufax. Greenberg was the first Jewish player elected to the Hall of Fame, but Sandy is the youngest—Jew or gentile. Koufax came up with the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers at the age of 19, but didn't pitch in the World Series—the only championship for the franchise in Brooklyn. He won three World Series in Los Angeles (1959, '63, and '65), and was MVP of two of them (1963 and 65). If Sandy isn't available, or if you want to build a rotation, you could go with lefty Ken Holtzman or righty Steve Stone, but Sandy is the man. You know about his four no-hitters including a perfect game in 1965. Koufax won three Cy Young awards and five ERA titles. His career record was 165-87 with an ERA of 2.76 and 2396 strikeouts. Baseball-reference.com says one of his nicknames was “the left arm of God.”
There's our list. We'll send it to Adam Sandler so he can include it in his next version of his Hanukkah song. Shalom.
Team Israel folo: Israel got clobbered 12-2 by the Netherlands (think the island of Curacao with many major league shortstops) early this morning, but are still very much alive in the tournament... manager Jerry Weinstein (wine-stine) is a Sacramento-area legend, and longtime Sac City college head coach. It's been noted on the telecasts that he has had 35 players who went on to play in the majors... Dean Kremer, a pitcher on Team Isreal, is the first Israeli-born player to be drafted by a big league team. He's in the low minors in the Dodger organization, and went to San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton.
Classic comments: This is the fourth World Baseball Classic, but the first exclusively on MLB Network, and the coverage has at times been unfortunate, and at other times terrible. ESPN had carried games in the past, and if they went too long, could be farmed out to ESPN2, or the next game could have started on that network. MLBN has been trying to cram games that have turned out to be well over four hours long into three hour windows, and have suffered. They rightfully so cut off the end of Venezuela-Italy to show the beginning of USA-Dominican Republic, but the Venezuela-Italy game was very dramatic, with Venezuela winning 11-10 in 10 innings. We didn't get to see it. The USA-Dominican game went so long, we saw very little of Puerto Rico-Mexico, and no score updates were shown on the bottom of the screen. The biggest blunder, though, was Sunday night, when they went off the air after the Mexico-Venezuela game, they told us that Mexico and Italy would play in a tiebreaker game. When you turned on the television tonight,. It was Venezuela, not Mexico, against the Italians. The announcers flat out said that Venezuela had been eliminated, and got it wrong. This was likely the WBC's fault and not MLB Network's, and a very convoluted explanation was given when they came on the air tonight. Having a three-way tie, eliminating one team by a strange mathematical formula (runs allowed/defensive innings played), and then having the other two teams play each other, is a stupid way to break a tie anyway.
Tourney tidbit: While there is baseball on both sides of the globe (I know a globe doesn't have sides), yesterday was also Selection Sunday for the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Congrats to the UC Davis Aggies, who made it for the first time in the school's history. It's not like he was a big Aggie fan, but my uncle was a UC Davis alum. He certainly would have been rooting for his alma mater against North Carolina Central Wednesday night. Fill out those brackets, people.
Happy Birthday today (March 13) to my cousin Gayle Cole. Gayle has illustrated a children's book, and just last week was featured in an article in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. The writing is a lot better than what you'll find on this website, and they seemed to have figured her out pretty well. Click here to read it (she's on the right in the picture).