Editor’s note: It is my pleasure to present the latest from Alex Putterman. With the recent National League Most Valuable Player Award being given to one of the players here, Alex’s piece seems very apropos.
When I was playing, I used to resent being singled out as a Jewish ballplayer. I wanted to be known as a great ballplayer, period… Lately, though, I find myself wanting to be remembered not only as a great ballplayer but even more as a great Jewish ballplayer.
From the birth of professional baseball through the present day, Jews have played and succeeded in the Major Leagues. And as baseball history has progressed, the fraternity of Jewish players has grown to the point where an all-time 25-man Jewish roster is exceedingly easy to compile. Here are my selections for the all-Jewish all-star team, beginning with the starting line-up:
C Brad Ausmus – Ausmus didn’t hit much during his 18-year career but is a three-time Gold Glove winner with an impressive career defensive WAR of 9.8. He was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2004, one of ten players on this list to have received that honor.
1B Hank Greenberg – The Hebrew Hammer was a two-time MVP, a four-time home run champ, and a Hall of Famer, but Jewish fans of his era admire him just as much for a religious-stance as for a batting-stance. In 1934, with his Tigers engaged in a pennant chase, Greenberg, by his own admission not a particularly religious man, opted to sit out on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, prompting poet Edgar A. Guest to write that, “We shall miss him on the infield and shall miss him at the bat / But he’s true to his religion–and I honor him for that.”
2B Buddy Myer – Baseball-Reference.com lists Hall of Famers Billy Herman and Joe Sewell as the batters most similar to Myer, suggesting that the Senators middle-infielder, who received only .7% of the HOF vote in his only year on the ballot, is somewhat underrated. A two-time all-star and one-time batting champ, Myer is the all-time hits leader among Jewish players.
3B Al Rosen – Rosen’s career was short but tremendously productive. From 1950 to 1954, he hit .296 with 156 home runs and an OPS+ of 150, earning the 1953 AL MVP award and very nearly winning that year’s Triple Crown. Rosen embraced the attention from the Jewish community that his success yielded, calling himself “one Jewish kid that every Jew in the world can be proud of.”
SS Lou Boudreau – Boudreau was raised by a Christian father and never identified as Jewish, but his mom was Jewish, and the Hall of Famer therefore qualifies for this team. Without him, we’d have a hard time filling the shortstop position (although Myer could move to short and Ian Kinsler into the starting lineup), and given that Boudreau hit .295 career, played terrific defense, and won the 1948 AL MVP award, I’m happy to claim him as Jewish.
LF Ryan Braun – The recently-crowned National League MVP could eventually challenge Greenberg’s undisputed title of Greatest Jewish Hitter Ever. Braun has hit over .300 in three consecutive seasons and has topped 30 home runs in four of his five big league campaigns. He has also developed into somewhat of a five-tool player, having stolen 33 bases in 2011 and greatly improved defensively from year to year. If Braun, 28, continues to grown in all facets of the game, he could pick up another MVP trophy or two before he’s done.
CF Lip Pike – One of baseball’s first stars, Pike was a home run champion in the 1860’s and ’70s, playing in the National Association of Base Ball Players, the National Association, and eventually the National League. He was also the first person ever to legally receive a salary for playing baseball.
RF Shawn Green – Green’s peak was short and his career’s ups and downs parallel to the steroid era, but for years Green was the only recognizable Jewish ballplayer and therefore holds a special place in the heart of a 90’s born Jewish baseball fan. As a New York Times headline once pronounced, Green was “A Power Hitter. And a Source of Jewish Pride.”
SP Sandy Koufax – Owner of four no-hitters and three Cy Young awards, Koufax is the all-time Jewish leader in strikeouts and is second among Jewish pitchers in career ERA and wins. When Game 1 of 1965 World Series fell on Yom Kippur, Koufax followed Greenberg’s precedent, sitting out to honor his religion. The Dodgers won that game and the series, with Koufax throwing three gems, including complete game shutouts in games 5 and 7.
Outfielder and third-baseman Sid Gordon (129 career OPS+) is the first man off the bench for this Jewish all-star team and could arguably start over Green or Pike. Kevin Youkilis and Ian Kinsler may one day sneak into the starting lineup but for now are relegated to the pine. Since Mike Lieberthal “does not wish to identify himself as a member of the Jewish community,” Harry Danning gets the nod as back-up catcher. Our All-Jewish team thins out a little bit at the end of the bench, with Mike Epstein (nicknamed Superjew) and Elliot Maddox occupying the final spots, at least until Ike Davis and Danny Valencia eventually usurp them.
All-time Jewish wins leader Ken Holtzman, 1980 AL Cy Young award winner Steve Stone, The “Yiddish Curver” Barney Pelty, and journeyman lefty Dave Roberts round out the starting rotation (Jason Marquis’s inexplicable longevity has put him fourth all-time among Jewish pitchers in wins and strikeouts, but this team deserves better than his 4.55 career ERA).
The bullpen is not the all-Jewish team’s strength. We’ll use Erskine Mayer as a spot-starter and long-reliever, Al Levine and Scott Schoeneweis as middle relievers, Harry Eisenstat as lefty-specialist, Craig Breslow as set-up man, and severely under-qualified Lance Sherry as closer. Let’s just say Koufax better go all nine innings.
Given his success as a player-manager, Boudreau seems like the logical choice to skipper the team. Gabe Paul and Theo Epstein can run the front-office, with Ruben Amaro Jr. and Randy Levine working under them. Former-Pirates headman Barney Dreyfus (one of the key figures in the creation of the World Series) could be team owner, although current-MLB owners Chuck Greenberg, Ted Lerner and Jerry Reinsdorf are viable candidates as well. And if the All-Jewish team needs a comissioner, Bud Selig qualifies.