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Archive for the ‘Because I can…’ Category

 

Shalom, y’all

Posted on: September 13th, 2016 by Ron Kaplan 4 Comments

This marks the final entry for Kaplan’s Korner, at least in this iteration.

The NY Jewish Week assumes control over the New Jersey Jewish News tomorrow. They have decided not to continue the blog (or my relationship with the organization).

kaplanbeckeagle

With Bruce Beck and Ian Eagle.

It’s a business decision, and I get it. I foolishly thought that, as a niche publication serving a specific community, the Jewish News might be able to merrily roll along while papers like The New York Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, et al, were all suffering drastic changes, reducing personnel and output  to the point where the pages produced are barely enough to properly line our bird cages. Like I said, foolish. I thought that the fact the the Korner was the most all-encompassing Jewish sports presence out there might be worth keeping around. Evidently not.

When the Jewish News suggested a sports blog several years ago to take the place of a stand-alone sports section in the print edition, I was skeptical. Although I absolutely hate the joke about the thinnest book in the world (I think you know what I mean without my having to say it), I was worried about finding enough material to make this a viable and sustainable presence. How wrong I was.

With John Thorn, official historian of Major League Baseball

With John Thorn, official historian of Major League Baseball

Hosting Kaplan’s Korner (the name was not my idea, by the way) gave me the opportunity to meet some amazing people in the sports world, from executives, to writers, to athletes, to fans (thanks for all the phone calls and e-mails).

It afforded the opportunity to participate in synagogue discussions, academic conferences, and Yankees fantasy camp. I even made it into the Times as a source for a story about baseball and the Yom Kuppur dilemma.

The blog gave me enough of a standing in the community  — shameless self-promotion ahead: 2014 Best Blog of the Year as per the New Jersey Press Association — to publish The Jewish Olympics: The History of the Maccabiah Games, which in turn led to my current project, Hank Greenberg in 1938: Hatred and Home Runs in the Shadow of War.

My only regret is that I never got to interview Tony Kornheiser. Maybe next time. (No, seriously, if some one knows Mr. Tony, let him know I’ve been looking for him.)

Plans for what, if anything, happens next are up in the air; I hope to know more in the coming weeks. If anyone is interested in keeping informed if and when this happens, you can contact me at kaplanskorner@gmail.com.

So in closing let me just quote from one of the late Douglas Adams, one of my favorite authors, when he said.

 

 

Rachmones for A-Rod?

Posted on: August 12th, 2016 by Ron Kaplan

So tonight is the final game for Alex Rodriguez. Unless it’s not. It will be for the Yankees. But at 696 home runs (he’s scheduled to play tonight but the likelihood of a four-homer game is doubtful, wouldn’t you agree?). That would be fine with the Yankees, who have been out of love with the controversial player for years. They certainly do not want him besting the 714 hit by Babe Ruth, one of the most beloved figures in the game (even if Ruth didn’t hit all of them in pinstripes). But maybe someone will want to pick him up for the possible ticket bump? Kind of like Tim Tebow announcing he wants to play pro baseball.

ARod was the topic of a segment on The Brian Lehrer Show which featured veteran sportswriter George Vecsey. basically it came down to Rodriguez screwed himself by denying and denying and denying and denying. Americans are great on second chances, but “fool me once…”

Lehrer and Vecsey speculated that Rodriguez might have an easier time getting into the Hall of Fame than Mark McGwire (even thoughm technically, he did nothing illegal), Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds because by that time PED may not be as big a deal as it was when voters were casting their ballots for the aforementioned quartet.

Makes no never mind to me in my life. Maybe MLB is just covering their collective butts for turning a blind eye on this for so long as long as it put money in their coffers. In the end, it literally is only a game. The consequences, for the most part, are trivial and effect only the parties involved. I’m sure Alex won’t lose a lot of sleep over it down the line.

 

 

Lookin’ good.

Posted on: August 8th, 2016 by Ron Kaplan

From Israel21c.com

USA Today surprised many in Israel in ranking the Israeli uniforms No. 2 on its list of “17 best Parade of Nations outfits.” In effect, Israel won fashion gold from an American media outlet – its first of the Summer Games.

Hold the phone: If Israel came in second, should that be an ersatz silver medal?

Best dressed Olympians, or flight attendants? Israeli delegation poses for a photo before the Rio opening ceremony. Photo via Olympic Committee of Israel/Facebook

You can read the whole story here.

People of the book: The Dykstra debacle

Posted on: July 18th, 2016 by Ron Kaplan

As you might have noticed from my weekly posting about baseball best-sellers, I’m not overly happy that Lenny Dykstra’s new memoir, House of Nails, is doing well. It came in at No. 11 on the most recent New York Times best-seller list for non-fiction.

This isn’t a case of schadenfreude. It’s that people are more interested in dirt from someone who many wouldn’t even consider a celebrity than more important issues from writers who toil so hard for such little return. As landsman Richard Sandomir, the Times‘ sports media columnist observes in his recent review, several interviewers — mostly, it seems, of the low-brow sports-talk radio shows, dote on Dykstra as if he was some sort of hero, kissing his butt with bro-praise, ignoring the terrible things he claims to have done to get ahead, including hiring private detectives to get dirt on umpires as possible blackmail material.

This is what holds our interest at a time when citizens and polic offers are being killed with sad regularity and the November elections portend such dire results?

In Sandomir’s considered opinion, House of Nails

… is not an eloquent autobiography, like Andre Agassi’s Open, and is more in keeping with the spirit of Jose Canseco’s Juiced. It is not explosive, unless his accusation that the former Mets manager Davey Johnson drank a lot is big news. It is rather a narcissist’s delight, so relentlessly focused on Dykstra’s ego and antics that you need to rest occasionally from the Lenniness of it all.

At least Canesco’s book served a purpose in bringing to light the reach of PED, even though many in the baseball hierarchy sought to turn a blind eye to the situation. What life lesson is Dykstra offering?

Add to that his firing of veteran author Peter Golenbock (another landsman) as his co-writer because, as Sandomir writes, “Dykstra said he had needed to take control of the book to preserve his singular voice, which is notably profane and blustery and as obsessed with sex as a pubescent boy.”

Arrested development (pick whichever meaning you will)?

(I’ve also lost some respect for Stephen King, whose blurb is featured on the cover. Unless it’s one of those situations where the publisher cobbled together words that King included in his assessment, although not necessarily in the order in which it appears.)

I often link the books in these entries to the Amazon page, hoping to earn a few coins if some of you readers decided to order the various merchandise. Not this time.

Reviewing the Review

Posted on: July 8th, 2016 by Ron Kaplan

http://jewishsportsreview.com/images/jsr.jpgRecently received the July/August issue of the Jewish Sports Review. Highlights include:

  • 2016 College Baseball Teams, for DI, II, III, and NAIA schools
  • 2016 College Softball Review for DI, II, III, and NAIA schools
  • 2016 Men’s College Lacrosse All-America Team
  • 2016 Women’s College All-America Lacrosse Team (DI, II, and III)
  • 2015-16 Girls’ and Boys’ High School All-America Basketball Team
  • Sports Shorts
  • An updated all-time list of Jewish skaters in the NHL. Interesting to see that Andre Burakovsky is still included, despite all the kerfuffle he made a few months ago about not being Jewish.
  • A “Jewish in Sports – Letter “TS'” quiz

Subscriptions are $36 for one year, $60 for two. Given that this kind of information isn’t available in this format anywhere else, it’s a must-read for fans of Jewish sports. Visit their website for more information.

Lest we forget: Muhammad Ali

Posted on: June 7th, 2016 by Ron Kaplan

There has been a ton of stuff written about the late champ, mostly about his status as a revolutionary athlete and cultural influence.

Here are a few items you might have missed:

Savvy sports photo fans know the name Neil Leifer. He’s taken some of the most iconic pictures across the spectrum, including the one below

http://cdn-s3.si.com/s3fs-public/styles/si_article_main/public/2016/05/05/neil-leifer-muhammad-ali.jpg?itok=5FF1Q9nK

Leifer spoke about what it was like to cover Ali on the latest Sports Illustrated podcast which you can hear here.

Ali was one of the topics on Slate’s Hang Up and Listen. HUAL is one podcast where it’s beneficial to visit the home page because of the great show notes and links they always provide.

Robert Lypsite provided the front page obituary for The New York Times over the weekend. In fact, it ran on both Saturday and Sunday, which I have never seen before. Richard Sandomir wrote this piece about the “Odd Couple” relationship between Ali and Jewish sportscasting legend Howard Cosell. “One man, Ali, understood racism; the other, Cosell, experienced anti-Semitism. And neither could stop talking,” Sandomir writes. (Their relationship was also the topic of Sound and Fury, by Dave Kindred.)

https://static01.nyt.com/images/2016/06/05/sports/05SANDOMIR2/05SANDOMIR2-master675.jpg

Leonard Schecter, who edited Jim Bouton’s watershed Ball Four, wrote “The Passion of Muhammad Ali” for Esquire in 1968. The profile was almost as famous for Carl Fischer’s photo as it was for the narrative. (Here’s a gallery of famous Ali snaps.)

NJ Jackals taking Stock

Posted on: June 1st, 2016 by Ron Kaplan

Two, actually, as in Richard and Robert.

The Stock brothers Richard, right, and Robert are teammates for the first time since Little League.

The Stock brothers Richard, right, and Robert are teammates for the first time since Little League.

Richard, 25, is a catcher, originally signed by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2005 and later by the Cleveland Indians after he graduated from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in 2009.

Robert, 26, originally a catcher,  was converted (you should pardon the expression) into a pitcher after being drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2009. Robert attended USC.

This year they’ll do something that haven’t done in ages: play together on the same team. In this case it’s the New Jersey Jackals in the independent Can-Am League. (Independent league clubs have no affiliation with teams in Major League Baseball.)

I had a chance to visit the with Stock brothers on what the late Mets announcer Bob Murphy would no doubt have called “a beautiful day for baseball” at Jackals Stadium on the campus of Montclair State University, right next door to the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center. I spoke with Richard first while they rounded up Robert prior to their 11 a.m. game against the visiting Quebec Capitales which would be attended by a large number of students from local schools.

Richard came to the Jackals in a trade from the Sioux Falls Canaries in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball. Robert signed with the Jackals…independently. “It wasn’t a package deal,” said Richard. “[Robert] knew he wanted to play independent ball this year.” So far, it’s been “a ton of fun,” said Richard, who, as of this writing, was hitting .333 with three doubles, a triple, a home run, and six runs batted in.

This is the first time they’re playing together since their Little League years in Southern California. Richard said they enjoyed the local environs (the ballplayers live in dorms on the  MSU campus), which is a short commute away from the  excitement of Manhattan.

The boys’ education in Jewish baseball came from their grandfather who is a big fan  of Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax. Thankfully, the Stock brothers have never had to deal the anti-Semitism faced by some of their baseball brethren. These days, the clubhouses are filled with players from all over the world so it’s not unusual to still have teammates who have never met a Jew before.

It sounded a bit surprising to hear Richard classify the quality of indy ball as higher than the low minor leagues until you stop to think, the players here are older and further along than those who are beginning at the bottom as teenagers. “Low A is still developing, so this is a big step up,” he said.

At the relatively advanced age of 25, many players who are going to make it at the highest levels are already there, so why would a couple of guys in their mid-twenties still be doing this? “The hope is to have a job tomorrow… mostly to try and win baseball games,” he said, taking a live-in-the-moment philosophy. “I just want to play some good baseball.”

At this point, Robert joined us, complimenting me on my Dodgers cap, which I wear only on sunny days like this one. His early experience was a bit different than his brother’s because of his position situation. “I would have wanted to be  a catcher,” he said, but it’s not politic to fight against the organization when they want to make you change. “Once they decide they want you to change roles, the best thing is to embrace it right away because you’re only hurting yourself when you fight it.” Robert has appeared in eight games for the first-place Jackals, compiling a record of 0-1 over 11.1 innings in which he’s given up nine hits, walked nine, and fanned 16, a strikeout-to-innings rate of 1.44.

When the topic changed to the upcoming World Baseball Classic qualifiers, the brothers perked up noticeably. We discussed some prominent names who were on the Israeli National Team in 2013, including the Dodgers’ Joc Pederson, former Tigers and Astros pitcher Josh Zeid, and current Detroit manager Brad Ausmus. Richard leaned closer to the recorder and said “We haven’t gotten that call. We got to get it out there: we’re Jewish and we want to play! Someone make it happen!”

I asked if they had any thoughts about what it means to be a Jewish athlete and their answers were kind of reassuring. Robert said the attitudes of his teammates have been along the lines of “Oh, you’re Jewish? That’s cool. Let’s play baseball,” as in “No big deal.”

“No one really knows until you tell them,” he said. That’s a welcome improvement from Greenberg’s time, when several Jewish ballplayers changed their name to a) avoid the shande of abandoning a family’s dream of a better life for their kids which only came through education, and b) avoid the animosity of bigoted fans, opponents, and even teammates.

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51he0RDU1GL._SY445_.jpg“I think historically, we were Weinstocks,” Robert said. “Our ancestors, during World War II coming over from Poland, chopped off the “Wein’.”

The Stock siblings join the ranks of Jewish baseball brothers that include Norm and Larry Sherry, Ike and Harry Danning, and Andy and Syd Cohen. Like the Stocks, the Sherrys were a pitching and catching combo who played together on the same team, in their case, the LA Dodgers from 1959-1962.

****

The main reason I was here today was to learn more about the Jackals’ Jewish Heritage Night game, which will be held on Wednesday, June 22, at 7:05 p.m. against the Rockland Boulders. (Richard remembered the Lake County Captains, one of his previous teams, held a JHN that featured a “Rabbi Home Run Derby,” where local clergy tried their hands at batting practice).

The Jackals’ event is the brainchild of Ira Jaskoll, an adjunct professor and director of the Fairleigh Dickinson University Yeshiva Program. A hardcore baseball fan, Jaskoll was also the impetus for a special component of the New York Yankees fantasy camp in 2009 that catered to observant Jews. (You can read about my experiences there here.) He’s trying to coordinate several of JHNs for other minor and indy league teams in the NY-NJ area.

http://njjewishnews.com/images/made/images/uploads/sptsLeagueOfTheirOwn6_360_215_90.jpg

Ira Jaskoll, right, visits the training room at Yankee Fantasy Camp in 2009.

Jaskoll’s idea is to get Jewish day schools, shuls, and other organizations to come out to the park. He teaches courses in sports management at FDU so in return for his assistance in setting up these games, the teams provide guests speakers for his classes.

“I want everyone to come. Baseball is for everyone,” he said. “I used to go to Yankee games during Pesach; people would be eating matzo….

“True American baseball is minor league baseball,” he added, using Jackals Stadium as a prime example of the intimacy of the surroundings, the proximity to the field, and the accessibility of the players. “The [fans] have a great time.” Programs like Jewish Heritage Night brings out a community that might not otherwise be engaged. “I think once the Jewish community comes, they’ll love it and keep coming back.”

 

This date in Hank Greenberg’s 1938 season

Posted on: May 12th, 2016 by Ron Kaplan
Corsicana_Daily_Sun_Thu__May_12__1938_

From the Corsicana Daily Sun, May 12, 1938

As you may know, I am working on a book about Hammerin’ Hank for the year in which he challenged what was then the biggest number in sports: Babe Ruth’s single season record of 60 home runs.

So as I do the research for the project, I thought I’d be a nice guy and share some of it with you. Helps me, helps you. Win-win.

So on Thursday, May 12, 1938…

Greenberg hit his seventh home run of the year, a three-run shot that brought the Detroit Tigers to within one run of the host Washington Senators. But that’s as close as they got, losing 7-6 before 7,000 at Griffith Stadium.

Greenberg made two errors, one of which went against the mark of reliever Harry Eisenstat, who allowed one unearned run in two innings of work, striking out one and giving up a hit. And that brought his ERA down to an ugly 12.46.

The loss dropped the Tigers to 8-12 and a fifth place berth in the eight-team league.

A look at the latest Jewish Sports Review

Posted on: May 11th, 2016 by Ron Kaplan

The May/June issue just arrived. This one features

  • Professional Baseball Preview
  • 2015-16 Women’s College Basketball review and All-America Team
  • 2015-16 Men’s College Basketball All-America Team
  • 2015-16 Men’s and Women’s College Hockey All-America Team
  • 2016 Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse Preview
  • 2015-16 College Wrestling Review
  • a lengthy “sports shorts” review
  • n All-Time Pro Basketball List
  • Part one of a “Jews in Sports — Letter ‘T'” quiz

 

http://jewishsportsreview.com/images/jsr.jpg

“One of the great moments in the history of baseball”

Posted on: May 11th, 2016 by Ron Kaplan

Those of you who have been reading this blog or the Baseball Bookshelf know I hate hyperbole. The use of word’s like “greatest” or “Best” or phrases like “changed the game forever” drive me nuts.

But in this case, I would agree.

In case you’re unfamiliar with him, Bartolo Colon, a 43-year-old pitcher for the NY Mets, is the kind of guy who makes every fan say, “Look at him. I can do what he does.” Colon — who is listed at 5’11” and 285 pounds — looks like Jabba the Hut in baseball clothes.

http://pbs.twimg.com/media/BlH7msoCIAAcpea.jpg:medium

But here’s no denying his talents on the mound. You don’t get to pitch this long without skilzzzz. Colon recently passed Pedro Martinez on the list for career wins by a pitcher from the Dominican Republic. He is a three-time All Star and won the A.L. Cy Young Award in 2005. And he’s amazingly agile “for a big guy.”

One thing Colon is not is a hitter. He sports a lifetime batting average of .092 (21-228) but it’s not for lack of trying. He takes some of the most entertaining swings in the game. As Ron Darling says in the  video below, there aren’t many guys who get cheers for hitting a foul ball.

But then there was this on Saturday:

Is there anyone who isn’t smiling about this? I love Gary Cohen losing his damned mind on the radio call. And he’s right: This was one of the greatest moments in the history of the game. I’m just waiting for Weird Al Yankovic to come out with “The Legend of Bartolo.”

Understandably, there has been a lot written about this once-in-a-lifetime occurrence:

   
 

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