I’ll still be doing something more “statistical,” but in the meantime Rabbi Miller, who so graciously assists me with bringing the Korner to a die-hard constituency, posted this personal review of the past season.
I’ll still be doing something more “statistical,” but in the meantime Rabbi Miller, who so graciously assists me with bringing the Korner to a die-hard constituency, posted this personal review of the past season.
Editor’s note: Irving Osterer writes about hockey for Jewish publications in Canada and has been a great source for the Korner through the years. So when he sent the following along, I asked if I could use it as a guest column. It’s not quite “Jews on first,” but it will do nicely.
Jews are well represented in college, amateur, and professional baseball ranks. Many have expressed pride in their faith and some refuse to play on Yom Kippur. One does not have to go further than the recent World Baseball Classic, to appreciate the impressive efforts of Team Israel, and their kippah-wearing tribute that went viral on the internet.
I believe that the SUNY Canton Roos, who play in the NCAA’s Empire 8 Division III, can boast a Jewish presence on the mound that is unmatched in the history of the game. The Roos have an authentic Cohen, a genuine Levy, and a Yisrael (OSTERER) in their bullpen. They have indeed covered all the bases in the event of an emergency weekday Torah service.
6′ Sophomore Phil Cohen, is a right handed pitcher from Liberty, New York.
5′ 8” Second year Matt Levy, is a right handed hurler from Long Beach, New York.
6′ 2” Senior Robbie Osterer, a “Yisrael” for religious purposes according to Mosaic law, is a right hander from Ottawa, Canada.
And should they need a fourth aliyah as they do for the Rosh Hodesh weekday morning reading, catcher/infielder freshman Alex Marshall, who hails from Melbourne, Australia can do the honours.
Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of guest columns by Bertin Lefkovic regarding what it might be like to have a MLB team comprised totally of MOT. The next installment considers how a lone Jewish sportswriter would figure out what everybody else in the baseball media world missed completely.
Armed with as little or as much support from management as he needed, Andrew Friedman prepared a list of the thirty-eight players who would join Joc Pederson and Bubby Rossman — the only one who is not on the Jewish Baseball News players list, but with a name like that, it has to be an oversight — on the Los Angeles Chosen Ones as he waited for the phone to ring, because he knew that once it started, it would not stop.
…Zack Greinke and Joe Wieland to the Los Angeles Angels for Sean Newcomb, Andrew Heaney, and $10 million
…Clayton Kershaw, Andrew Heaney, Corey Seager, and Sergio Santos to the New York Yankees for Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Jorge Mateo, Luis Severino, and $10 million
…Yasiel Puig and Peter Lavin to the New York Mets for Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Michael Conforto, and $10 million
…Adrian Gonzalez, John Cannon, Keibert Ruiz, Jhoan Calderon, and Romer Cuadrado to the Baltimore Orioles for Chris Davis, Ryan Lavarnway, and $10 million
…Chris Davis, Yasmani Grandal, Sean Newcomb, and J.P. Howell to the Texas Rangers for Joey Gallo, Rougned Odor, Juremi Profar, and $10 million
As mentioned previously, trading Greinke and Kershaw were the essential components necessary to make the fire sale subterfuge work. Despite the sizable return, trading Puig wouldn’t attract a significant amount of attention, because he has been a controversial figure in the Dodgers realm since he first started playing at the pro level, exhibiting an equal measure of distraction and disturbance for every measure of dominance.
In this and other deals, Friedman would benefit from having experienced the 2015 season once already, knowing full well how much of a disaster Puig would prove to be, how dominant players like Greinke, Matz, and Syndegaard would become, and even how important a role Conforto would play in turning around the Mets’ fortunes very quickly after being promoted directly from AA baseball mid-season.
In March 2015, getting Puig and a player to be named later (PTBNL) for Conforto, Matz, and Syndergaard seemed like a steal at the time, but if it took place nine months later, Sandy Alderson would not just be fired for gross incompetence. He would most likely be committed for insanity. Now only time would tell if Puig’s future would change dramatically as a result of this change in his past or if he was destined to be more problem than solution wherever he played.
Friedman knew it would be hard to get full value for either Greinke or Kershaw because of their respective opt-outs, but the Greinke transaction made it possible to do the deals with both the Yankees and the Rangers that would enable him to at the very least project an image of a very bright future for the Dodgers with a core of Bird, Gallo, Judge, Matz, Odor, Profar, Sanchez, Severino, and Syndegaard to go along with Pederson, even though he knew that none of them except for Pederson would play a game in 2015. God never said anything about 2016 and beyond, so for now, it made sense to have a Plan B just in case.
…Andre Ethier and Kenley Jansen to the Milwaukee Brewers for Ryan Braun and Ben Guez
…Carl Crawford, Jared Walker, Darnell Sweeney, and Austin Barnes to the Chicago White Sox for Jordan Yallen, Brad Goldberg, and $10 million
Andrew expected Crawford and Ethier to be the hardest players to move with their ample contracts and mediocre performances in recent years, but once the fire sale was in full blaze, Chicago was one of the first to call. They were willing to take Crawford as long as Friedman was willing to give them Barnes, Sweeney, and Walker as well and not demand much, if anything, in return. They weren’t crazy about having to give up the cash on top of Crawford’s huge contract, but when Friedman only asked for Goldberg and Yallen, players who weren’t on their radar, in return, they assented. This pattern would play itself out in many of the other deals that he made.
Even though most of the rest of the league was falling over itself trying to get in on the action, the Brewers were more focused on unloading some of their own larger contracts, primarily that of their overpaid and underperforming third baseman Aramis Ramirez, so they were surprised to get Friedman’s call.
Going in, Friedman was prepared to take Ramirez as well if that was what it would take to get Braun, but after the PED debacle, the Brewers were satisfied with the Braun for Ethier swap, which would save them both dollars and years on their respective contracts. Getting a closer in Jansen was a nice bonus as well and throwing in Guez was a no-brainer. They feared that trying to dump Ramirez on a team that was clearly in sell mode would come across as greedy and could scuttle the deal.
When they asked Friedman why he was willing to take on dollars and years at the same time that he was unloading hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts, Andrew explained that he felt that Braun would be easier to package into a larger deal than Ethier.
…Brett Anderson, Julian Leon, and David Huff to the Cincinnati Reds for Jason Marquis, Jon Moscot, Zack Weiss, and $8 million
…Adam Liberatore to the Astros for Scott Feldman and $5.6 million
…Brandon McCarthy, Daniel Coulombe, Chris Reed, and Scott Baker to the St. Louis Cardinals for Corey Baker, Mason Katz, and $10 million
…Justin Turner, Grant Holmes, and Joey Curletta to the Oakland Athletics for Ike Davis, Sam Fuld, Nick Rickles, Michael Fagan, and $10 million
…Juan Uribe, Joel Peralta, Scott Schebler, and Enrique Hernandez to the Toronto Blue Jays for Kevin Pillar, Danny Valencia, and $8.1 million
…Luis Asencio, A.J. Ellis, William Soto, Sven Schuller, and Jefry Souffront to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Zach Borenstein, Nate Irving, and $10 million
…Scott Van Slyke, Felix Osorio, and Alex Verdugo to the Atlanta Braves for Mitchell Osnowitz, Alec Grosser, and $10 million
…David Aardsma, Michael Medina, Chris Anderson, Jose DeLeon, and Manuel Peguero to the Boston Red Sox for Craig Breslow and $10 million
…Yimi Garcia, Chris Hatcher, Ralston Cash, and Carlos Frias to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Henry Hirsch and $10 million
…Darwin Barney, Lars Anderson, A.J. Vanegas, Jairo Pacheco, and Victor Gonzalez to the San Diego Padres for Cody Decker and $9.7 million
…Paco Rodriguez, Pedro Baez, Juan NiCasio, Cody Bellinger, and Zach Lee to the Seattle Mariners for Scott DeCecco and $7.6 million
While Friedman was continuing to churn out deals, moving Crawford, Ethier, Gonzalez, Greinke, and Kershaw in a matter of hours fueled a national media firestorm that would burn for days. Even three thousand miles away, the New York Daily News dedicated both its front page and its back page to the story.
Front Page – “FIRE SALE”
Back Page – “The Ravine! The Ravine! The Ravine is On Fire! We Don’t Need No Water, Let the Ravine Burn! Burn Chavez Ravine! Burn!”
Dan Patrick of ESPN took time out of his busy schedule of shooting cameos in Adam Sandler films to throw in his two cents when he tweeted, “It looks like the wildfires that have ravaged the California countryside have finally reached Chavez Ravine”.
…Chin-hui Tsao to the New Jersey Jackals for Danny Moskovits
…O’Koyea Dickson to the Winnipeg Goldeyes for Casey Haerther
…Luis Mateo to the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks for Zach Penprase
…Jeremy Kehrt to the Aigles Trois-Rivieres for Jadd Schmeltzer
…Mike Bolsinger to the Gateway Grizzlies for Max Schonfeld and Richard Seigel
…Justin Chigbogu to the Ottawa Champions for Mike Schwartz
Even though the independent leagues were not a common trading partner for major league baseball teams, Andrew was able to get the rest of the players that he needed to fill out the team’s 40-man roster from them.
…Freddy Garcia, Chris Heisey, Elliot Johnson, and Jeremy Hazelbaker to the Philadelphia Phillies for Ryan Howard and $10 million
…Ryan Howard, Jorge Mateo, Brock Stewart, Carlos Felix, and Felix Lacen to the Colorado Rockies for Boone Logan, Cristhian Adames, and $10 million
…Howie Kendrick, Ji milliony Rollins, Boone Logan, Jon Garcia, Ibandel Isabel, Devan Ahart, and Kevin Guzman to the Detroit Tigers for Ian Kinsler, Tim Remes, Jacob Kapstein, Josh Zeid, and $10 million
As one would imagine, the last few deals are always the hardest. Andrew could have just swapped Kendrick for Kinsler, but he wanted the Tigers to offset the money difference between their deals by taking Jimmy Rollins as well and he also needed to get the other three Jewish prospects from their farm system. He also tried unloading his last few players, Freddy Garcia, Chris Heisey, and Elliot Johnson, on them as well, but they weren’t biting. Nobody else was particularly interested in them either
Then, oddly enough, Philadelphia had seen Friedman take on money in the Braun deal and wanted to see if he was interested in doing something for Ryan Howard. Obviously, taking on an albatross like Howard was the last thing that he wanted to do, but he didn’t dismiss it entirely and started to shop him around on spec. This turned out to be a blessing and curse.
The only two teams who were willing to take Howard were intradivisional rivals, the Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants. Both wanted Jorge Mateo included in the deal and both were willing to offer a quality relief pitcher and a lesser shortstop prospect in return. Friedman was very unhappy about having to include Corey Seager in the Kershaw deal, but took solace in the fact that he was able to get Mateo back in return. This, however, was not what concerned him most about these prospective deals.
While Howard seemed to be literally crumbling before our eyes, the last thing Andrew wanted was to have him experience a change of scenery resurgence and the Dodgers have to bear the brunt of it 19 times per year. The X factor wound up being the Tigers need for bullpen help and Logan wound up being the missing piece that enabled the rest of the Kinsler deal to fall into place. Friedman also saw the Rockies as less of a rival and a threat than the Giants, so he made the deals, closed up his office, and went to an In-N-Out Burger to celebrate the end of a very long and very successful day.
Despite the fact that Friedman had traded for 37 Jewish baseball players and signed one more, Ryan Kalish, to a one-year contract, in one day, it still appeared as if the fire sale was all that anybody wanted to talk about. However, that would not last for long.
Author’s Note: All of the transactions described above except one were negotiated in good faith using the Out of the Park baseball simulation game. The only exception was the trade involving Ryan Braun, because the game recognized the no-trade-clause in Braun’s contract and refused to negotiate, requiring the use of the “Force Trade” function to complete the trade. It is the belief of the author that the trade that was made using this function was as fair as it could be.
To be continued…
Bertin Lefkovic, a Jewish communal professional, is a lover of baseball and Jewish peoplehood He has written at length about both and was significantly involved with the fledgling Israel Baseball League, including, but not limited to, drafting the Netanya Tigers. This effort to explore the potential of an all-Jewish major league baseball team is done in honor and memory of Ezra Schwartz and many others who are no longer with us, but whose passion for the game of baseball, the State of Israel, and the Jewish people lives on in the hearts and minds of all of us who share them with them.
The following comes courtesy of Peter Ephross
Jewish themes take something of a back seat in a new documentary about Al Rosen, Beating the Odds: The Al Rosen Story.
Rosen’s willingness to confront anti-Semitism with his fists is mentioned, but the focus is on Rosen’s exploits on the field, particularly, his 1953 season, when Rosen won the American League MVP, and on Cleveland Indians baseball. Indeed, Lou Boudreau, the Indians’ star who was player-manager for the 1948 World Series Winners (the last Indians team to win the championship), is mentioned admiringly several times.
The film was produced by Bill Levy, a former baseball writer in Cleveland, in conjunction with the Indians. Clips of interviews with Rosen — the oldest living Jewish Major Leaguer — are used throughout, including one from earlier this year, where, at 89, he still looks tough and displays a remarkable memory.
Perhaps the most fascinating issues to emerge from the documentary concern Rosen’s tempestuous relationships with both Larry Doby and Hank Greenberg. He apparently clashed with Doby, the first black player in the American League, when the latter sat out big games against the Yankees, while contract negotiations with Greenberg, the Indians GM during Rosen’s playing days, made their relationship difficult.
Left unanswered in the film is a frivolous question I’ve had for a while about Rosen: he was born on Feb. 29 during a Leap Year, so when does he celebrate his birthday?
Peter Ephross is the editor, with Martin Abramowitz, of Jewish Major Leaguers in Their Own Words: Oral Histories of 23 Players, published by McFarland. His writing has appeared in the Forward, Village Voice,and Publishers Weekly.
Rabbi Jason Miller, aka, “The Sports Rabbi,” posted this column on “The Jewish Sports Journalist,” primarily about veteran Mitch Albom and up-and-comer Zach Tennen, both, like the rabbi, from the Detroit area.
Editor’s note: The awards for MVP will be announced on Nov. 15. Ryan Braun won the honor last year, followed by speculation about performance enhancing drug usage (which we will not rehash here now).
One would have to assume that Braun played the 2012 season — another outstanding effort — totally clean. So what are the chances he could win a second consecutive trophy? Brad Spivack offers this assessment, which is adapted from his recent posting to the Jewish Sports Collectors yahoo group.
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Baseball season over; it is time to revisit the 2012 pre-season Ryan Braun theme.
Entering 2012 (Braun’s sixth MLB season), he was facing myriad adverse factors and the upcoming season would divulge quite a lot about how Jewish sports fans might eventually view his career. Why is 2012, Year Six important? Because Braun’s first five seasons’ stats in the majors bear a striking resemblance to those of baseball Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg. And for the last 65 years Greenberg has been considered the greatest Jewish slugger of all-time — by a landslide. Braun is the first real contender for the title. As Braun is hitting his prime (age 28), if his next five seasons duplicate his first five, he is clearly on a Hall of Fame course. This despite the fact that like many college graduates, his MLB career didn’t begin until age 23 (Greenberg began at 22). Further, and of more conversational importance: is Braun on his way to becoming the greatest Jewish slugger of all time? 2012 could have eliminated him from contention. It did not.
2012 was looking like Braun’s gut check year. A lot was going against him that could bode for a career-worst year offensively. There was no telling how being wrongfully accused, having to plead to overturn his case, and a pending 50-game suspension for a PED conviction would affect him. He was vilified several times between the 2011 World Series and opening day 2012; one individual from MLB’s baseball’s front office even publicly took part. How much would these things matter to Braun? His constitutional makeup and emotional maturity would be tested. He had personal hurdles to face and more.
Back in Milwaukee, a significant roster change might have negatively affected him too. In 2012, he stood likely to lose a ton of protection and power in the cleanup spot behind him as Milwaukee replaced Prince Fielder with Aramis Ramirez. Batting ahead of Fielder, it could easily be argued, Braun had enjoyed as cushy a spot as any #3 hitter in baseball from 2006-2011. How much of Braun’s scintillating 40 doubles/35 HRs/.313 average over his first five years were self-generated and how much of that was a benefit of hitting directly ahead of Fielder? 2012 would surely answer that.
With mental and emotional challenges ahead as well as a lineup downgrade, the question became how much of this would keep Braun down? It made sense to prepare for the softest of Braun’s six statistical seasons. And that if no drop-off occurred, it would beg for a serious category by category comparison to Greenberg, over each player’s first six seasons. 2012 was to show us the real Ryan Braun.
Here are the important Greenberg-Braun comparisons for their first six seasons: They were remarkably similar in doubles, triples, home runs, batting average, and total bases (they even hit into a near identical number of double plays). It’s a virtual tie when taking those important categories together. The main advantage Greenberg held over Braun is a sizeable RBI lead (837 to 643). Note that Greenberg batted cleanup while Braun batted third. Not only did Greenberg hit cleanup, he got to drive in a couple of Cooperstown HOFers (Charlie Gehringer, Mickey Cochrane), an Indiana state HOFer who hit .337 (Pete Fox), and Gee Walker (.335), who hit .300+ in five of his first seven seasons. Greenberg enjoyed table setters extraordinaire to drive in.
Braun has batted third behind Corey Hart, Nyger Morgan, Norichita Aoki, and Rickie Weeks. There is not even a comparison between the caliber of player Greenberg hit behind and what Braun was given.
In addition, Greenberg played following the ‘dead ball’ era. A baseball historian I know who lives in Quebec likened Greenberg’s slugging era to the numbers put up in the 1990’s when rampant steroids use (McGwire, Bonds, Caminiti, Palmeiro, Sheffield, Canseco, Vauighn, Justice) inflated offensive numbers.
In other categories, Greenberg showed far superior plate discipline over Braun (equal number of walks-per-strikeouts vs Braun’s one BB per two Ks). Lastly, Braun smoked Greenberg on the basepaths. To summarize, they were very similar in batting average and power. Braun held a decided advantage in speed and contact. Greenberg had far better plate patience. Taken as a whole, to me they weigh very evenly against each other.
After six seasons these two standout sluggers are running neck and neck. Greenberg’s career BA was .313. After six seasons, Braun’s BA is .313. Barring injury, Braun will surpass Greenberg in every major offensive category including At bats, hits, doubles, home runs, and RBIs. If 2012 didn’t break him, or even force him to miss a beat, by career end I believe Braun is poised to replace Greenberg as “The Greatest Jewish Slugger'” of all-time.
The following analysis comes courtesy of Ron Ross, author of Bummy Davis vs. Murder, Inc.: The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Mafia and an Ill-Fated Prizefighter.
Brooklyn is back on the fistic map! It’s over 81 years since Maxie Rosenbloom outpointed Jimmy Slattery in a light heavyweight title bout that Brooklyn has hosted another championship fight but some things are worth waiting for. Saturday night’s pugilistic extravaganza at the magnificent Barclay’s Center, featuring four world championship fights on the nine bout card, falls into that “worth waiting for” category. Over seven hours highlighted by spectacular punching prowess, some artistic ring craftsmanship and an all-around unforgettable evening. It was the first of an intended series of boxing events to be put on by Oscar de la Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions at this venue.The battle for the WBA Welterweight Championship between the brash champion, Paulie Malignaggi and Mexican warrior Pablo Cesar Cano, started out as an artistic showcase for the Brooklyn Magic Man. A win was a step in setting up a probable Brooklyn mega-fight against Dmitriy Salita. So Paulie worked like any good — no, great — artist at work, painting a design in blood-red over the left side of Cano’s face, his source being a cut on the left eyelid of his opponent. For seven rounds, he captivated his audience, then the tide changed as Cano finally zeroed in on his tormentor and became effective in backing Malignaggi up and walking through Paulie’s punches, flicking them aside and firing back, Paulie showed heart and continued fighting back, but now he was coming in second on most exchanges. In this sport, there are no medals for second place. When Cano dropped Malignaggi with an overhand right in the eleventh round, much of the crowd was roaring for the gutsy Mexican to pull it out. However, Paulie’s early lead was just a bit too much to overcome as he copped a razor-thin split decision victory with two judges giving him a 114-113 nod.Holding up his end of the needed dual victories, Salita rushed to the arena as soon as he completed his Sabbath observance by not traveling until after sundown and climbed into the ring at approximately 7:40 p.m. for his six-round bout. He was the complete workman against his opponent from Hannibal Missouri, Brandon Hoskins, sporting a 16-2-1 (eight knockouts) record, staying on top of his man and controlling the action throughout the six rounds, landing well with a left jab that kept Hoskins on the defensive and permitted Salita to move and vary his attack, working well with brief body attacks, then moving upstairs, occasionally working short combinations, hooking off the jab and following with the right, which for the most part was used more as a diversion than as a weapon. It was a competent, well-executed performance that earned him a near-shut-out win with tallies of 60-54, 59-55, and 59-55 to improve his record to 35-1-1, 18 KO’s. It should set the stage for a championship fight with Malignaggi.
The following piece comes courtesy of Ron Ross, author of Bummy Davis vs. Murder, Inc.: The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Mafia and an Ill-Fated Prizefighter
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Brooklyn will showcase the biggest fight night in its history this Saturday (Oct. 20) at the sparkling new crown jewel of entertainment, the Barclays Center. Oscar de la Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions is putting on more than a boxing show. It’s an Event, an Extravaganza — four championship fights topping a stellar eight-bout card that will have the bridge traffic to Brooklyn flowing in a steady stream.
Objectivity and impartiality are supposed to be essential qualities in the journalist’s makeup. Well, Play It Again, Sam. It Ain’t Necessarily So. Right now I find myself marching to a different tune.
Dmitriy (The Star of David) Salita will be fighting on the card. No title, no big purse. Dmitriy, who has lost only one fight in a thirty-six bout career, is like the guy who travels the full journey, negotiating all the rough spots but when he gets to cross that final bridge he’s like the guy who discovers that his EZ Pass isn’t working. So what do you do in such a situation -– you pay the price!
Perhaps Salita set the bar too high nearly a dozen years ago when, as a 139-pounder, he won the New York Golden Gloves championship and was awarded the Sugar Ray Robinson trophy as the tournament’s outstanding performer. Although his record as a professional for the past eleven years continues on that path of excellence, the recognition and rewards have not been commensurate. If expectations exceeded performance, then Dmitriy is competing on a playing field that is not quite level.
On Saturday night he’ll be squaring off against Brandon Hoskins, a hungry young fighter from Missouri with a 16-2-1 record in an eight-round undercard bout. If Dmitriy so chooses, he’ll have the opportunity later that evening to watch his neighborhood rival and friend, Paulie Malignaggi, defend his WBA welterweight title against Pablo Cesar Cano. He’ll being rooting for Paulie because, besides friendship, Dmitiry is hoping that he will be Paulie’s next opponent -– if both are victorious on Saturday -– in what should be a mega-fight for both in the very near future.
Salita, who has given back so much to his community, opening a youth center to help young Russian immigrants assimilate to their new home, promoting boxing programs that develop and showcase young local talent and devoting his time and energy to any worthwhile cause that would assist his community, has earned the stature of a World Champion in the eyes of his fans and neighbors. Because of these deeds he has been invited to the White House during both the terms of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. (Dmitriy assured me that the menus were strictly kosher.)
Last Sunday the boardwalk at Brighton Beach was jammed with throngs of Dmitriy Salita’s fans and friends who came to meet and greet the young man and wish him well on his continuing quest for a world title. Having won the last four fights since the lone blemish on his record – the loss to Amir Khan in Newcastle, England -– they are clamoring for what they so strongly feel is his earned right. Dmitriy smiles in appreciation of their support. He is ready, willing and able -– and he already has paid the price!
The following article was provided by JNS.org.
A World Series warning—about Hitler
by Rafael Medoff
The 1941 World Series is widely remembered as the first “Subway Series,” when two New York City teams vied for baseball’s championship. It was also the scene of one of the most famous plays in baseball history, when a rare dropped third strike changed the outcome of a game and, ultimately, the series.
But that year’s World Series can also be remembered as the series that featured a player, a manager, and an owner who tried to warn the world about the danger of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
The New York Yankees won the opening game, 3-2. The Brooklyn Dodgers took the second by the same score. It was shaping up to be one of the most exciting World Series contests ever.
For the third game, the Yankees turned to their young pitching sensation, Marius “Lefty” Russo. In just his second full season as a Yankees starter, the Queens, NY, native had become arguably the best pitcher on the team. Russo won 14 games in 1941, including a one-hitter, and had made the All Star team.
As Russo took the mound that afternoon, very few in the Ebbets Field stands realized that he actually was one of the era’s rare two-sport stars. As a student at Long Island University in the 1930s, Russo excelled on the baseball diamond, but he was also a starter for the LIU Blackbirds’ basketball team, a national powerhouse. In the 1935-1936 season, Russo and his teammates won 33 straight games, by an average margin of 23 points.
The 1936 Olympics, scheduled to be held in Nazi Germany, marked the first time basketball would be part of the competition. The Long Islanders stood a strong chance of being chosen to represent the U.S. in Berlin—until the players’ consciences got the better of them. In March 1936, on the eve of the qualifying tournament at Madison Square Garden, university president Tristram Metcalfe shocked the sports world with his announcement that the Blackbirds had decided to boycott Hitler’s Olympics.
In view of Hitler’s anti-Jewish abuses, Metcalfe explained, the players decided “that the United States should not participate in Olympic Games since they are being held in Germany,” and would “not compete [in the tryouts] because the university would not under any circumstances be represented in the Olympic Games held in Germany.”
Such a stance was almost unheard of in the sports world. Even more so in those days than today, athletes seldom spoke their minds on public affairs, much less put their careers on the line to protest events overseas. Sadly, however, few followed their lead. Aside from Russo and the Blackbirds, only a handful of other American athletes boycotted the 1936 games. The U.S. team proceeded to Hitler’s Berlin.
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Five years later, Lefty Russo found himself on the mound in game three of the World Series, matched against the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Freddie Fitzsimmons. At age 40, Fitzsimmons was nearing the end of his career, but he pitched his heart out that day. He and Russo were locked in a scoreless duel when Russo came to bat with two outs in the top of the seventh inning. Pitchers are usually an easy out, but Russo hit a wicked line drive that broke Fitzsimmons’s kneecap. That forced the Dodgers to bring in a relief pitcher, Hugh Casey—who promptly gave up four hits and two runs, enough for the Yankees to win, 2-1. They now led the series, two games to one.
With Casey on the mound again the next day, the Dodgers came battling back. They carried a 4-3 lead into the ninth inning. With two outs, no runners on base, and the Ebbets Field crowd about to explode in joy, Casey threw what would have been the game-winning third strike. The Dodgers would have won the game and tied the series at two games apiece. But in one of the most shocking moments in baseball history, catcher Mickey Owen mishandled the third strike, batter Tommy Henrich reached first base safely, and the Yankees proceeded to mount a rally to win the game.
Leo Durocher. Credit: Press Association.One might assume that after such a heart-breaking loss, Dodgers manager Leo Durocher would have spent the evening strategizing for the next game, or perhaps drowning his sorrows in a local bar. Instead, he and Dodgers owner Larry McPhail headed for a political rally at Madison Square Garden. Along with an array of Hollywood stars and other celebrities, Durocher and McPhail spent the evening at “Fun to Be Free,” a demonstration urging the U.S. to launch a pre-emptive military strike against Adolf Hitler.
This was not a popular position to take in the early autumn of 1941, two months before Pearl Harbor. Gallup polls during 1940-41 found only about one-tenth of Americans willing to go to war for any reason other than to fend off an invasion of the U.S. itself. The hardships of the Great Depression had intensified the popular view that domestic concerns required America’s full attention and that none of the nation’s resources should be diverted overseas. The America First movement and other isolationist groups flourished.
But a minority of Americans vigorously disagreed. They established the Fight for Freedom Committee, which advocated war against Hitler as the only way to preserve world peace. Their “Fun to Be Free” event, held at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 5, 1941, featured a “Mammoth Revue” of patriotic songs, skits mocking Hitler and Mussolini, and dramatic readings emphasizing the need for quick American military intervention.
The pageant, which was attended by an audience of more than 17,000, was authored by two of Hollywood’s most prominent screenwriters, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Hecht would later play a leading role in the Bergson Group, a political action committee that lobbied for U.S. action rescue Jews from the Holocaust. Of course, had the U.S. taken early action against Hitler, there might never have been a Holocaust at all.
“Fun to Be Free” was produced by Oscar Hammerstein, Moss Hart, and George Kaufman, with music and lyrics by, among others, Irving Berlin and Kurt Weill. The opening act featured Bill “Bojangles” Robinson tap-dancing on a coffin labeled “Hitler.” Then Carmen Miranda “sang in her well-known South American style,” as the New York Times put it, after which “Eddie Cantor, in a hoopskirt, and Jack Benny put on an Easter Parade act.” Among the other stars who took part were Tallulah Bankhead, Melvyn Douglas, George Jessel, Ethel Merman, Helen Hayes, and Burgess Meredith.
Durocher and McPhail not only attended “Fun to Be Free,” but also participated on stage. After Ella Logan finished singing “Tipperary,” McPhail stepped forward to give her a kiss, and Durocher rose and, according to the Times, “made a little speech to this effect: ‘We don’t want Hitlerism, we want Americanism. And the Yankees are a great ball club. Even if we lose, we’ll be losing in a free country.’”
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Leo Durocher, Larry McPhail, and Lefty Russo are remembered for their many contributions to baseball. But perhaps they deserve an extra tip of the cap for having the courage to take an unpopular stand, and for trying to warn a disbelieving world about the danger lurking just around the corner, a danger that many Americans ignored—until it was too late.
Dr. Rafael Medoff is founding director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, in Washington, D.C. His latest book, coauthored with Prof. Sonja Schoepf Wentling, is Herbert Hoover and the Jews: The Origins of the ‘Jewish Vote’ and Bipartisan Support for Israel.
The following comes courtesy of former NFL player Alan Shlomo Veingrad.
And while making the team was not “who shall live, and who shall die,” there is no forgetting that adrenaline rush from home openers at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, where legendary Packer Coach Vince Lombardi once roamed and was quoted as saying, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
I played offensive lineman for one of Coach Lombardi’s disciples, Forrest Gregg, and later, in Dallas under another from the coaching pantheon, Jimmy Johnson, as a member of the Cowboys’ 1992 Super Bowl championship team.
Gregg and Johnson preached discipline and improvement. Their assistants and I studied successes and failures: Did I make the right block? Was I in the right place at the right time? Did I follow instructions and prepare properly? Did I jump off-sides or get called for holding – costing my team the game?
In every sport and every endeavor there are fumbles, errors, misses and failures. There comes a time when we have to say, “I blew a big chance to make an impact. I forgot what you told me and it hurt the team. I accept responsibility and I am sorry. Will you forgive me, coach? This season, I’m ready to start over and be every bit the player you know I can be.”
In my transformation to a Torah-observant Jew and commitment to make my G-d, family and community proud of me, I carry the same attitude and willingness to learn and be better, to not raise a voice or step on a toe, to be capable of scoring a touchdown by meaningful mitzvah, to forgive and seek forgiveness.
The holiday of Rosh Hashanah gets us back in the game. It’s our time to seek forgiveness, make adjustments, to let G-d know that we’re going to learn his playbook, the Torah, like never before, and that we are going to make Him proud.
Alan Shlomo Veingrad has inspired thousands with his candid, humorous, inspirational and spell-binding tales on life in the ultra-competitive NFL, and how he took that fire to transform himself into a Torah-observant Jew following his playing days. Based in Boca Raton, FL, Veingrad has traveled from New York to South Africa speaking at camps, Shabbatons, school programs, yeshivas, scholar-in-residence programs, men’s clubs, as well as charity fund raising events. He is often asked to speak to businesses and corporations looking to inspire their employees, and is an inductee of the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. For speaking engagements, Veingrad can be reached at email@example.com. To read more and see videos about him, visit www.alanveingrad.com.