With Hanukkah coming to an end yesterday, I feel as though something should be written on Jewish athletes. Sure, you can always take the old joke from that classic film Airplane:
"Would you like something to read?"
-"Do you have anything light?"
"How about this leaflet, ‘Famous Jewish Sports Legends?'"
or, you can compile a baseball team made up of the best Jewish athletes of all time ever!
The following roster is a compilation of what I believe to be the best Jewish players to have played their respective positions. Unfortunately, Mose "The Rabbi of Swat" Soloman didn't make the list, as he only ended up playing two games his entire career. Not sure how you get a nickname by playing so few games, but regardless, on to the team!
Catcher - Brad Ausmus
Before playing 18 big-league seasons with the Padres, Tigers, Astros, and Dodgers, Ausmus attended Ivy League school Dartmouth College. Ausmus would play until he was 41 years old, racking up a career .251/.325.344 line. Not bad for a catcher. Ausmus will also be managing Team Israel in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Ivy League!
First Base - Hank Greenberg
A two-time MVP, Greenberg held the record for most home runs in a season [Minor Leaguer Edit: by anyone not named Babe Ruth], with 58 HR in 1938. That record stood up for 23 years, until Roger Maris hit 61 in '61. One has to wonder how much better Greenberg's career numbers would have been had he not gone to war and missed the 1942-1944 seasons.
Second Base - Ian Kinsler
The first active major league on this list, Kinsler has sat at the top of the Texas Rangers lineup. A three-time all-star in his as-of-now seven-year career, we'll have to see what Kinsler can do for the rest of his major league tenure. He appeared to have peaked in 2011 when he put up 7.1 rWAR, but could he end up being one of the best Jewish Major Leaguer to play the game?
Third Base - Al Rosen
Rosen's 1953 MVP season was insane. He hit .366/.422/.613 while smacking 43 taters and driving in 145 runs. Unfortunately, Rosen had to retire at the age of 32 due to injuries, after a mere ten-season career. Again, you have to wonder how much better Rosen's numbers would look, had injuries not taken their toll
Shortstop - Lou Boudreau
Boudreau was a part of the game of baseball for a very long time. He played from 1938 to 1952, and managed until 1960. On top of that, he was also a player-manager for the Indians from 1942 to 1950. Boudreau won the MVP Award in 1948, and placed top-ten in voting seven other times. A career 295/.380/.415 hitter, Boudreau was an excellent hitter and seemed to be intelligent and well respected. The Lou Boudreau Award is handed to the Cleveland Indians' minor league player of the year, and Boudreau himself is often credited with coming up with the idea for the infield shift.
Left Field - Ryan Braun
Another current player, Ryan Braun could legitimately be the best Jewish player to have ever played the game. Braun has already won Rookie of the Year and MVP awards, and sits at 32 rWAR over the course of six major league seasons. Also, his nickname is the Hebrew Hammer, so there's that.
Center Field - Benny Kauff
Kauff played two seasons in the Federal League before joining the New York Giants in 1916. Despite Kauff's career .311/.389/.450 career line, off-field issues limited his career to a mere eight seasons. Kauff was implicated in car theft alongside his brother in 1920 and he was removed from Major League Baseball. Later Kauff was banned from baseball for life.
Right Field - Shawn Green
Ex-Blue Jay Shawn Green played fifteen years in the bigs, collecting 328 home runs along the way. Personally, I know Shawn Green best as a character in the game Backyard Baseball for the Macintosh computer(!). Real-life Shawn Green even has links to this very list - in 2004 he was presented the Hank Greenberg Sportsmanship Award by the American Jewish Historical Society.
Designated Hitter - Rod Carew
Despite the fact the Carew never openly practiced Judaism, his mother was Jewish...so he counts! Carew put up an astonishing 76.6 rWAR over nineteen Major League seasons, and was named an all-star every year that he played, excluding his final season at age 39. Carew won the MVP Award in 1977 when he hit .338/.449/.570 with sixteen triples. He put up 9.5 rWAR that year alone.
What needs to be said here? Koufax is arguably the best pitcher--Jewish or otherwise--of all-time. Seven-time all-star, three-time Cy Young Award winner, NL MVP in 1963, two-time World Series MVP, four no-hitters, one perfect game, and four World Series rings. All this in an eleven-year career.
After going 9-0 with a 2.52 ERA in 1967 as a 21 year old, Holtzman would play twelve more big-league seasons. Likely the next-best Jewish pitcher behind Koufax, Holtzman pitched two no-hitters and won three consecutive World Series with the Oakland Athletics from 1972 to 1974.
Horlen pitched for 12 professional seasons with the Chicago White Sox and Oakland Athletics from 1961 to 1972. He amassed a 3.11 career ERA, and placed second in the Cy Young Award race in 1967, losing to some guy named Jim Longborg. Longborg! Horlen's best season by far was in fact 1967, when he went 19-7 with a 2.06 ERA, while throwing thirteen complete games and six shutouts.
Pelty played from 1903 to 1912 with the St. Louis Browns and Washington Senators, compiling a 2.63 ERA. He was nicknamed "The Yiddish Curver", as he was one of the first Jewish players to play professional baseball.
No, not the Dave Roberts you're thinking of. This Dave Roberts pitched for eight teams over thirteen years, forever setting the bar for baseball team promiscuity (Edwin Jackson is getting there). Roberts had a 3.78 career ERA, and dare I say would be an excellent fifth starter on this team of all-time Jewish greats.
For your viewing please, here is a list of the entire team, complete with the date of their big-league debut as well as career rWAR.
(click to embiggen)
Happy Hanukkah y'all. Thanks for reading.