We’ve come a long way from the joke about the “leaflet on Famous Jewish Sports Legends” presented to a character in the movie “Airplane” after he requests some “light reading.” The baseball season may still be young, but some of the most terrifying and productive players so far are Jewish.
On the heels of his 2008 All-Star appearance, Ian Kinsler, the second baseman for the Texas Rangers, has been on fire so far in 2009. At the time this post was filed, he was tied for fifth place in the American League for runs batted in, and tied for fifth place for homeruns.
On Jackie Robinson Day last month, he went 6 for 6 and hit for the cycle— that is, hit a homerun, a triple, a double, and a single — all in the same game. That made him the first Jew to hit for the cycle since Harry Danning did it for the New York Giants in 1940. Kinsler, already a huge star for a mediocre team, is looking to make another All-Star appearance this year. Kinsler was one of three Jewish players in the 2008 All-Star Game; the others were Ryan Braun, right fielder for the Milwaukee Brewers, and Kevin Youkilis, first baseman for the Boston Red Sox.
Youkilis is probably the most feared hitter in baseball. When the Red Sox dumped Manny Ramirez in the middle of 2008, Youkilis stepped right up and delivered. In 2008, he set a Red Sox franchise record of 120 consecutive games at first base without an error.
During the offseason, he signed a four-year, $41.25-million contract with the Red Sox. At the date of this post, Youkilis is leading all of baseball with a .395 batting average, has hit five homeruns, has 15 RBIs, and has an on-base percentage of .505, meaning that one way or another he manages to get on base every other time he steps up to the plate.
Youkilis earns about $10 million per year, making him one of the best deals in baseball. By contrast, Alex Rodriguez, who has not even made a start for the Yankees this year, will make $33 million. The face of the Red Sox organization David Ortiz, who is hitting .230 with 12 RBIs and an on-base percentage of .290 (215 points lower than Youkilis), will make $13 million. In this year’s only three-game series so far against the Yankees, Youkilis hit .430 and walked four times.
Braun is also starting off the season well — hitting .317 with five homeruns and 17 RBIs. He has an on-base percentage of .440.
So baseball great Reggie Jackson, haggling with an artist over a painting, jokingly asked him, “Are you Jewish?” A foolish comment, made all the more foolish by the fact that it was made in earshot of a New York Post video camera. The cameraman followed up by asking Jackson why he said that, to which he replied, “because he’s always working me.”
The Post ran with it, UPI and Fox picked it up and now Jackson is explaining to the Post that he wouldn’t insult a Jewish person. “I am a minority. I don’t do that. I don’t go there,” he told the Post.
Was Jackson’s joke in poor taste? Yeah. Was it funny? No. Is it proof of any hostility to Jews? Not really. After all, Jews have been known, on occasion, to make similarly tasteless jokes, and sometimes they’re even funny. (Even if we don’t buy into — no pun intended — such stereotypes, they can make good fodder for humor.) And Jackson was always known almost as much for his big mouth as for his clutch hitting.
The artist himself, who is Jewish, told the Post that he didn’t think Jackson was antisemitic: “I think he was joking… that I had chutzpah.” Then again, he had a fiduciary interest in defending Jackson, who had just paid him $1,500 for his painting. (And no, I’m not making a Jewish joke.)
The worst part of this whole teapot tempest is that all-star slugger Ryan Braun — whose father is Israeli, but whose mother isn’t Jewish — is now being asked by reporters to weigh in. (As JTA’s Ami Eden cleverly quipped, “Braun is expected to play Abe Foxman instead of left field.”)
The best part of the brouhaha, however, is that it provided the Brewers outfielder with an opportunity to indicate his willingness to step up to the plate for the tribe. There had been questions about how strongly Braun — who has been dubbed “the Hebrew Hammer” by some excited fans — identifies as Jewish. But regarding being asked by a reporter about Jackson’s remarks, Braun explained, “I think that it’s something that comes with the territory. There aren’t too many Jewish athletes at the highest level. It’s something that I certainly embrace. But there are times when people expect me to be aware of issues, like that specific example. I didn’t have any idea what he was talking about.”
Hat tip: JTA’s Telegraph
The baseball world is abuzz over Brewers third-baseman Ryan Braun, whose numbers in the big leagues make a compelling case for Rookie of the Year.
Braun impressed the club in his first spring training game, going four for five with a grand slam, a three-run homer, a double, a single and a stolen base. Since being called up to the show in late May, he is hitting .348 with 16 home runs, 43 RBI’s, and a slugging percentage of .667. To put things into perspective, the Rookie of the Year for 2005, Ryan Howard, only hit .331 with 14 home runs and 35 RBI’s in the first half of his rookie season.
Braun’s father, Joe, is Israeli born, and being Jewish is something Braun is said to “take a lot of pride in.” Chosen in the 1st round of the 2005 amateur baseball draft, he is one of the highest drafted Jewish athletes in baseball.
While Braun’s exceptional arm and bat already have some scouts drawing comparisons to Yankees 3rd baseman Alex Rodriguez, a number of interesting similarities also align Braun with some of baseball’s biggest Jewish icons. Braun was Sandy Koufax’s last name before his mother remarried. (There is, alas, no family connection). Additionally, Braun’s grandfather has lived for the last 40 years in a home previously owned by Hall Of Famer Hank Greenberg, and Braun’s nickname, “The Hebrew Hammer,” was once used for Al Rosen, who, when playing for the Cleveland Indians (another “Tribe”) was named MVP in 1953.
If Braun continues to play at this pace, Israel might stand a chance in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, should it attract Braun and fellow Jewish Major Leaguers Shawn Green, Kevin Youkilis and Gabe Kapler.
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