With the Midsummer Classic tomorrow night, I’m enjoying the Home Run Derby right now. What better time to blog about Jews in baseball?
Guys like Ryan Braun and Kevin Youkilis and Hank Greenberg and, of course, Sandy Koufax have made frequent appearances on this blog. (As have the Dodgers. Coincidentally, yesterday was Jewish Community Day at Dodger Stadium.) Koufax is maybe as well known for skipping the opening game of the 1965 World Series as he is for pitching the perfect game seen in the above video. Would any of today’s Jewish baseball stars make the same showing of religious commitment?
The Jewish Exponent has a story asking and answering that question as it pertains to Youkilis. An excerpt:
“I don’t put religion into sports,” Youkilis said recently when the Red Sox were in Philadelphia for a three-game series in what was being seen as a World Series preview. “I consider religion entirely different, so I don’t bring it to the field.
“I’ve never played on Yom Kippur. Hopefully if we were playing, it would be a night game, not a day game.”
Youkilis acknowledged a “lot of pressure” from the Jewish community not to play.
“But you have to stick with your beliefs,” he said. “You can’t worry about people who aren’t influential in your life who say things or tell you you’re wrong.
“I know Shawn Green had a tough time with it. It just depends upon the community. In Boston they probably don’t even care. They’d want you to play.”
“I know kids look up to us, but to me the biggest role models in your life are your parents,” said Youkilis, voted Jewish Player of the Decade in 2010 and who recently began marketing a “L’Chaim” T-shirt.
“We don’t make it out to be as big as the Jewish community does,” he said. “We just see ourselves as baseball players. It’s very special to be among a select few; a great thing for Jewish kids, but more so for Jewish fathers and adults.’‘
As regular readers of this blog know, and as I recently discussed in a post about Rays outfielder Sam Fuld, Jewish athletes feel a lot of communal pressure to practice in ways they otherwise might not—sometimes secular or unaffiliated Jews, like basketball player Jordan Farmar, who feel like they’re letting Jews down when they don’t so conviction like Koufax or Greenberg.
It’s understandable. By all means. We all need heros, and often those heros taken on mythical characteristics. They become giants—until those heros let us down. But it isn’t really fair.