If you were asked to produce a lineup of the best Jewish players in Major League baseball history (1871-‘003), whom would you choose?
Sandy Koufax would be the pitcher, of course. Harry Danning (who looked, someone has said, like a Modigliani painting) would be the catcher. Hank Greenberg at first base. Buddy Myer at second base. Lou Boudreau at shortstop. Al Rosen at third base. And the outfielders: Sid Gordon, Shawn Green, and Morris Arnovich. (I never heard of some of these players, either.)
This team was chosen by an authority on Jews in baseball, Martin Abramowitz, who is president of Jewish Major Leaguers Inc., and publisher of a deck of cards commemorating the 143 Jewish Major Leaguers from 1871 to ‘003.
And naturally, Abramowitz has his critics. Lou Boudreau a Jew? No way, says Lew Azaroff of Teaneck, a retired sportswriter for The Record in Hackensack. Yes, he had a Jewish mother, Lew concedes, but is Boudreau buried in a Jewish cemetery? Didn’t his Roman Catholic father raise him as a Catholic?
On several occasions, the late State Sen. Matty Feldman asked Lew to help him come up with an all-star team of Jewish players, but they could never find a Jewish shortstop. Then Charlie McGill, a sports cartoonist at the newspaper, came up with Myer, who played short in five of his 16 seasons. Their choice of a second baseman: Andy Cohen. (McGill is famous for, among other things, once writing a splendid profile of Elston Howard, the late Yankee catcher.)
Yes, there are indeed human beings mesmerized by the subject of Jews in baseball. "Crazies," Abramowitz calls them, and includes himself. He teaches a one-session course on Jews in baseball at the 9’nd Street Y in New York City, and while attending his course I asked him: Why are people so caught up in this subject? His answer: a renewed and widespread interest in ethnicity.
Another reason, I suspect, is that studying the history of Jews in baseball is an entertaining intellectual game. Like doing crossword puzzles. There are all sorts of mysteries to solve. Do Jewish pitchers have higher or lower earned-run-averages? Do Jews steal fewer or more bases? What’s the highest number of Jews on one Major League team?
Besides, this is an age where there are a lot of high-IQ people out there doing low-IQ jobs. But maybe that’s the human condition.
To begin with an overriding mystery, why are Jews under-represented in Major League baseball? They have constituted ‘ percent to 3 percent of the U.S. population, but a mere 0.8 percent of all 16,667 professional baseball players.
I’m not sure this discrepancy is statistically significant, but Abramowitz has two explanations: Earlier in the ‘0th century, baseball players went to the Majors out of high school, not college and Jews predominantly went to college. Later in the ‘0th century, Jewish baseball players were eclipsed by all the blacks entering the formerly white-only leagues.
Where did the Jewish ballplayers come from? Sixty-eight from New York and California, but also from ‘1 other states and from four foreign countries (Russia, France, Canada, and the Dominican Republic).
Were their batting averages higher? They hit an average of .’65 versus .’6′ for non-Jews. They hit 1 percent of all home runs close to their representation in the Majors. The ERA of Jewish pitchers was 3.66 versus 3.77 for the others.
As for stolen bases, they stole only 995 of the ‘6’,144 a sorry showing. "Fewer than Rickey Henderson," lamented Abramowitz. Why? Because, he said with a straight face, of the commandment against stealing.
What’s the highest number of Jews on one team? The 1946 Giants had five. "Half a minyan," said Abramowitz. But Azaroff suspects there were actually six: Harry Feldman, pitcher; Sid Gordon, Goody Rosen, and Morrie Arnovich, outfielders; Mike Schemer, first base; and Buddy Blattner, second base.
What if any Jewish player never had a card made of him? Abramowitz made him a card and thus bestowed immortality upon him.
My own favorite anecdote about a Jewish baseball player concerned Moe Berg, a Princeton graduate who became a light-hitting catcher for six different teams over 17 years. In 663 games, he hit a mere .’43 and hit a mere eight home runs. Later he worked as a government spy.
Someone once said about Moe Berg that he could speak seven languages and couldn’t hit in any one of them.
Abramowitz has updated his Jewish ballplayers cards, and is now looking for new worlds to conquer. Jews in sports in general is his next project. Did you know that there were ‘7 Jewish world champions in boxing?