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November 5, 2021 12:26 pm
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This Year’s World Series Was a Landmark for American Jews

avatar by Joshua Blustein

Opinion

Nov 2, 2021; Houston, TX, USA; Atlanta Braves players celebrate after defeating the Houston Astros in game six of the 2021 World Series at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Andy Warhol famously declared “one’s company, two’s a crowd, three’s a party”— and Judaism agrees. A meal is only considered a real gathering, or zimmun, when at least three Jews eat together. Well, the 2021 Major League Baseball World Series had enough Jewish ballplayers to make a zimmun: the Atlanta Braves’ Max Fried and Joc Pederson, and the Houston Astros’ Alex Bregman and Garrett Stubbs.

In the bottom of the second inning of game six, Bregman popped a pitch off Fried into right field, where Pederson made the catch. For most fans, this was a routine play. But for us Jews, this play involved all the starting Jewish players in one sequence.

Is this a big deal? In short, yes. While other writers have detailed the historic achievements of Jewish ball players, we cannot forget that Major League Jews have long interacted on the diamond.

In the 1920s, Yankees infielder Jimmie Reese was invited to play in a celebrity exhibition game against a team with Harry Ruby pitching and Ike Danning as the catcher. Realizing their advantage, the Jewish players opted to forgo the traditional hand signals and instead call out their pitches in Yiddish, certain that nobody on the other team would understand. Reese ripped four hits in the game, and afterward, Danning said, “I didn’t know you were so good,” to which Reese replied, “You also didn’t know that I changed my name from Hymie Solomon.”

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Another great moment occurred in Detroit, where the Tigers faced the visiting Philadelphia Athletics on May 2, 1951. A transit strike stopped movement in the city, and only 2,723 fans made it to the stadium and witnessed history in the 9th inning that afternoon. This was Detroit’s Saul Rogovin’s first career start, and he was still pitching in the 9th, eyeing a complete game. He was one out away from a victory, when the Philly manager called on his fourth pinch-hitter of the game, rookie Lou Limmer. Catching for Rogovin was Joe Ginsberg. Never before, or since, has there been a Jewish pitcher, pitching to a Jewish batter, with a Jewish catcher behind home plate.

The Detroit Jewish Chronicle described what happened next: “Limmer, a Jewish southpaw from the Bronx … facing Saul Rogovin, Bengals’ Jewish right hander … managed to drive a pitch into the upper right field deck.” Rogovin was pulled from the game, spoiling his first career start.

From 1960-1962, two Jewish brothers, pitcher Larry and catcher Norm Sherry both played for the Los Angeles Dodgers. They became the first and only Jewish-brother “battery” (the term for a pitcher and catcher), and baseball hasn’t seen a brother battery since.

The team’s other Jewish battery, Norm Sherry and pitcher Sandy Koufax, changed the history of Jews in baseball forever. In 1961, Koufax was struggling mightily with his control, and Norm told him, “Why don’t you take something off the ball and just put it in there? Don’t try to throw it so hard.” Norm describes how “I went back behind the plate. Good God! He tried to ease up, and he was throwing harder than when he tried to. We came off the field, and I said, ‘Sandy, I don’t know if you realize it, but you just now threw harder than when you were trying to.” From then on, Koufax — previously a mediocre pitcher — became one of baseball’s all time greats.

To Jewish fans of baseball, the current World Series was especially uplifting given that these Jewish ballplayers have some real Jewish bonafides.

Bregman grew up in a synagogue-attending family, Pederson played for Team Israel in 2013, and Fried’s idol is Sandy Koufax (he wore #32 in high school in his honor). Sure, they aren’t the Yiddish-speaking, former rabbis that once graced the field in the early 20th century, but the fact that a small, religious minority continues to enjoy success in America’s game after 175 years is a testament to the marvel of America, Jews, and yes, baseball. We can all celebrate that.

Joshua Blustein is a student at the University of Chicago Law School and a Krauthaummer Fellow at the Tikvah Fund.

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