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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Jewish athletes: You will know our velocity

A comment from Jeff Posnick about the Red Sox' Jewish players made me look up lists of Jewish athletes.'s "Jews in the NBA" page turns up 20 names--19 of which are owners (Mark Cuban, Bruce Ratner, and Wisconsin senator Herb Kohl), coaches (Larry Brown), GMs, or the NBA Commissioner. David Bluthenthal, a biracial forward on the Sacramento Kings, is 9 guys short of a league minyan--and he's never played a regular-season game.

In the NFL, Jewish players outnumber managers and owners, though only if you count inactive players. There are three quarterbacks among them--Sage Rosenfels (Dolphins), Gus Ornstein (Jets), and Jay Fiedler (QB)--and from their names I'd guess fans don't have trouble figuring out that they enjoy the occasional glass of Manischewitz.

As for baseball, though we may never have another Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax, or Al "Flip" Rosen, we do have Shawn Green, outfielder for the Diamondbacks but more properly belonging to his last team, the LA Dodgers, who is genuinely awesome. He has topped .800 in OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, the most useful measure of offensive quality you can find in newspaper statistics) in 10 of his 11 full seasons, and hit .297 with 125 RBIs and 49 homers at the height of his career, all while having the build of the scrawny beach victim in the old Charles Atlas ads.

The Red Sox have two Jews, both popular. Gabe Kapler, the wandering Jew of baseball (or the Grover Cleveland--he has returned to teams he once played for three times) returned after a lousy season in Japan, but then he ran the bases a little too enthusiastically in September and popped his achilles tendon. But Kevin Youkilis, the living embodiment of sabermetrics (Billy Beane called him "the Greek god of walks" though he is actually Romanian) and every Boston fan's favorite unsung hero, might get a chance to play first base most of next season now that we have an infield deficit.

(The newly signed Red Sock Coco Crisp at least sounds like the invention of a Jewish marketer. Now if we can just keep J.T. Snow off first, fire the base coaches, and get a shortstop with a batting average above .250--no offense to Alex Cora--we'll be in business.)

There are also seven Jewish pitchers. Matt Ford, of the Brewers (itself a Jewish-sounding team name), is from Plantation, Florida, where my grandfather and many other old Jews live. Jason Marquis, a switch pitcher on the Cardinals, is pretty good; his lifetime ERA is 4.15, which isn't great, but he is one of the best-hitting pitchers in the game, with an amazing .302 batting average, 1 HR and 19 RBIs over the last two years (much better than the average MLB batter when you consider he only had about 1/5 the at bats). The Blue Jays' Scott Schoeneweis is also decent (especially since he switched from starter to setup).

It appears that in baseball and football both, Jews are heavily weighted towards the more cerebral, less physical roles.

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Anonymous Anonymous on Wed Mar 08, 11:16:00 AM:
I think I was the one who originally alerted Jeff to the preponderance of Jews on the Red Sox--they have had the most in the major leagues for the past few years. Jeff? Can I take credit for this?

The third Jewish Sock is Adam Stern, the oft-injured Rule 5 guy the Sox got from the Braves last year. Stern is not only Jewish, but also CANADIAN! But unlike William Shatner, he is not from Park Extension, my dad's neighborhood in Montreal (my dad learned Hebrew for his bar mitzvah from Rabbi Shatner, aka Captain Kirk's dad, who lived around the corner).
Blogger Unknown on Wed Mar 08, 02:27:00 PM:
Bluthenthal was in camp with the Kings last year and thought to be a pretty good prospect. But then he washed out and never made the roster.
Blogger Jeff'y on Thu Mar 09, 09:03:00 AM:
Yep, KTA pointed out the number of Jews on the Sox to me originally. I am still bitter that the Rangers let Gabe Kapler go. Was Nolan Ryan Jewish? Nolan sounds vaguely Semitic. Kind of like Golan?

Do y'all know about It's more or less what it sounds like ("Shul of Rock"). Try to overlook the fact that their current lead article is about Ayn Rand's influece on Rush (Geddy Lee is Jewish, <shrug/>).
Blogger Ben on Thu Mar 09, 10:49:00 AM:
I checked out and started their 20-question "Are they Jewish?" rock quiz. I lost interest around question number 15, somewhere between Marianne Faithfull and the J. Geils band.
Anonymous Anonymous on Thu Mar 09, 12:05:00 PM:
My mom just sent me an email about the World Baseball Classic and her ongoing quest to marry me off to a baseball player:

"I think Dontrelle [Willis] has fallen a few places on my list, replaced by Adam Stern, who is even Canadian! He had some day yesterday. [Rant about Johnny Damon excised here] And how about Tek???!!!!! (If he wasn't already taken, he would definitely be the top candidate, goofy hairstyle notwithstanding.)"