Maybe it’s because the subjects are dead that the papers think it doesn’t matter if they run the obituary in a timely matter. Case in point, The New York Times‘ piece on the late Greg Goossen, which appeared in yesterday’s print edition, even though he died a week ago. It comes in at about 880 words, which is pretty good considering his accomplishments. By comparison, Hall of Famer/Boy of Summer Duke Snider’s obituary was just over 1,350 words, while Wally Yonamine, the first Japanese-American to play pro ball in Japan weighed it at around 1,000. (And by the way, neither of those obituaries mentions the deceased player’s’ religion.)
The headline reads, “Greg Goossen, Baseball Player Who Broke Mold, Dies at 65.” With all due respect, what mold are we talking about here? Snider and Yonamine were cultural icons; the latter was considered the Jackie Robinson of Japanese baseball. Other ballplayers have appeared in movies and TV, as Goossen did, and still still have gone on to distinguished post-playing careers.
Apropos of nothing in particular, the writer — Douglas Martin — drops this into a paragraph:
Goossen earned a niche or two in baseball history. As a Met, he caught Nolan Ryan’s first big league game in 1966 and broke up a perfect game by Larry Jaster of the Cardinals with a two-out eighth-inning single in 1968. But as a lifelong Roman Catholic he was perplexed in 2009 when Howard Megdal, in his book “The Baseball Talmud,” called Goossen the seventh-greatest Jewish first basemen ever. (When asked about the choice, Mr. Megdal said he was an expert on baseball, not Judaism.) [emphasis added]
Whoa, where did the Jewish come from?
I got an e-mail from Megdal yesterday, alerting me to a letter he had sent to the Times in response, which I reprint here:
Douglas Martin, in his otherwise excellent obituary of Greg Goossen (March 6, 2011, Page A26), quotes me as responding to Goossen’s inclusion in my book, “The Baseball Talmud”, by saying: “When asked about the choice, Mr. Megdal said he was an expert on baseball, not Judaism.”
For one thing, Mr. Martin never asked me anything — we have never spoken. For another, that comment from my book had nothing to do with Mr. Goossen. I included him in my book because his father was Jewish, and my specific definition was to include anyone who either self-identified as Jewish, or would be considered Jewish by a branch of the religion.
In other words: Mr. Martin is an expert on Goossen, not Megdal.
Shortly after the news about Goossen’s passing came out, his religion became a source of fascination for many, including(especially?) Jewish fans. Well, was he or wasn’t he? Although his name appears in several books about Jews and baseball, others pointed to the fact that, as Martin states, “he was a lifelong Roman Catholic,” and was buried in a Catholic cemetery. End of story.
But even this wasn’t enough for some. An exchange on the Yahoo Jewish Sports Collectors group said that, even in the face of this “evidence,” which I suggested should end the debate, Goossen should still be considered MOT.
“I don’t know why that should end the discussion,” one commentor wrote, continuing.
And what discussion is it that we are ending? Fred Sington, among others whom we collect, was buried in a Christian cemetery and he is still considered a Jewish ballplayer by many even though he converted. [emphasis added]
Everyone has their own definition of who fits within the Jewish ballplayer category, and that should end the discussion unless we want to have a theological debate.
If we are going to be ultra-conservative about all this, there probably are only 1 or 2 current Jewish ballplayers, not the dozen that some say there are.
Another asked “was it Goossen’s personal decision to be buried [in a Catholic cemetery]? did family members make the selection? let’s be inclusive and not exclusive.”
As I have said on many occasions, I’m no expert on Halacha; I’m certainly not saying an athlete has to be a Hebrew school graduate, refrain from playing on Shabbat, and keep kosher to be considered a “true Jew.” But at some point doesn’t there have to be a “working definition?”
The “standard” I have gone by since taking up the sports editing post here has been that of the Jewish Sports Review. One of their criteria is that an athlete can’t identify with or practice another religion. So if Goossen was indeed as lifelong Roman Catholic, are we going to, post-mortem, drag him back into the fold? Was JFK really a German because he once said “Ich ein Berliner?”
Talk amongst yourselves.