The recent Judaism & Baseball retreat offered a lot of food for thought. Several of the panels were basically about the same thing: identity. Who should be considered Jewish for the sake of the national pastime? Are fans so desperate they’re will to forgo Halacha for the sake of a couple of high-profile athletes? Mind you, I’m not taking sides here, just stating the case. Most of the participants seemed to have quite a “wide-tent” policy in that regard.
One session was supposed to focus on Ryan Braun and the Yom Kippur dilemma, but, to be honest, I think that was just a ruse to get people to come. While the general theme was Yom Kippur, it was more about Hank Greenberg and his brave stand in the midst of the Detroit Tigers’ 1934 pennant race. A couple of little know facts: it was the only game Greenberg missed that year and it broke a consecutive-game streak shared by his fellow infielders, including second baseman Charlie Gehringer, shortstop Billy Rogell, and third baseman Marv Owen. In addition, Greenberg was just 23 at the time, so it wasn’t like he was an established veteran. I think that took an extra measure of guts. By contrast, Koufax was a star with the Dodgers when he decided to skip the first game of the 1965 World Series.
At the retreat, Rabbi Michael Paley noted that Greenberg, and I’m paraphrasing here, explained Jews to America, especially those that had little knowledge of the religion. He refuted the canard that Jews were bookish and weak. Koufax, on the other hand, according to Paley, explained Jews to Jews, a fascinating concept. By the 1960s, Jews had become much more assimilated into American culture, and some second- and third-generation kids were losing touch with the faith of their parents. So when Koufax, parents could point to him as an example of enjoying all the benefits of life in the good old US of A, but still maintaining ties. In short, Koufax made it cool to be Jewish.
All this is a roundabout way of announcing the launch of a couple of new projects. The first is a JML timeline, which puts in perspective who played when, and with whom. The heavy lifting is done; all the names and years have been entered into a spreadsheet. The difficult part is putting it into an attractive, or at least palatable, form. Any suggestions?
The second is somewhat a cross between the timeline and the Yom Kippur dilemma, and will take longer: By using the timeline in conjunction with a perpetual Hebrew calendar and game logs from sources like Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet, I plan to see just who faced the YKD and what they ended up doing. Again, this is just for informational purposes, no judgments.