DETROIT, MI - JUNE 3: Brad Goldberg #67 of the Chicago White Sox pitches during the eighth inning of the game against the Detroit Tigers on June 3, 2017 at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images via JTA)

Jewish pitcher Brad Goldberg makes his White Sox debut


Relief pitcher Brad Goldberg, who is Jewish, made his Major League Baseball debut with the Chicago White Sox.

Goldberg, 27, was called up from the minors, the Triple-A Charlotte Knights, over the weekend, after pitcher Michael Ynoa was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a right hip flexor strain.

Goldberg pitched part of the eighth inning against the Detroit Tigers on Saturday, allowing four runs on a walk and three hits.

He was drafted by the White Sox in the 10th round of the 2013 MLB draft, after ending his college baseball career at Ohio State University in Columbus.

Goldberg left this year’s spring training with the White Sox to pitch for Team Israel in the second round of the 2017 World Baseball Classic in March. The Israeli team was eliminated from the tournament after the second round, with a loss to Japan in Tokyo.

Goldberg was born in Cleveland and grew up in the heavily Jewish suburb of Beachwood.

Highly touted baseball prospect Alex Bregman to make MLB debut for Astros


Alex Bregman, a Jewish player and one of Major League Baseball’s top prospects, has been called up by the Houston Astros.

Bregman, 22, will make his debut on Monday night against the New York Yankees after being promoted the night before from Houston’s Triple A Fresno minor league affiliate. He will likely play third base and the outfield for the Astros.

“It’s a dream come true,” Bregman told MLB.com. “And I’m ready to go to work, keep my mouth shut and hopefully help contribute.”

Bregman is the son of two lawyers and hails from Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he attended Congregation Albert, the city’s oldest synagogue.

He was the second overall pick in the 2015 MLB draft and is currently ranked the 19th best prospect in the game by ESPN. He was hitting .333 with six home runs and 15 runs batted in 18 games with the Fresno squad.

Bregman, who was an All-America shortstop at Louisiana State University, said the first thing he did after getting the call from the Astros was to call his mother.

“She was screaming,” he said.

The only Jewish player to be drafted higher than Bregman was Ron Blomberg, who was drafted No. 1 overall by the New York Yankees in 1967 and became baseball’s first designated hitter.

Tablet reported that Bregman’s grandfather Stanley, who was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, worked with baseball’s Washington Senators (the second team with that name, which eventually became today’s Texas Rangers) through his law firm.

Los Angeles Dodgers sign Israeli in Major League first


Dean Kremer became the first Israeli to sign a contract with a Major League Baseball team.

The Los Angeles Dodgers signed Kremer, a 20-year-old Israeli-American Tuesday. The team drafted the right-handed pitcher in the 14th round of this month’s 2016 MLB draft.

Kremer, a Stockton, California native born to Israeli parents, was drafted last year in the 38th round by the San Diego Padres but did not sign with the team. He transferred from San Joaquin Delta College to the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, where he went 4-5 with a 4.92 ERA in 12 starts.

He was the first Israeli to be drafted by an MLB team.

Kremer played for Israel’s national baseball team for the past three years. He was named the European baseball championship’s most valuable pitcher each of the last two years and led Israel out of the tournament’s C-pool into the stronger B-pool last year.

“I was born here in the United States, but I go back and practically live [in Israel] for two months out of the year in the summer, so it’s definitely home,” Kremer told the Las Vegas Review Journal in February.

Kremer will play this summer for the Dodgers’ Rookie League team, the first of six leagues he will have to progress through to make it onto the major league roster, Haaretz reported.

Baseball, Jews and the American dream


In 1903, the Yiddish-language Forverts published a letter from a Russian immigrant, who’d written to say he didn’t understand the point of the game of baseball, the sport so beloved by all Americans.

“What is the point of a crazy game like baseball?” the perplexed reader asked. “I want my boy to grow up to be a mensh, not a wild American runner.”

“Let your boys play baseball and play it well,” Forverts publisher Abraham Cahan wrote back. “Let us not raise the children that they grow up foreigners in their own birthplace.”

Six years later, the Forverts published a column that attempted to explain this strange game to its readers, many of them recent immigrants from Europe eager to leave behind the Old Country to become American. The piece was illustrated with a baseball diamond with Yiddish notations, including detailed explanations of the “defense party” and the “enemy party” — meaning the team in the field and the team at bat.

“To us immigrants, this all seems crazy, however, it’s worthwhile to understand what kind of craziness it is,” the Forverts said. “If an entire nation is crazy over something, it’s not too much to ask to try and understand what it means.”

More than a century later, Americans are still crazy about baseball. Major League Baseball is the second-largest professional sports league in the world by annual revenue ($9.5 billion in 2015), second only to the National Football League. And, more importantly, baseball, more than any other sport, has served as a means of assimilation for wave after wave of newly arrived immigrants to the United States, a ready bridge to connect with Americans and their culture.

Now, timed to the opening week of Major League Baseball’s 113th season, the Skirball Cultural Center is unveiling “Chasing Dreams: Baseball & Becoming American,” an acclaimed exhibition organized by the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) in Philadelphia. The show will be on view for the duration of the baseball season, through Oct. 30, highlighting the sport’s role as an active player in America’s major dramas of the 20th and 21st centuries — immigration, racism and racial integration, wars, assimilation and acculturation. The exhibition also shows how baseball’s role in these phenomena was just as pivotal for Jews as it has been for other cultural groups, including Italians, Blacks, Mexicans, Japanese and Latinos, a particularly impactful group within Los Angeles baseball, which the Skirball’s installation especially focuses on.

“While we can see in the story of American Jewish life this important kind of connection to baseball as our national pastime, as a symbol of ideals, as a public display of Jews’ integration into American society, it has indeed played a similar role for other minority populations,” said Josh Perelman, co-curator of the exhibition and the chief curator at NMAJH.

The show emphasizes memorabilia and data, but also stories even seasoned baseball fans might not have been aware of — whether highlighting Jewish stars like Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg, or more minor figures, like catcher Moe Berg and Thelma “Tiby” Eisen, the latter a Los Angeles native who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home and was an outfielder in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL).

“Chasing Dreams” is organized around four distinct sections and includes some interactive experiences, including a virtual-reality game that enables the visitor to experience playing in the field, and a cage (replete with a chain-link fence) where visitors can throw off a mound. (Just like Sandy Koufax!)

The exhibition opens with an introduction to the sport’s early history and key founders — ones whose names you might not know, like Lipman Emanuel “Lip” Pike, a 19th-century baseball star, who was not only the game’s first Jewish player, but also is believed to have been the first-ever professional baseball player. There’s also Albert Von Tilzer, son of Polish Jewish immigrants, who wrote in 1908 the iconic song “Take Me Out to the Ball-Game” with singer-songwriter Jack Norworth. On display is a reproduction of the original lyric sheet, along with the sheet music to “Jake, Jake, the Yiddisha Ball Player,” a baseball polka written by composer Irving Berlin and lyricist Blanche Merrill. There’s also space dedicated to Barney Dreyfuss, known among hard-core baseball aficionados as the Jewish German immigrant who bought the Pittsburgh Pirates and co-invented the first World Series championship — today one of the biggest annual athletic spectacles in the world. Visitors also can read an excellent reproduction of the 1903 World Series agreement, drafted and signed by Dreyfuss and Boston Americans owner Henry Killilea.

Sheet music for “Take Me Out to the Ball-Game” by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer, 1908. Courtesy of Andy Strasberg

Amid the baseball trivia is a pendant awarded to Deacon White of the Detroit Wolverines as part of the sport’s precursor to the World Series, which was named for a Jew — actress Helen Dauvray, who married John Montgomery Ward, shortstop for the New York Giants. From 1887 to about 1893, Dauvray personally awarded the Dauvray Cup and accompanying pendants to the winning team of the championship game between the National League and the American Association. The owner of the New York Giants, as it happens, was Andrew Freedman, son of Jewish German immigrants, and a successful businessman and Tammany Hall insider who bought the Giants in 1895, while in his mid-30s. Known as one of baseball’s most unpopular owners ever, he fought with everyone, including fans. The exhibition includes a Polo Grounds pass bearing Freedman’s signature from 1898 — the same year the short-fused owner pulled the Giants off the field after Baltimore Orioles outfielder Ducky Holmes exclaimed an anti-Semitic slur.

The show’s “Shaping Identity” section profiles players who found a home in baseball, and through it helped shape what being American meant for them. Hank Greenberg, who, with Koufax, is considered one of the greatest players in American professional sports history, is a linchpin of the exhibition. 

Jackie Robinson signs autographs on the first day of spring training with the Brooklyn Dodgers on March 6, 1948. Donated by Corbis.

According to Birdie Tebbetts, Greenberg’s teammate on the Tigers, Greenberg — also known as “The Hebrew Hammer” — “was abused more than anyone except Jackie Robinson.” It didn’t help that Greenberg played in Detroit in the 1930s and ’40s, during the time of notoriously anti-Semitic inventor and manufacturer Henry Ford and Father Charles Coughlin, both of whom worked to poison many Americans’ attitudes toward Jews. 

Greenberg’s own Detroit Tigers uniform is on display in the show, along with a crown awarded him by the Maryland Professional Baseball Players Association as part of its “Sultan of Swat” award.

Hank Greenberg’s Sultan of Swat crown, bestowed in recognition of his 1938 season by the Maryland Professional Baseball Players Association. Photo courtesy of Steve Greenberg

Perhaps most touching — even more than his decision to not play in a crucial game on Yom Kippur in 1934 — is Greenberg’s original military identification card from 1944. Greenberg was the first player to register for the draft, in October 1940, and served 47 months — longer in World War II than any other player, during which time he did not play even one inning of his beloved baseball. He eventually became a member of the Army Air Forces in the Pacific theater, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. 

Hank Greenberg’s military identification card from 1944. Courtesy of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, N.Y.

“My country comes first,” Greenberg famously said.

Berg and Eisen are two of the lesser-known Jewish ballplayers highlighted in the exhibition. Berg wasn’t a particularly good baseball player by MLB standards, but the Princeton and Columbia graduate made his mark as perhaps one of the most intelligent people the game has ever seen, as well as being a spy for the predecessor to the CIA — the Office of Strategic Services — during World War II.

For her part, Tiby Eisen was born in Los Angeles in 1922 to Dorothy (Shechter) Eisen and her Austrian immigrant husband, David Eisen. In 1940, Tiby wanted to play football but was denied by a city council’s ruling that women couldn’t play tackle football in Los Angeles. Eventually, she pivoted to a sport where female involvement was more accepted — baseball, joining the all-female league in 1944 and becoming one of its most successful players in the league’s short, 11-year history.

Thelma “Tiby” Eisen, seen here in 1945, played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Courtesy of American Jewish Historical Society

“Chasing Dreams,” though, like baseball itself, is not about only one ethnic group. As much as the show celebrates the role of Jews in baseball, as well as the role of baseball in bringing Jews into the American mainstream, “Chasing Dreams” demonstrates how the sport also served as a bridge between Jews and non-Jews, and likewise, for other minority groups striving to enter the American mainstream through the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. 

Notably, there’s the iconic portrait of Greenberg and Joe DiMaggio, the Italian-American New York Yankee, and there’s the extensive space given to the “Overcoming Adversity” section, showing the journey of Black Americans like Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron, and Mexican Fernando Valenzuela, Cuban Raul Lago and Puerto Rican Roberto Clemente, as well as Japanese-born Ichiro Suzuki. 

One particularly jarring set of letters can be found in an exchange between the Washington baseball club and its minor league team, the Chattanooga Lookouts, in December 1953, six years after Robinson integrated the sport. The Washington team was one of only a handful that had not yet signed a Black player.

Ossie Bluege, director of Washington’s “farm league” operations, wrote to Lookouts owner Joe Engel that Lago had applied to attend a Nationals baseball camp in Florida, cautioning that “whether he is colored or not” would be determinative in whether he could attend.

“If he’s white all go and well, if not, he stays home. …” Bluege typed, adding in his own hand below that, “If any colored blood want to know now.” Engle then wrote to the American Club in Havana, “If Raul Lago has any colored blood at all, I do not want him to come to Winter Garden.” They got the response they needed to give Lago the green light:

“NO COLORED BLOOD AT ALL, POSITIVELY WHITE, AS SNOW BALL.”

From the perspective of today’s world of multiracial and multiethnic teams, that things like this happened in baseball seems bizarre, but even this ugly interaction is part of what makes baseball, as Perelman said, “a mirror for our society, revealing all of our strengths and all of our things that we have to celebrate as a nation, but also the challenges we face and the ground we still have to cover.”

Throughout its history, baseball has, Perelman believes, charted a sort of “chronology of ethnic identity and minority acceptance” in America — the game reveals the nation’s shortcomings, even while it serves as a proxy for America’s remarkable success in overcoming those deficiencies.

Today, the advancement of Jews or Italians or Blacks in American sports is no longer at issue. But baseball can still be seen as serving an acculturating role for Latino immigrants and their descendants.

“The meaning of diversity in baseball is very much today centered around the Caribbean and South America,” Perelman said. “It is part of the ongoing story of the sport that how diversity is defined in baseball changes over time and illustrates the nature of immigration and ethnicity at a particular moment in American history.”

Gabriel “Tito” Avila Jr., founder of San Francisco’s Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum, describes baseball as a “catalyst” for Latino assimilation into American culture, and said the sport has helped acculturate and assimilate Latino Americans since Colombian-born Lou Castro became the first Latino professional baseball player with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1902.

The main issue with Latino involvement in professional baseball wasn’t their ethnicity or national origin — it was their skin color, and, in fact, Latinos and Blacks shared a particular bond, because many of the Black Latinos (Afro-Cubans, for example) played with African-Americans in the Negro Leagues. It wasn’t until Minnie Miñoso, a Black Cuban, debuted in 1949 with the Cleveland Indians that a Black Latino broke the crumbling color barrier that Robinson cracked two years earlier.

Avila, 65, is a son of Puerto Rican immigrants and grew up in New York City playing stickball, handball and baseball in the streets with the other Latino kids in his neighborhood. He went on to play semi-professional baseball and opened the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum in 1998.

“It’s a different game altogether [today],” Avila said, pointing out that Latinos, for many years now, have moved well beyond the sport’s periphery, with players like Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez and Alex Rodriguez cementing Latinos’ place in the game much as Greenberg and Koufax and Robinson did decades ago. “We’ve got superstars. We’ve got players that have put us deep in the game of baseball in every position.”

Adrian Burgos, a history professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who specializes in Latino sports history, added that what distinguishes Latino baseball players from those in other immigrant groups is that Caribbean Latinos have a rich baseball history dating back about as far as that of Americans.

“Latinos have been playing this very effusive, ebullient, emotional, enthusiastic version of baseball going back to the 19th century,” Burgos said. Baseball for Latino Americans, according to Burgos, gives them a “common language” with their American neighbors. 

“They are already fanatics of the game,” Burgos said. “So what really helped them when they migrated to places like New York or Chicago or other urban areas throughout the U.S., the familiarity with baseball gave them an in to having conversations with their neighbors: ‘Did you see Gomez pitching against Greenberg? Did you see Clemente?’ 

“I think that baseball, more than any other sport, has served as a mirror of American society,” the show’s co-curator Perelman said. “Not to say that other sports don’t have their own stories, but in my opinion, baseball has been the most powerful and the most significant.”

Baseball’s back: Here’s a look at 8 Jewish major leaguers and a manager


Will Joc Pederson rebound from his second-half struggles of last season? Can Kevin Pillar build on his strong 2015 campaign? Will injuries derail one-time MVP Ryan Braun?

These are some of the questions to be answered as these Jewish players and others get set for the Major League Baseball season that opens Sunday.

Pederson (Los Angeles Dodgers), Pillar (Toronto Blue Jays) and Braun (Milwaukee Brewers) – all outfielders – are among the position players who will start for their teams. They will be joined by second baseman Ian Kinsler of the Detroit Tigers, who also have a Jewish manager, Brad Ausmus. And Danny Valencia, a solid hitter, appears to be the starter at third base for the rebuilding Oakland Athletics.

Among pitchers, right-hander Scott Feldman will be part of the Houston Astros’ starting rotation. And the Miami Marlins bullpen will include Craig Breslow, who has mostly made his living for 10 years as a lefty specialist, the last three with Boston. With the Red Sox he earned a World Series championship ring in 2013, then last year achieved a first: He started a game after making 522 appearances in relief.

In Oakland, outfielder Sam Fuld joins Valencia to make the Athletics the only team with multiple Jewish players. Fuld is injured and will start the season on the disabled list.

Boston had been “the” Jewish address of late: The Red Sox had Breslow, catcher Ryan Lavarnway and outfielder Ryan Kalish in 2012, and infielder Kevin Youkilis and outfielder Adam Stern played together in 2005 and 2006. Only Breslow of that Boston bunch remains in the majors.

“It’s the first time in years the Red Sox don’t have a Jewish ballplayer,” said Ephraim Moxson, co-publisher of the Jewish Sports Review newsletter.

Several others who have played in the majors weren’t fortunate enough to make Opening Day rosters. They include infielders Nate Freiman, Ike Davis, Josh Satin and Cody Decker, as well as relief pitcher Josh Zeid.

Up-and-comers include shortstop Alex Bregman, the second overall pick in last June’s collegiate draft by the Astros, and Zach Borenstein, an outfielder in the Arizona Diamondbacks system. Bregman hit .294 for two of the Astros A teams last season, while Borenstein hit .281 in spring training before being demoted to the minors.

Pederson shouldn’t have worries about being sent down, but will look to avoid the second-half doldrums he suffered last season. The center fielder had started for the National League in last summer’s All-Star game as a rookie one night after finishing second in the home-run-hitting contest. But his horrid second half, which included his benching as the starter, saw his batting average fall to .210 and he finished with a team record-tying 170 strikeouts. Still, he slugged 26 homers and played stellar defense.

Pillar could be the real deal. He was outstanding in the field, finishing second among all center fielders in defensive ratings. While lacking Pederson’s power, Pillar showed far better skills as an all-around hitter – so much so that he’s been elevated to leadoff in the batting order of one of the majors’ best offensive clubs. In 2015, his first full season in the majors, Pillar hit .278, socked 31 doubles and stole 25 bases.

“Pillar is probably the best of them all now” among Jewish major leaguers, Moxson said. “He’s got a good glove, a good bat and speed.”

All-Star Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers is coming back from postseason lower-back surgery that affected him even through spring training. (Scott Paulus/Milwaukee Brewers)All-Star Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers is coming back from postseason lower-back surgery that affected him even through spring training. Photo by Scott Paulus/Milwaukee Brewers

Braun, a left fielder starting his 10th season, possesses those tools, too, and remains the brightest light on a rebuilding Brewers team that finished last a season ago in the National League Central. But he’s coming back from postseason lower-back surgery that affected him even through spring training.

Last year Braun made the All-Star team for the sixth time and is steadily building a Hall of Fame-level career — if his suspension in 2013 for using performance-enhancing drugs can be overlooked. Keep in mind that he’s just 31.

The Tigers are also looking to return to contention and will need Kinsler to have a typically solid season, as he did in 2015 batting .296, though driving in 19 fewer runs than the previous campaign. A sharp falloff in pitching doomed the Tigers, who finished with the American League’s second-worst record and last in the Central Division. The poor showing nearly cost Ausmus his job one year after winning the division in his managerial debut.

In Houston, Feldman provides veteran leadership to a young staff headlined by Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel. Feldman missed half of 2015 with knee and shoulder injuries, making just 18 starts as the Astros emerged as a wild-card team. Feldman could find himself pitching with much more at stake in October, as the Astros are favored by some to contend for the World Series this year. Pillar’s Blue Jays will provide stiff competition, as Toronto is the consensus pick to reclaim the A.L. East crown.

 

Israel baseball creating diamonds in the desert


America’s pastime, meet the Holy Land.

While soccer and basketball have long ruled the Israeli sports scene, a new program by Masa Israel aims to make inroads in the Jewish state on behalf of baseball, and one of the faces of the effort is none other than former Los Angeles Dodger (and member of the tribe) Shawn Green.

“I think it’s a great idea, and I think it’s going to be very positive for Major League Baseball, who’s trying to expand the world footprint of the game, as well as for Israel, which has a strong contingent of fans that are in need of something like this,” Green told the Journal in a recent phone interview.

Green is teaming up with Art Shamsky, a member of the 1969 World Series champion Mets, to serve as stateside ambassadors for Masa Israel’s initiative, the Israel Baseball Experience, in partnership with the Israel Association of Baseball. 

Masa Israel, an initiative of The Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli government, connects young Jewish adults (ages 18 to 30) with a wide range of opportunities, including study abroad, internships, service learning and educational content. The new baseball program will be fully launched in January. 

Alex Elman, Masa’s director of marketing and communications, said the five-month internship will bring 10 to 20 ballplayers, perhaps former college or minor leaguers, to live in Israel, play and coach in the country’s premier league, and run clinics with local youth to help build the game on a grass-roots level. 

The cost is $9,400, which includes housing in Tel Aviv, all baseball coaching, uniforms, cultural and language programs, and more. To apply, go to athletics.masaisrael.org. Scholarships and grants are available. (Applicants do not need to be Jewish, but it is required for grants.)

Elman said the initiative is a recognition that athletics can be one more way to provide young people with an immersive experience in Israel. 

“All our Masa Israel programs are focused on long-term engagement,” he said. “We’ve realized that there are so many interests there among young Jewish adults. How can we get them over there? … Sports is obviously something — if you love to do it, why not do it in Israel?”

Currently, baseball is an afterthought to many Israelis, and one might expect those trying to pioneer the legitimacy of baseball in the Jewish state to be facing an uphill battle. Josh Scharff, a St. Louis native and former Yale University first baseman, is the program’s first participant. He arrived 2 1/2 months ago as a sort of guinea pig and so far he doesn’t disagree with that assessment. 

“Baseball is a part of being American,” Scharff said. “When you come to a place that doesn’t have that, especially when you have 45 minutes with a kid in a school, you have to come in there and be the coolest person in his entire life. It’s a great challenge. You have to have a great session and be really impactful.”

According to Nate Fish, leader of day-to-day operations for the Israel Association of Baseball (the body that runs Israel’s youth leagues as well as its professional one), the state of Israeli baseball looks something like this: There are approximately 800 registered baseball players of varying competitive levels in the country, and only one high-quality baseball field. It’s in the city of Petah Tikva, is owned by a Baptist church, and has to be rented out for use. A lone baseball academy exists in Israel, which is recognized by the Major League Baseball (MLB) academy system. Fish started the academy two years ago; now he and Scharff run it together. 

“We have 17 kids in the academy this year. We send them to MLB elite camps in Europe to help them get scouted for college and pro ball,” Fish said. 

Fish grew up in Cleveland and played college ball at the University of Cincinnati with future Jewish major leaguer Kevin Youkilis. Fish’s major league ties don’t end there. He coached and played for Israel’s national team in several 2013 World Baseball Classic qualifiers, alongside Green and Hollywood native Gabe Kapler, who played for numerous major league teams and is now the Dodgers’ director of player development. 

Fish’s own professional career has included time spent playing in top European leagues. Now he has his sights set squarely on building Israel’s four-team premier league (currently with teams in Jerusalem, Modi’in, Tel Aviv and the academy’s team based in Petah Tikva) into something comparable to European ones. Fish sees Masa’s role in bringing over seasoned American players as crucial.

“This is a model used in Europe. They bring in two or three Americans, add them to rosters and bump up the level of play. We can definitely improve and move up to the quality of play in midrange European countries’ leagues,” Fish said. 

Once the league’s American imports arrive in early 2016, Fish said, he plans to expand the league, adding two more teams. Fish and Scharff — the Israel Association of Baseball’s only full-time employees — are hard at work to keep things moving forward until the cavalry arrives. 

At least, that’s the idea. There is a dedicated base of volunteers helping, but manpower is still stretched thin. Resources might be in relatively small supply but optimism certainly isn’t. 

“You can find us at headquarters — my apartment in Tel Aviv,” Fish joked about their day-to-day. “If we’re in my car, we’re fully mobile.” 

“Just call us the Israel Baseball Road Show,” Scharff added. 

Along with Jewish vendors, another Cubs legacy at risk–losing


I wrote a story last year about the Orthodox Jewish vendors that used to work Cubs games at Wrigley Field.

The story, “At Wrigley Field, Orthodox vendors going the way of Cubs wins,”prompted an outpouring of reminiscing in Jewish Chicago about the good old days, including a letter from a reader about the first Orthodox Jewish vendor ever to work the ballpark.

Here was my original lede:“Longtime fans of the Chicago Cubs know there are a few mainstays they can expect when they visit Wrigley Field: ivy on the outfield walls, a strict no-wave policy rigorously enforced by fans and, most days, disappointing play by the hometown team.

“But there’s one little-known quirk at Wrigley that appears to be fading away as the ballpark, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last week, enters its second century: the numerous Orthodox Jewish vendors who sell food and drinks in the stands.

“A few subtle signs could give them away: a stray tzitzit strand flapping out of a jersey, a name tag reading Simcha, the mincha prayer minyan that used to take place in the outfield stands before or after games.”

With the Cubs now in the MLB National League Championship Series for the first time since 2003, one proud Chicagoan told me on Saturday that I should change the story to eliminate the references to Cubs’ losses.

Well, let’s see. That was before the Cubs dropped the first two games to the New York Mets. With the playoffs now shifting to Chicago, can the Cubbies rewrite history?

Praying for a World Series berth, Cubs fans turn to Orthodox rabbi


Is God a Cubs fan?

For long-suffering mortal supporters of the Chicago franchise, which has not won a World Series since 1908 (and has not even played in one since 1945), the answer may appear to be no.

But Chabad Rabbi David Kotlarsky has faith. He’s been wrapping Cubs fans in tefillin in a booth outside Wrigley Field all season — and the club is now just four wins away from a World Series berth.

Asked the God question by a local journalist, Kotlarsky said: “God is a fan of doing things that will make more people happy,” according to Chabad.org. “I think there’s a lot of good people in Chicago who should be happy; that’s what we’re thinking about right now.”

Kotlarsky, co-director of Chabad of East Lakeview on Chicago’s North Side, has been offering fans spiritual support and help wrapping teffilin ever since the Cubs’ first home game in April. His local status has grown of late, helped by a tweet sent last week by Yahoo sports writer Jeff Passan to his 131,000 followers.

Outside of Wrigley Field, a Hasidic Jew tried to wrap me in tefillin. “It's for the Cubs!” he said. “They need every blessing they can get.”

More importantly, the Cubs are in the MLB National League Championship Series, one step away from the World Series, for the first time since 2003. On Tuesday night, they will return home to Wrigley after losing the first two games of the best-of-seven series to the New York Mets.

“We’re seeing a lot more people coming by now during the playoffs,” Kotlarsky told Chabad.org. “People are telling us we’re part of their pre-game ritual.”

After decades of disappointment, the Cubs fanbase is famously superstitious. The legendary “Curse of the Billy Goat” dates back to 1945. After Billy Sianis, owner of Chicago’s Billy Goat Tavern, was kicked out of a Cubs World Series game against the Detroit Tigers because his pet goat was annoying fans in the stadium, he allegedly cursed the team by saying, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”

The team has not made it back to the World Series since.

Thanks to an influx of young talent assembled by their new Jewish general manager, Theo Epstein, who helped the Boston Red Sox end a similarly long championship drought in 2004, many Cubs fans think this season might finally break the curse.

“Thousands of fans go by, and there’s a feeling of excitement about it,” Cubs fan Jay Sandler told Chabad.org about the tefillin booth. “Since Cubs fans are so ritualistic, I think if they [wrapped tefillin] before and the Cubs won, they’ll certainly do it again.”

NY Mets in the playoffs: Should they be thanking Bernie Madoff?


Having endured a nine-year playoff drought, New York Mets fans are used to blaming Bernie Madoff for the team’s woes.

Madoff’s massive Ponzi scheme, uncovered in 2008, cost the Mets’ owners, Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, nearly $700 million and forced the team to restructure its payroll and finances. The option of signing premier talent to big-time contracts became suddenly out of the question, leaving loyal fans frustrated.

The Mets’ playoff berth this season, thanks to a promising cadre of young talent, seems to have put the Madoff debacle in the rearview mirror. As the team gets ready to face off against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the MLB National League Division Series (which begins tonight), all eyes are now on the young Mets pitching staff, which some say is historically good.So should Mets fans actually be thankful for the Madoff scheme’s effect on the team?

As Tom Van Riper points out in Forbes, the Madoff scandal forced Mets management to change its strategy in ways that have benefited the team in the long run.

Van Riper’s analysis goes all the way back to the early 1980s, when the Mets were dreadful. Wilpon hired a new general manager, Frank Cashen, who committed to spending multiple years developing a group of talented young players in the team’s own system. The result was a team anchored by legends such as Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden and Ron Darling – and a so-called “golden era” of Mets baseball in the second half of the ’80s.

When the success inevitably  faded, the Mets abandoned the rebuilding strategy and opted instead to sign batches of expensive star players. Needless to say, that tactic ultimately proved unsuccessful: Since their last World Series victory in 1986, the Mets have only made the playoffs four times. Mike Piazza, Robin Ventura and Al Leiter got the team to a World Series appearance in 2000, and Carlos Beltran, Pedro Martinez and Carlos Delgado helped power the team to the National League Championship Series in 2006. A World Series championship has proved as elusive as ever.

Van Riper argues convincingly that the Madoff crisis prompted the team’s management to rethink its strategy and start from the bottom up without big-name players, as it did in the early ’80s.

“The financial strait jacket placed on the club by the Madoff mess forced it do something it had resisted for years – conceding the short-term in exchange for building something with legs,” Van Riper writes. “That is, a team with a large window for championship contention that can win games, draw crowds and push ratings on SNY [the Mets TV channel that broadcasts games] for a number of years. Now, after several seasons of losing, that team is here.”

At least Madoff may have given New Yorkers one thing to cheer about.

Why Sandy Koufax sitting out a World Series game still matters 50 years later


Jesse Agler was pretty talented as a catcher and pitcher in Little League, yet his parents benched him regularly.

That’s because the Aglers had a no-baseball-on-Shabbat rule, one cloaked in sports royalty.

“It was a source of frustration as a kid, but I appreciated later what they tried to do,” said Agler, a 33-year-old radio broadcaster for the San Diego Padres who grew up in South Florida. “It goes back to Koufax making the point about that day, that it’s not for baseball.”

Agler was referring to the decision by Sandy Koufax, the star pitcher of the Los Angeles Dodgers, to sit out Game 1 of the 1965 World Series against the Minnesota Twins because it fell on Yom Kippur. Koufax instead started Game 2 the next afternoon. The Dodgers lost both days, but won the championship in seven games.

The mighty left-hander had dominated that regular season, leading the majors with 26 wins, a 2.04 earned run average, 27 complete games and 336 innings pitched – not to mention he also pitched a perfect game, set a 20th-century record with 382 strikeouts and earned the National League’s Cy Young Award.

Koufax was the supreme pitcher of his generation and the greatest Jewish hurler ever, and his taking a stand occurred at baseball’s centerpiece event. It’s become the stuff of legend in American Jewry as an example of ethnic pride.

“There was no hard decision for me,” Koufax said later in an ESPN documentary released in 2000. “It was just a thing of respect. I wasn’t trying to make a statement, and I had no idea that it would impact that many people.”

Intended or not, Koufax’s call continues to resonate 50 years later. While the decision was a personal one for Koufax, now 79, it represented a visible, even monumental, progression for Jews of his generation in claiming their place in this country. If a great athlete could proudly stand up as a Jew, the feeling went, we can, too.

Koufax followed in the deep footprints of the previous generation’s American Jewish baseball icon, Hank Greenberg, who sat out an important game played by his Detroit Tigers during the 1934 pennant race that fell on Yom Kippur.

“I think it was a matter of conscience with both of them,” said Larry Ruttman, author of the 2013 book “American Jews and America’s Game.” “Koufax was a huge star when he did it, and Greenberg in ’34 wasn’t – but he was coming to be one.”

Greenberg’s legend has faded a bit because nearly a century has passed, Ruttman said. Koufax, by contrast, “remains so potent now because his playing days are still within living memory” for many fans.

Koufax’s decision remains so profound, in fact, that a half-century later it still carries lessons for those raised neither with the sport nor in the United States.

London native Alexandra Benjamin teaches a course on Jewish history during the semester-long Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim international high school program. In discussions about the sometimes disparate pulls of secular and Jewish culture, she returns time and again to the Koufax decision.

“The reason the Sandy Koufax example works so well is that baseball is very much a part of American culture and he is Jewish,” Benjamin said. “At some point he had to make a choice.

“So some guy stayed home from work and it was Yom Kippur – he’s not the only one, but he’s a public figure,” she added. “Still today, that example is relevant, it works and it has impact.”

In the summer of 1999, Benjamin chaperoned a British Jewish youth group visiting the United States, where they enjoyed a quintessential American experience: a baseball game at New York’s Yankee Stadium. Lunch involved buying food at the ballpark’s kosher hot dog stand.

“It was mind blowing,” said Benjamin, because such availability is inconceivable at a British sports venue. She said the kosher hot dogs, like Koufax, demonstrated that enculturation and Jewish pride are highly compatible.

At a recent Padres-Nationals game at Nationals Park here, Carly Meisel, a former student of Benjamin, had Jewish values and baseball on her mind. The previous week, she and some friends had attended a game at Boston’s Fenway Park – on Jewish Heritage Night.

Meisel, 18, was attending the Nationals’ game with approximately 50 other incoming freshmen at George Washington University. Among those waiting at the stadium’s kosher kiosk was Yoni Kaiser-Blueth, the kippah-clad executive director of the university’s Hillel.

Kaiser-Blueth, 40, was born in Brazil, but quickly adopted baseball as a child in America. He grew up in Los Angeles, where, unsurprisingly, Koufax’s legend was strong.

“The takeaway is that you’ve got values, and choices to make in life. It resonates especially today because of the lack of relevancy of Judaism in some people’s lives,” Kaiser-Blueth said as he pumped mustard across his kosher sausage.

“If you see an athlete — for better or worse a role model, make that choice — it can reverberate in their [the fans’] lives. Think of what Madonna did for kabbalah – she created a whole industry.”

Apropos of Koufax, Kaiser-Blueth noted that every year at this time, his students raise concerns over school conflicting with the approaching Jewish holidays. The issue is acute this year, with all seven days falling during the week.

Meisel expressed confidence in professors’ willingness to help her make up missed classes and coursework. She related that surety directly to Koufax’s example. (Koufax, through his agent, declined JTA’s interview request.)

“We’ll make it doable,” she said. “If he can miss a game, and everyone’s watching – it takes strength to do that. It’s a good example of what we can do in day-to-day life.”

Koufax’s former catcher, Norm Sherry, made a different choice; he played on the High Holidays. As a teen, he had attended school and played basketball on those days, even though the overwhelmingly Jewish student body in Los Angeles’ Fairfax High School stayed home.

Koufax “made the right decision,” said Sherry, who roomed with Koufax for road games in 1962, but in 1965 was a minor-league manager for a Dodgers’ farm team. “So many people followed him, who were in awe of him, and he was doing it for all [of them].”

As it happens, Koufax sitting out Game 1 in the 1965 World Series also yielded one of baseball’s most famous quips.

Don Drysdale, who would later join Koufax in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, replaced him on the mound that day. The Twins pounded Drysdale for six runs in the third inning on the way to an 8-2 victory.

When Dodgers’ manager Walter Alston took the ball from Drysdale, the big righty reportedly said, “I bet you wish I was Jewish, too.”

Curt Shilling compares Muslims to Nazis and gets suspended from ESPN


As one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball for nearly 20 years, Curt Schilling didn’t make many errors. On Tuesday, however, he admitted that he made a costly one.

The three-time World Series champion on Tuesday morning tweeted an image of Hitler against a dark blood-red background that compared modern Muslims to the German population under Hitler. Schilling deleted the tweet shortly after posting it.

“It’s said that only 5-10% of Muslims are extremists,” the graphic read. “In 1940, only 7% of Germans were Nazis. How’d that go?”

Schilling added in his own accompanying text: “The math is staggering when you get to true #’s.”

Schilling, who has been a live game analyst for ESPN since 2010, was immediately suspended from his current assignment broadcasting games at the Little League World Series.

“Curt’s tweet was completely unacceptable, and in no way represents our company’s perspective,” ESPN said in a written statement. “We made that point very strongly to Curt and have removed him from his current Little League assignment pending further consideration.”

The former All-Star has not issued an official apology but responded apologetically to several tweets and tweeted: “I understand and accept my suspension. 100% my fault. Bad choices have bad consequences and this was a bad decision in every way on my part.”

Schilling, a self-described conservative and born-again Christian, claimed back in January that he did not get voted into the Hall of Fame in his third year of eligibility because he’s a Republican.

“I know that as a Republican that there’s some people that really don’t like that,” he told Boston radio WEEI. “When human beings do something, anything, there’s bias and prejudice.”

Schilling has also engaged in controversial Twitter dialogue before, most notably questioning the theory of evolution in November of last year.

Schilling played 19 seasons for five different teams and won World Series championships with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 and the Boston Red Sox in 2004 and 2007. He was a six-time All-Star and has the best postseason record of all-time for a pitcher with at least 10 playoff decisions.

How a bunch of Hollywood Jews saved youth baseball in South Los Angeles


“Oh! Oh! That’s my baby! Right there! He’s catching it!” Bridgette Harper called out as her son, Dillen, 11, stood at shortstop, glove in the air, his eyes on the baseball plummeting toward him. Notwithstanding his mom’s confidence, it was evident Dillen had misjudged the pop fly as he stumbled backward, trying to adjust at the last second. The ball missed his glove, fell behind him and rolled into shallow center field.

But suddenly, in a typical — and typically entertaining — youth baseball misjudgment, the runner didn’t stop at first base. He tried to extend his fortune, heading to second. Dillen quickly recovered from the misplay, scooped up the ball and threw it to the second baseman, who caught the toss, turned, and applied the tag just in time. Out!

“He got him!” Harper yelled. “All right, Dillen!”

Dillen and his team, the Mariners, were playing on a beautiful, sunny, 75-degree afternoon in mid-June on the immaculately groomed fields at Jesse Owens Park. It was a perfect day for youth baseball in South Los Angeles. 

Four teams in the Hollywood Indies Little League (HILL), which comprises kids ranging in age from 5 to 16, were playing on two of the park’s fields in games slated for a 5 p.m. first pitch. Four more teams were slated to play in the early evening, and HILL would return to Jesse Owens Park on Saturday, as they do every week from March through July.

In some ways, the baseball environment HILL has created at Jesse Owens Park can be found at thousands of American parks, and at baseball fields throughout Los Angeles.

But in South L.A., the summer baseball scene at Jesse Owens Park is an exception — a strong athletic and community institution set in a low-income, often gang-infested neighborhood. It’s a part of Los Angeles that was once a breeding ground for baseball stardom, but because of a confluence of economic and cultural factors in the 1980s and early ’90s, South L.A. lost its baseball culture. Then, 21 years ago, thanks to a group of Hollywood benefactors, as well as a group of committed coaches and community leaders in South L.A., organized baseball has made a comeback for this neighborhood's kids. And along with it, they're learning far more than just the game.

South Central — home to MLB greats

For a baseball fan, a drive through South Los Angeles can take you through a chapter in baseball history. In the 1960s and ’70s, parks in the section of Los Angeles south of the I-10, formerly known as South Central, were filled with the cracks and thuds of baseballs making contact with bats and leather mitts on fields where future greats such as Eddie Murray, Ozzie Smith, Darryl Strawberry and Eric Davis got their start. 

In South Central, as in other low- and middle-class, predominantly Black neighborhoods throughout the United States, baseball was once a staple, a go-to team activity for kids and teens.

But that was decades ago.

Murray, Smith, Strawberry and Davis, whose Major League Baseball (MLB) careers spanned from 1977 to 2001, all grew up in L.A. at a time when baseball was as much a part of inner-city youth life as it still is today in middle- and upper-class neighborhoods in places like Santa Monica, Brentwood and Bel Air. Those players were all in the majors in 1986, when African-Americans accounted for 19 percent of all MLB players.

Today, though, only 7.8 percent of MLB players are African-American, a consequence of many factors nationwide — including an increased emphasis on college scholarships for football and basketball, local governments cutting budgets for public parks and sports programs, the rising cost of equipment and league registration fees, and an unemployment rate for African-Americans above 10 percent nationally. The 7.8 percent figure doesn't include, for example, players from the Dominican Republic.

In the early 1990s, Los Angeles County’s Department of Parks and Recreation was forced to make cuts after the Board of Supervisors approved an $8.2 million budget for the agency — $2.7 million less than what it had requested. The shortfall didn’t close parks in South L.A., but Parks and Rec cut staffing and began charging families more to sign up their kids for county-run sports leagues, which in turn made it more difficult, if not financially impossible, for kids in low-income families to join a baseball team. Organized youth baseball in South L.A., for all intents and purposes, disappeared.


“The main thing is to keep my kids, keep anybody, just in the rank with everything — keep them off the streets.” — Eric Garmendez, a father of four

In 1993, when Stan Brooks, a successful independent filmmaker, read a Los Angeles Times article that described how impending cuts would affect the county’s South L.A. baseball programs, particularly at Helen Keller Park, but not at parks in L.A.’s wealthier neighborhoods, he was beside himself.

An L.A. native and die-hard Los Angeles Dodgers fan, Brooks phoned Parks and Rec, looking for an explanation. 

As he recalled during a recent interview in his small office in Santa Monica, the official on the other end of the line told him the staffing cuts and hike in user fees were simply a result of funding shortfalls. “That’s insane,” Brooks remembers telling the official. “What would it take to bring it back?” 

The answer was “money” — from someplace other than the government.

“So you’re only cutting it in South Central, where you have kids who are at risk, and this is the sport that plays during the summer when the kids don’t have a place to go,” Brooks said, asking rhetorically whether baseball was also disappearing in West L.A. (It wasn’t.) 

“How does somebody not fight this?” Brooks said. “Well, the [South Central] parents don’t have the clout and they don’t have the money.”

Brooks, who at the time was often absent from L.A. because many of his productions were filmed in Canada, felt the least he could do to reinvest in the community was to put some Hollywood money into Hollywood’s backyard. So he wrote letters to a handful of other producers and managers — people he’d pitched to or whom he had worked with on projects over the years. He asked each one to chip in a few hundred dollars to support an inner-city youth baseball league that would be free for all participants, with the hope that some children who may otherwise spend their summers on the streets could instead learn how to pitch and catch.

Brooks received eight checks back in the mail totaling nearly $6,400. With that seed money, he created the Hollywood Indies Little League in 1995. Now in its 21st season, HILL has raised and paid out nearly $500,000, funding nearly 5,000 young players, most of whom would likely have never played organized baseball if not for HILL’s free-for-the-user policy. 

Bats, balls, uniforms and other expenses are paid for by HILL’s sponsors and, more recently, by the Los Angeles Dodgers, which recently became a partner and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to renovate the baseball fields at Jesse Owens Park. Donors have the opportunity to sponsor an entire team for $975, and Brooks himself, aside from creating and organizing the league, has put thousands of dollars of his own money into HILL (including extending loans when there’s a budget deficit), and has given thousands of hours of his own time. 

More important than baseball, though, HILL offers respite in a neighborhood where youths with too much free time can be easy targets for gang recruitment. The fields at Jesse Owens Park, on the corner of Western Avenue and Century Boulevard, a few miles east of Los Angeles International Airport, are filled throughout the spring and summer with HILL’s young boys and girls, who are kept busy by the league’s two game days and two practice days every week, and who are given the opportunity to be part of something bigger — to be part of a team.

And although it’s certainly a secondary, or tertiary goal of HILL, maybe one day the league will even produce another Ozzie Smith.

Baseball vs. the streets of South L.A.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon at Jesse Owens Park, Brooks stood next to a chain-link fence adjacent to a dugout as he watched a game between 8-, 9- and 10-year-old boys and girls on the Rockies and Orioles teams. 

Despite his busy work schedule, every month or two, whenever he’s in town, Brooks makes it down to a HILL game.

This particular game was vintage youth baseball — some kids would stop on first base when they should have either made a turn toward second or overrun the base. Some would huff and puff after a strikeout or an errant throw; routine grounders would turn from outs into singles into doubles after successive bad throws; fielders would forget to tag the runner on a steal and instead just stand on the base, not yet understanding the difference between a force-out and a tag-out; and, of course, accurate pitches would be few and far between. It’s all par for the course for baseball novices, and also a heartwarming source of entertainment for parents in the bleachers.

“All we could do is put the pieces together and hope that baseball could be played here,” Brooks said, looking on as the Rockies led, 2-1, in the bottom of the second inning. “Everything after that was the community, and they really embraced it.”

As Brooks and league commissioner Michael Flowers — a volunteer who runs HILL’s day-to-day operations — discussed potential new sponsors, players in the dugout ribbed the pitcher (“Rally, rally, the pitcher’s name is Sally!”), and the coaches on the field (all of them volunteers) made sure their players stayed in line. 

“It’s only a game, OK? None of that,” one coach called out after one of his players had an angry outburst after a base-running mistake.

Standing next to the bleachers, Eric Garmendez, a father of four, watched as his 8-year-old daughter, Amanda, stepped into the batter’s box. 

“The main thing is to keep my kids, keep anybody, just in the rank with everything — keep them off the streets,” Garmendez said.

Garmendez is in his first year as an assistant coach on his twin boys’ HILL coach-pitch team, and is a construction worker in South L.A., where he was born and raised. Notwithstanding the brand-new Oakland Athletics tattoo he was sporting on his muscular neck, he pointed to the Dodgers tattoo on his arm when asked who he roots for.

“Growing up in South Central, you hear the hype, and a lot of it is true,” Garmendez said. “It would’ve helped out a little bit more if there was something like this as I was growing up.”

The Mariners sit in the dugout during a June 17 game. Photo by Aaron Pellish

One of HILL’s biggest goals is to get parents involved and keep them involved in the league as much as possible, something Garmendez said he himself was hesitant to do until he was asked to help coach his sons’ team.

“I’m cutting straight out of work just to make it to practice, because once you’re in, it’s a commitment,” he said. “But you know what? It’s a sacrifice — whatever it takes for my kids.”

Two weeks later, at an adjacent field, as Harper, one of several baseball moms in the stands, kept an eye on her youngest child, Brenden, who was throwing a tennis ball against a nearby wall, she explained why it’s so important to make sure her kids are always doing something, whether it’s baseball, swimming, basketball or spending time at the California Science Center.

“If they get bored, they can do mischievous things,” she said. “Just being bored — wrong place at the wrong time. Just being bored, one little bad choice can get them in trouble. My boys don’t have time for that. I keep them busy. By the time they get home, they’re tired, sleepy and hungry.”

Harper said Dillen joined the league in early June, but, unfortunately, too many kids had signed up in the youngest age group, which meant Brenden didn’t get a spot.

“It’s free, and that’s a blessing to me because I’m a single mom,” Harper said. Asked if she’d otherwise be able to afford the $100 or so per player that HILL covers, Harper said she’d find a way. But, of course, it would come at a cost.

“If I gotta collect cans, bottles, whatever I have to do for my babies, I’ll do it,” Harper said. “It would be tough, but I’m very resourceful. I would’ve figured it out.”

She would’ve done so because she knows idle time in South L.A. can be a dangerous thing.

Jesse Owens Park is in the Gramercy Park section of South L.A., which is bordered by the neighborhoods of Westmont, Manchester Square and Vermont Knolls. Those four areas, which make up only about five square miles, have seen in the last six months 706 violent crimes and 1,162 property crimes (including robbery and grand theft auto), according to LAPD crime statistics. Most households earn less than $20,000 per year, and graduating from high school, let alone college, is not a given.

Kenneth Broussard Jr. is 17. His father is a longtime HILL coach who grew up playing ball in the ’70s just three miles away at Helen Keller Park. On a recent game day, Broussard sat in HILL’s huge equipment trailer as he talked about how baseball helped keep him out of “gangbanging and stuff like that” during high school.

“I started seeing the separate ways all my friends was going,” Broussard said. “Some of them was going down the wrong path and stuff.

“Over here, it’s not the best of neighborhoods. Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you could be standing outside, and somebody can rob you; the police might harass you,” he said. “There are just a lot of things that are naturally avoided when you’re at practice or at the game.”

Broussard wore gray sweatpants and a muscle-tight camo shirt, and he was at the park to help Flowers (Mr. Flowers as the players, parents and coaches call him) with run-of-the-mill administrative and organizational tasks, for which he’s been paid about $50 per week since he was 12.

Broussard is currently studying electrical construction and maintenance at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, but he still helps Flowers with league paperwork, equipment organization, watering the fields and other routine tasks. “When I was young, my dad wanted me to start working,” Broussard said, recalling his father’s words: “If you get that $50 a week, maybe Mom can afford to get you new shoes, or maybe you want to get something for Mom and make Mom feel better.”

A few minutes before Broussard had arrived, Mariners head coach Kenneth McCoy Jr. was sitting in the same trailer, smiling and talking about the young HILL player everyone calls J.J. He’s 12 and one of HILL’s star players. He’s also on the team McCoy’s squad was about to face — one coached by McCoy’s father. 

J.J. plays shortstop and pitcher. He can already throw the ball 65 miles per hour — accurately — a promising sign of what’s to come. “He reminds me a little bit of me,” McCoy said, smiling. “But we’re not gonna get into all that.”

McCoy, 24, is studying kinesiology at Los Angeles Southwest College, which is a mile south of the park. He wants to coach baseball and football as a career.  McCoy played in HILL from the age of 4, when the league was in its second year, until he aged out at 16. Sadly, but not surprisingly, he had a quick answer to why the league is so important for the neighborhood.

“I had a friend who wanted to come out and play [in HILL] but he couldn’t get the chance, because he got killed, because he was out on the streets,” McCoy said. The friend, gunned down at 14, was in a gang, McCoy said, and was mistakenly identified as a target by an armed member of another gang. “[He was] hanging around with the wrong people at the wrong time.”

In his early years at HILL, McCoy said, he was a “hot-head” who would get angry when he lost video games and baseball games.

“Out here, coaches told me, ‘It’s nothing; it’s just a game. You’ve gotta build yourself back up so you can look forward to your next game,’ ” McCoy said. “If you stay angry, then all you’re thinking of is the negative instead of the positive. I instill that upon my kids now.

“The type of coach I am, I will teach you everything there is to know,” he said, proudly. “I will teach you how to win; I will teach you how to lose.”

During the interview, McCoy responded to questions with a level of respect that was the norm in numerous conversations with kids and parents associated with HILL, responding with a “Yes, sir” or “No, sir,” and not acting rushed, even though the interview was clearly taking time away from pre-game preparations.

A little later in the afternoon, while McCoy was on the field coaching, another HILL coach, who identified himself only as Sherman (but said people call him “Lee”), stood next to the bleachers and talked about baseball as a “thinking game,” more so than other sports. 

“What if the ball comes to me? What am I going to do? At any moment, any time, the ball may come to you,” Sherman said. “What are you going to do? What am I going to do when it’s time for me to stand out? You’ve got to have a plan.”

Standing behind Sherman was HILL alumnus Matthew Salazar, 18, who was at the park just hanging out — smiling and listening to his former coaches Sherman and Kenneth Broussard chat about their days playing at Helen Keller Park. Salazar said he wants to coach, too, and said Broussard was “the best coach I ever had.” Broussard, like Sherman, talked about youth baseball as more training for life than training for baseball later in life. 

“I never talk baseball so you can grow up and be a pro. I’m just talking baseball so we can learn to compete, because that’s what life is gonna be,” Broussard said, interrupting himself at one point to whistle at one of his players walking by. 

“Johnny! Tuck your shirt in! Tuck your shirt in! Get your head right! Remember what I told you.”

How Stan Brooks makes a pitch

Stan Brooks used to be clueless about the art of pitching. 

Not the baseball type of pitching — he’s known all about that since he began playing baseball as a child.

The movie and television type. 

Before he launched his first production company, Once Upon a Time Films, in 1989, but after he had broken into the industry thanks to a mailroom job at Filmways Pictures, Brooks was in a meeting in 1980 with the chairman of Orion Pictures, Mike Medavoy, who asked him what he was trying to pitch.

Despite having recently graduated from the American Film Institute, Brooks had never learned the art of pitching and thus could conjure up only an image of pitcher Sandy Koufax when Orion’s chairman put him on the spot.

Pitching is no longer a problem for Brooks. Now the owner of Stan & Deliver Films, Brooks has produced more than 65 movies for film and television over the course of his more than 30 years in Hollywood, winning a Primetime Emmy Award in 2007 for outstanding miniseries for “Broken Trail,” which aired on AMC and collected three more Emmy awards, 12 Emmy nominations, and three Golden Globe nominations.

In 1987 and 1988, as president of the Guber-Peters Television Co., Brooks was the guy on the receiving end of Barry Morrow’s pitch for “Rain Man,” which won Oscars for picture and screenplay in 1988. 

In Brooks’ modest three-room Santa Monica office, a big “Rain Man” movie poster sits behind his desk inscribed by Morrow with the words, “The Man Who Heard It First.”

Producer and director Stan Brooks created Hollywood Indies in 1995 after country budget cuts nearly shuttered youth baseball in South L.A. Photo courtesy of HILL

More recently, Brooks is the executive producer of “Hollywood Scandals,” which is going into its third season on Reelz, and he’s the executive producer for Lifetime’s “The Lizzie Borden Chronicles,” a miniseries with Christina Ricci that follows the title character after she’s acquitted of the 1892 murders of her father and stepmother. It’s a production that has taken Brooks to Canada for weeks at a time.

His office is packed to the brim with Dodgers merchandise and paraphernalia, dummies and bobble heads, as well as movie awards and posters, pictures of his wife, three children, and various entertainment stars with whom Brooks has worked closely. 

In another of his office’s three rooms, just to the right of the entrance, is where Brooks displays Hollywood Indies trophies and photos. His team, the Red Sox, hasn’t won a championship since the late ’90s, and they finished 6-6 last year.  His Red Sox’s championship drought is not quite as bad as the 86-year slog suffered by the MLB team, but Brooks has heard the comparison many times. Like Brooks, many of HILL’s donors support their own individual teams. Fitness guru Jake Steinfeld’s Rockies had a miserable 2014, going 0-12, while producer Howard Braunstein’s Astros went a respectable 6-4.

Brooks is a huge Groucho Marx and W.C. Fields fan, and loves to talk about how those two actors spurred his love for film and TV when, as a young kid, he’d go to matinees at a movie theater — now gone — on the corner of Pico and Fairfax. He described his work as a producer, and his sale of Once Upon a Time Films five years ago to Braunstein, as well as his recent transition to becoming a director with the productions of “Perfect Sisters” and the TV movie “The Grim Sleeper,” which was nominated for a 2015 PRISM Award for its accurate depiction of substance abuse.

When Brooks talked about Marx or the Dodgers or about his favorite baseball film, “Field of Dreams” (which, he said with a smile, made him sob to the point that his wife, Lifetime executive Tanya Lopez, had to hold him), Brooks’ voice sounded like a young kid’s — a little higher-pitched and a little louder than an inside voice.

“What I love about baseball is that it teaches lessons that the other sports don’t teach,” Brooks said. “For one, it asks you to sacrifice. It’s actually a word that’s in the game. You lay down a sacrifice bunt or you hit a sacrifice fly.” 

Brooks said when he calls up his Hollywood buddies and pitches them on supporting HILL, he’s in “full-on producer mode.” Those pitches, Brooks said, go something like this:

“I tell them what it’s like to be down there. I tell them about the mom who came up to me and said, ‘I don’t know where my son would be if it wasn’t for you.’ It’s not just baseball; it’s reviving a community. It’s not just pitching and catching; it’s parents getting to go someplace on Saturday to see their kid; it’s the kid that gets up at 4 a.m. and folds and unfolds his uniform and looks at it on his bed because it’s the first uniform he’s ever put on, and how special that is to him, how important that is to him because he’s part of a team — the first thing he’s ever been a part of in his whole life; the only time he’s been asked to be part of something instead of a gang.”

That pitch, evidently, works wonders. HILL costs about $25,000 a year to run, and its many supporters have included 3 Arts Entertainment’s Michael Rotenberg, who’s the executive producer of HBO’s “Silicon Valley” and FX’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”; manager Connie Tavel, whose clients include actors Jon Hamm and Craig T. Nelson; the massive Creative Artists Agency; Braunstein; and actors Hank Azaria and Chris Bauer, who has appeared in “The Wire” and “True Blood.”

Not just a photo op

In 1995, after Brooks had raised his first few thousand dollars for HILL, he met with residents and community organizers in South L.A. to pitch his dream of free baseball. Initially, his idea was met with some skepticism. One woman who helped run Helen Keller Park told Brooks that people in South L.A. were tired of “Hollywood types coming down for the photo-op charity, the kind of charity where you write a check, you come down, have your picture taken with some African-Americans, and then we never see you again.” 

Hill's Mustang division players (ages 8-10) wear their game faces in the dugout during a June 3 game. Photo by Jared Sichel

Brooks said he was told to not expect much love from the neighborhood early on.

“You’ve got to prove to us that this thing’s for real,” Brooks recalls hearing. “Then you’ll see it.”

John Wicker, chief deputy director for L.A. Parks and Rec, was running the department’s operations in South L.A. in 1995 when he first met Brooks, whom he now calls a “hero” for the department.

“He reached out to us and said he really wanted to do something to keep baseball alive in the inner city,” Wicker said. Parks and Rec was charging anywhere from $75 to $145 for its baseball leagues, more than many of the families near Helen Keller Park and Jesse Owens Park could afford. “If it’s a choice between dinner and playing baseball, they’re going to have dinner,” Wicker said. “Stan said, ‘No, I don’t want anybody paying.’ I think it’s the only [league] that I can think of where it’s free.” 

Free participation has helped turn HILL into one of L.A. County’s largest youth baseball leagues, with about 250 kids signed up every season. And one that, as Brooks pointed out, does not limit membership according to geographic boundaries, as many youth baseball leagues do. Kids who live many miles away, but still inside the sprawl of South L.A., can enter HILL’s sign-up lottery, which, because of high demand, cannot give a spot to every kid who wants to play.

In addition to Hollywood, Brooks’ biggest and most recent donor catch has been the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation, which two years ago, as part of its participation in the MLB’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, partnered with HILL and gave $300,000 toward creating two state-of-the-art “Dodger Dream Fields” at Jesse Owens Park, foundation Executive Director Nichol Whiteman said. The Dodgers’ support of HILL was spurred by Brooks’ relationship to one of the Dodgers’ minority owners and Brooks’ former boss, Peter Guber, who also co-owns the Golden State Warriors and is CEO of Mandalay Entertainment.

The Dream Field upgrades, which were unveiled at the start of HILL’s 2014 season, include huge scoreboards, new grass and dirt, and improved irrigation. The Dodgers Foundation also pays for the league’s equipment and its hundreds of uniforms, all of which, somewhat comically, are Dodgers uniforms, which makes every HILL game look like a confusing faceoff between the Dodgers and their bitter crosstown rival, the Dodgers. 

‘We are the village’

As Michael and Rosalyn Flowers sat together in the equipment trailer, which rests just outside one of the Dream Field’s outfield fences, every few minutes a coach or a player would pop in to run a question by the couple, who have run HILL since 1996, its second season.

Michael and Rosalyn, both in their 50s, met in their hometown of Memphis and moved to L.A. in 1981. They raised two kids, Ebony and Marcus — both now adults — in Gardena, a few miles south of Jesse Owens Park. Michael recently retired from Boeing, where he was an engineer. Rosalyn is an analyst for Southern California Edison. She’s quiet and reserved but has a tough-love side. As she firmly said, “When the kids come, they belong to me.” 

The league, Michael said, is there to help parents raise their kids, but the parents have to let go when their kids are on the field.

“We tell the parents, ‘Hey, when your kid is on the field, they belong to us. We will take care of them; we will cherish them; we will love them; we will protect them as if they are our own.’”

Flowers said sometimes when he and Rosalyn are out shopping, they will be approached by former HILL players, now adults, who remember the couple and thank them for their guidance. One man even approached them at a hardware store and credited Michael and Rosalyn for helping him get to a point in life where he has a good job and a wife and kids. Flowers said he and Rosalyn didn’t even recognize the man but were deeply moved.

“We fill in a lot of the gaps they may have at home,” Flowers said, his voice trembling lightly with emotion. “Some of them are single-parent homes, and sometimes they have trouble makings ends meet. A lot of kids come, they may not eat unless we have them eat.” Although HILL doesn’t budget for meals, throughout the season its volunteers look after at-risk children. Flowers and Brooks said coaches and parent volunteers ensure that kids who are hungry will get food. And when one of HILL’s players was tragically killed in the early 2000s, the league’s leadership helped the family cover the boy’s funeral expenses.

Flowers’ eyes filled with tears as he talked about the teenage boys and girls he hires and pays, such as Broussard, to help organize equipment and manage the scoreboard. Training them to become self-reliant, and giving them a few extra bucks, “means a lot to the families,” Flowers said, pausing to gather his composure.

“I’m sorry,” he said, wiping his eyes. “We have coaches that have been here for 19 years! You don’t see that kind of dedication from coaches that are volunteers anywhere else. When their kids stop playing, the coaches disappear. Our coaches stay because they know they are part of something bigger than just baseball. We have coaches that were ex-gang members. They know that if somebody didn’t pull them in … where they would be today. They’re trying to pull these kids to keep them in here so they don’t go through what they had to go through.”

Flowers plans to transition in the next couple of years from commissioner to spectator and fan, and will entrust the leadership of Hollywood Indies to someone else.

“Stan and his friends and associates provide a vehicle, through his fundraising, to allow us to do what we do,” Flowers said. 

“They talk about needing a village to raise a child — we are the village.”

To learn more about Hollywood Indies, go to

For a Jewish baseball purist, Cuba beckons


To the dismay of baseball fan Kit Krieger, future travels to Cuba will no longer include get-togethers with ex-Washington Senators pitcher Connie Marrero.

Marrero, who played for Washington from 1950 to 1954, died in Havana last April at age 102, a few months after Krieger’s last visit and three years after Krieger helped arrange for Marrero a $10,000 annual pension from Major League Baseball.

Theirs was a special friendship, one of many forged by Krieger, a Vancouver resident who will return to Cuba in late February — his 30th visit there beginning with a 1997 trip related to his job with the British Columbia teachers federation. That trip spawned a love affair with the country and its baseball scene.

Krieger, 65, would go on to found Cuba Ball, a company bringing baseball-mad tourists to the island nation — a venture begun really to enable himself to visit affordably with groups.

With President Obama’s Dec. 17 announcement on renewing diplomatic relations broken off by the United States in 1961, Krieger sees a double-edged sword: Cuba will emerge from U.S.-imposed isolation, but the country’s professional baseball scene could ultimately disappear, like America’s Negro Leagues following the integration of Major League Baseball.

In the near term, he figures, Cuban baseball will remain unchanged, since the country can hardly be expected to allow foreign teams to poach its premier talent — at least not without hefty payments, as in Japan. Individual players, Krieger adds, are unlikely to risk defecting while knowing that renewed diplomacy could prompt Washington’s lifting of an economic blockade, enabling them to legally sign lucrative contracts abroad.

Following Obama’s announcement, MLB released a statement saying that it will monitor whether the policy shift affects “the manner in which [teams] conduct business on issues related to Cuba.”

Krieger says he sees Cuba as “the largest pool of untapped baseball talent in the world, and no one knows if [the news] will open this pool.” But he fears “the beginning of the end” of a Cuban baseball reality caught in a sweet time warp evoking America of the 1890s. Eventually, Krieger says, Cuban baseball “will become integrated into the international baseball community, which it isn’t now.”

His love for Cuban baseball led him more than a decade ago to join the Society for American Baseball Research, where he recruited like-minded fans for the trips. He’s similarly passionate about family history, frequently conducting research on Jewish genealogy websites. Thanks largely to meticulous records kept by his ancestors, Krieger (his given first name is Ernest) can trace several branches in Poland and Germany back to 1700.

“I can even tell you the name of my grandfather’s mohel,” he quips.

Krieger’s baseball and genealogy interests at times have coincided: His late mother, Ann Kohlberg, grew up in an apartment building at 320 Riverside Drive in Manhattan, across the hall from New York Giants star Mel Ott. Kohlberg’s cousin, Don Taussig, went on to play outfield with the franchise after its move to San Francisco.

While Krieger doesn’t usually seek out Jewish residents or sites while in Cuba, another Jewish traveler, retired professor Oscar Soule, does.

Soule, of Olympia, Wash., who will be traveling with Krieger to Cuba in February, has been to the Caribbean nation five times and makes a point of going to a Havana synagogue on each visit. The draws for him are the baseball games and meetings with government officials, as well as such diamond legends as Omar Linares and Victor Mesa that wouldn’t happen without Krieger.

Marrero, a 5-foot-5 right-hander who posted a 39-40 record in the majors and made the American League’s All-Star team in 1951 at age 40, benefited from Krieger’s attention in his final years as he lost his eyesight and hearing. Krieger solicited notes of appreciation from the aging pitcher’s American contemporaries, all of whom Marrero fondly remembered. More than 90 letters arrived, and scores more for Marrero’s 100th birthday, including from Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Tommy Lasorda, George Kell and Harmon Killebrew.

“Kit is a darned nice guy who’s helpful and doesn’t expect anything in return,” says Eddie Robinson, a former official with the MLB Players Alumni Association and a Senators teammate of Marrero who played a key role in securing the pension, to which Marrero had not been entitled previously because he wasn’t vested.

Two or three of the four pension payments were delivered by former major leaguer Stan Javier, a resident of the nearby Dominican Republic, Krieger says.

Of Krieger, ex-pitcher Steve Rogers, who works for the Major League Baseball Players Association, says he “was always available to do everything he could to help” in the Marrero case.

With Marrero gone, Krieger is seeking to raise $69,000 for new plaques honoring the members of Cuba’s Hall of Fame. Upon hearing Obama’s announcement last week, Krieger asked Cuba Ball clients to make a Marrero plaque the first priority. During the February visit, Krieger plans to begin working to identify a proper building for the Hall, which is now housed in Havana’s Estadio Latinoamerican.

There will be games to attend, too. Cuban baseball games have far more character than the typical corporate stadium American game. Scorecards and souvenirs are not sold, but makeshift bands entertain the fans.

“I went to a game in San Cristobal, in western Cuba,” Krieger recalls. “A guy hits a homer to win the game, gets on his bike to go home and gets stopped by a fan who gives him a live chicken.

“They’d played on a chain-link-fence field. The seats were concrete slabs, and everyone else watched from the beds of pickup trucks. It was not even a sandlot — it was a farm game.

“For the baseball purists,” he says, “those who love to go to Cuba, it’s a unique baseball culture.”

 

Adam Greenberg inducted into National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame


Adam Greenberg saw one pitch in his first major league at-bat, a 92 mph fastball that struck him in the head and effectively ended his MLB career. The ball hit with a sickening thud, popping Greenberg’s helmet off and sending the young ballplayer to the ground, where he clutched his head in agony.

Greenberg suffered a concussion from the 2005 incident, and bounced around the minor leagues for the next seven seasons in his bid to return to the majors. Finally, in 2012 — following a viral campaign from his fans called One at Bat — Greenberg signed a one-day contract with the Miami Marlins.

His second at-bat was a strikeout, swinging, against New York Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.

On Sunday, Greenberg, 33, was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. He was among seven distinguished Jewish athletes inducted before a crowd of 400 gathered at the the Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center in Commack, N.Y.

Scott Zlochower, the program director at the Suffolk Y JCC, said Greenberg “was extremely grateful and excited.”

“He emphasized that people are thrown curve balls in life. Unfortunately, he was thrown a 92 mile-an-hour fastball that him on the head,” Zlochower said. “[He was inducted] based on what he has gone through, his ability to overcome, and the connection he has with children as a positive role model.”

Greenberg, a Connecticut native, officially announced his retirement from baseball in February. In 2010, he helped start the natural supplement company Lu Rong Living.

Other inductees included tennis players Angela Buxton and Jay Berger, NFL agent Joel Segal, bowler Mark Roth and basketball players Barry Kramer and Don Goldstein.

 

 

For Dodgers’ Joc Pederson, there is no joy in debut


It was a scenario straight out of “Casey at the Bat”: a screaming crowd, ninth inning, two outs, two men on base, the home team down by two runs, the slugger striding to the plate with a chance to win the game.

The slugger on Monday night in Dodger Stadium was Joc Pederson, a hotshot prospect for Los Angeles recalled that day from the minor leagues.

Pederson, who is Jewish, was about to bat for the first time in the major leagues. He had enjoyed a stellar campaign for the AAA Albuquerque Isotopes, garnering the Most Valuable Player award in the Pacific Coast League on the strength of his 33 home runs, 78 runs batted in, a .303 batting average and 30 stolen bases.

His Dodgers were trailing the Washington Nationals, 6-4, in a battle between the two best teams in the National League as he came up to pinch-hit. The 22-year-old outfielder squared off against the Nats’ veteran closer, Rafael Soriano, trying to extend a two-out rally – and win the game with one swat.

It nearly happened. On a 2-0 pitch, the air was “shattered,” as Ernest Thayer penned in his 1887 poem about the excitement of a pitcher-batter showdown, “by the force of Casey’s blow” – make that Pederson’s blow. Fans leapt to their feet as the pulled ball headed on a line to right field. But it was clearly foul.

Pederson fouled off another one. Soriano then bounced a slider to run the count full.

Soriano’s 3-2 pitch came in high. Pederson dropped his bat, turning toward first base, figuring he had walked to load the bases.

Except the breaking pitch had dropped into the high-outside portion of the strike zone, as the umpire saw it. Game over. The Nationals celebrated at the mound and Pederson walked slowly to the dugout.

There was no joy in Chavez Ravine; the mighty Joc had struck out.

Here’s a Moneyball maven striking it rich for Athletics


As director of professional scouting and baseball development for the Oakland Athletics, Dan Feinstein scouts amateur players, evaluates the organization’s talent, is involved in contract negotiations and arbitration cases, ponders trades and analyzes potential free agent signees.

His varied portfolio is news to at least one of the team’s players.

“I don’t doubt that he does a lot, and has done a lot, for the organization, but I don’t know to what extent,” catcher Derek Norris said of Feinstein during a recent A’s visit here.

For the past three years, Feinstein, 42, has been one of the prominent executives powering the Oakland approach to diamond success known as Moneyball under its guru, general manager Billy Beane.

There’s been plenty of success this season for the American League West-leading Athletics, who boast one of the best records in baseball and stand near the top of the league in team pitching and hitting. And they’ve been doing it with an assortment of players excelling in both the traditional and Moneyball statistical categories.

Beane employed the Moneyball strategy to enable his low-revenue Athletics to compete against richer clubs. Popularized by the Michael Lewis book “Moneyball” in 2003 and the 2011 film of the same name starring Brad Pitt, the plan has spread throughout the major leagues.

Moneyball aims to identify and acquire undervalued players by placing a premium on what were then newly minted statistics such as OPS (on-base-plus-slugging percentage), as well as walks, caught stealing, pitches taken and other measures.

Feinstein returned to Oakland in 2011 after spending six seasons as director of baseball operations for the Tampa Bay Rays and a year with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He had spent the better part of a decade splicing game videotapes for the Athletics after starting as an intern in 1994.

Other than his year with the Dodgers, making do on a shoestring budget is the only professional reality Feinstein has experienced. It’s one he embraces.

“We’re always trying to think outside the box and acquire or sign players that maybe have some hickeys to them, and I enjoy trying to find players that are maybe undervalued with other teams,” he said. “It’s really the only way I know.

“While it’d be nice to work with a payroll of some of the other clubs, I very much enjoy the challenge of staying within a constrained budget.”

Moneyball has found success in Oakland, with the Athletics on target to capture their seventh A.L. West title since 2000. They’ve been leading the division most of this season.

Josh Donaldson is second in the league in WAR (wins above replacement) and in the more mainstream category of runs scored. Teammate Coco Crisp is 10th in on-base percentage. No A’s base stealer has been thrown out more than twice.

On the mound, left-hander Scott Kazmir is among league leaders in WHIP (fewest walks and hits allowed per innings pitched), as well as the more traditional statistics of wins and earned run average.

In fact, the A’s lead the A.L. in runs scored and are second in fewest runs allowed – all on a $74.8 million payroll, ranking them 27th in Major League Baseball. In comparison, the Dodgers and New York Yankees are over $200 million.

“Obviously, we’re all thrilled,” Feinstein said of Oakland’s 2014 strength.

Feinstein is ecstatic to be working in baseball.

At 15, he already knew the game was where he wanted to make his career. Feinstein, a catcher who could not make the team at the University of California, Davis, said he “explored every avenue to get my foot in the door” after college.

With the Athletics, who play just down the road from his hometown of Lafayette, Calif., where he still lives, Feinstein started out doing the things interns do — making photocopies and fetching coffee. That’s when he wasn’t lobbying Beane, then the assistant general manager, for additional responsibilities.

In 1995, he jumped at Beane’s offer to add videotaping to his chores. The following season it became his full-time job.

“I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been in the right place at the right time,” Feinstein said. “I don’t think there’s anyone in baseball who would tell you they look at their job as a job.”

Like anyone employed in a baseball team’s front office, Feinstein said, he aspires to “bigger and better things” professionally, including being a general manager. He added, however, “I’m extremely comfortable and thankful in the role I currently have.”

A key aspect of that role is the Major League Baseball draft, which was held last month. Eighteen of Oakland’s 40 selections were pitchers.

“That was by design,” Feinstein explained. “The only way that we’re going to have success at the major-league level is if we have pitching, and you can never have enough of it. It’s the single biggest asset we need to compete.”

Planning for the three-day draft is “a yearlong, exhaustive process that has already started” for 2015, he said.

“It’s one of those things that we all are fascinated with: not only the process, but being in that war room in the week prior to the draft,” Feinstein said.

He’s hopeful the A’s can make a run to the World Series this season – it would be the team’s first appearance in the Fall Classic since 1990.

“There’s a lot of season left to go, and anything can happen,” Feinstein said, “but so far it’s been a perfect storm of a group of guys who’ve come together and played their best.”

 

Echoes of Greenberg: Tigers roaring with Jewish duo Ausmus and Kinsler


The rarity arose in the initial meeting of first-year Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus and his second baseman Ian Kinsler, newly traded from the Texas Rangers: a Jewish player reporting to a Jewish manager.

Ausmus was “raised the same way I was,” Kinsler learned, with one Jewish parent and an upbringing in which Judaism “wasn’t something that was completely ingrained in our lives,” the 31-year-old Arizona native said in his pronounced Texas twang.

The chat also covered Ausmus’ experiences piloting Israel’s World Baseball Classic entry in 2012, his only previous managerial job.

Both have settled in quickly in Detroit, helping to lift the Tigers to the best record in Major League Baseball as of last weekend. Batting leadoff, Kinsler carries a .300 average and stands among the American League leaders in runs and hits.

Tigers fan Morris Amitay, AIPAC’s former executive director who came to watch Detroit sweep the three-game series here, said he can’t help but kvell over the combination of Jewish manager and player.

“Here’s a team that had Hank Greenberg, and now it’s gone back to its Jewish roots,” he said.

Kinsler wears uniform no. 3; the 5 he wore for Texas had been retired by Detroit to honor Greenberg, its Hall of Fame first baseman from 1930 to 1946.

A uniform-always-dirty player, Kinsler draws ire from opponents and admiration from teammates. He’s a welcome spark plug for a team that has ridden power hitting and dominant starting pitching to three consecutive A.L. Championship Series and the 2012 World Series.

In eight seasons with the Rangers, Kinsler was a three-time All-Star who helped the Western Division club reach the World Series in 2010 and 2011. In postseason play, his average is .311.

His Nov. 20 trade for first baseman Prince Fielder “was a little bit shocking,” he acknowledged while dressing for a recent game here. But playing for Detroit “is awesome,” he added.

Ausmus was hired two weeks before the trade.

Sitting in his Camden Yards office, Ausmus said his experience with the Israeli team provided “a little bit of a glimpse” into how managers build rapport with players and cultivate clubhouse camaraderie.

“In terms of preparation, I don’t know that there’s a ton of parallel because there’s so much more information [available] on major league players than there is on WBC players – in fact, sometimes even no information on WBC players,” he said. “I guess that in some regards you learn to make decisions you don’t really want to make [to cut players].”

The experience didn’t necessarily place him on the major league managing track, Ausmus said.

“There are only 30 managerial jobs. There’s no guarantee you’re going to get one of those,” he said. “I’d thought of it, but I never assumed it.”

A priority heading into 2014 was getting to know his Tigers as people and players. Six weeks into the season, Ausmus said, nothing has surprised him.

That could be because of his playing experience toiling for four teams, including the Tigers, in 18 years and winning three Gold Gloves at catcher, the thinking man’s position.

Those parallels are more apparent, Ausmus said.

“As a catcher, you’re planning ahead, you’re strategizing, you’re dealing with a pitching staff. You also know what it’s like to be an everyday player,” he said.

“As a catcher, it gives you a pretty good feel for what you would come across as a manager, for what the players are thinking, what’s going through their minds, what emotions they’re feeling.”

Given his short time with Team Israel, Ausmus figured he “certainly didn’t have any impact” on several players subsequently reaching the majors, but added, “I’m happy for them.”

That’s a sentiment the Tigers echo about working alongside Kinsler and Ausmus, at 45 a generation younger than his retired predecessor, the crusty Jim Leyland.

Pitching coach Jeff Jones said Ausmus is “very low-key, doesn’t panic, doesn’t get excited when things don’t go right,” and extremely prepared. All-Star pitcher Justin Verlander said his new manager is “more relaxed on the bench” and “totally different” than Leyland, with whom he remains close.

Kinsler, he said, brought a new dimension to the Tigers: speed. (Kinsler’s 177 steals set a Rangers record.)

“It’s been a lot of fun to watch. I love the way he plays the game,” Verlander said. “I hated the way he played the game when he was with the Rangers and we had to play against him. That’s a sign of respect.”

Told of Verlander’s description, Kinsler was pleased.

“That’s the kind of player I want to be,” he said. “I like to cause problems. If you’re not noticed, then you’re not doing something right.”

Off the field, a synagogue in suburban Bloomfield Hills, Mich., has invited Kinsler to enroll his two children in its summer program. In Texas, Kinsler said, his daughter Rian attended a JCC of Dallas program.

Judaism is “definitely something I want to teach them about,” he said, adding that his wife, a Catholic, is supportive. “To have that knowledge is important.”

Tigers summon the tribe, swap Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler


Detroit is bringing in the Jews.

A couple of weeks after hiring Brad Ausmus as manager, the Tigers on Wednesday traded for Ian Kinsler, previously of the Texas Rangers, to play second base. The cost for the Jewish infielder, a three-time American League All-Star: mega-salaried first baseman Prince Fielder and a cool $30 million. Lucky the bankrupt city doesn’t have to ante up.

Kinsler, 31, brings a sound bat and glove to help Ausmus, who managed the Israeli squad that came up short in its bid for the World Baseball Classic, in his MLB debut. The eight-year veteran averages 24 home runs and 82 runs batted in a season and has a lifetime batting average of .273. Last season he batted .277 with 13 homers and 72 RBIs.

Ausmus and now Kinsler are part of an organization that had probably the greatest Jewish hitter in history (take that Ryan Braun): Hank Greenberg, a one-time MVP who famously skipped a Yom Kippur game in 1934 despite the pennant implications for the Tigers.

And you thought the Cleveland Indians were the Tribe.

On way to Tigers post, Ausmus earned his managing stripes in Israel


Almost from the moment they met him, several officials and players with Israel’s national baseball team said they saw manager Brad Ausmus headed for the major leagues.

They cited his communication skills, command of the game and preparation — not to mention his 18-year playing career as a catcher that included winning three Gold Gloves and reaching the 2005 World Series with the Houston Astros.

“We knew that even though he’d never had any managerial experience, he’d go and be a major league manager,” said Nate Fish, the bullpen catcher for an Israeli squad that came up short in its bid for the World Baseball Classic. “The overall chemistry was at a very, very high level, and Brad was very professional. He created a very good environment in the clubhouse.”

Fish and the others proved prophetic: Ausmus, 44, was introduced Sunday as the manager of the Detroit Tigers, succeeding Jim Leyland.

Ausmus joins a short roster of Jews who have managed major league teams, which includes current Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin — both have Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers. The first was one of the earliest Jewish players, Lipman Pike, an outfielder-infielder who managed the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1877.

In the WBC qualifiers, Israel won its first two games before being eliminated by Spain in a 10-inning loss.

“Brad did a great job of managing the entire tournament, especially the [elimination] loss, which he handled with dignity and class,” said Gabe Kapler, who coached for Team Israel alongside Ausmus, his former Tigers teammate, and now is a Tampa Bay Rays consultant.

His age and long playing career helped Ausmus earn respect from the Team Israel players, officials and players said.

Ausmus was so refined in his attention to detail, said Peter Kurz, president of the Israel Association of Baseball, that the team practiced keeping on its caps for the playing of “Hatikvah,’ the Israeli national anthem, following Israeli custom.

In assembling the club, Ausmus compiled information on prospective players on his iPad and index cards. His recruiting effort also included calls to scores of candidates, as well as their parents.

His work not only before but during the WBC qualifying “made our team legitimate,” Kurz said. The experience apparently assured Ausmus, a Connecticut native educated at Dartmouth, that his post-playing career inclination was accurate.

“He told me he felt that he was not just the manager, but the general manager — that it was a lot of fun choosing his own players. It gave him the feeling he could do it,” Kurz said.

Ausmus is replacing a successful manager in Leyland, who at 68 was the oldest skipper in baseball. Leyland guided the Tigers to two American League championships in his eight seasons. In 1997, he had managed the Florida Marlins to the World Series crown.

Several members of Leyland’s staff will be staying on with Ausmus, including bench coach Gene Lamont. With Team Israel, Ausmus leaned on Kapler and Shawn Green, both former major league outfielders. It was an arrangement that developed unusually.

At a November 2011 meeting in Cypress, Calif., Kapler peppered team officials with questions, while Green and Ausmus “were very quiet,” Kurz recalled. The three ex-players were offered playing and field leadership roles and asked to select their preferred jobs.

“I thought for sure Gabe would be the manager because he’d managed one year in the minors,” Kurz said.

In a February 2012 conference call, the trio revealed to Israeli baseball officials their division of labor: Ausmus, manager; Green and Kapler, player-coaches.

“From then on, Brad came into his own” on the job, Kurz said.

That May, Ausmus and his wife, Liz, visited Israel, where the new manager ran baseball clinics for children, held a news conference, donned tefillin for the first time and went surfing in Tel Aviv.

Ausmus took great pride in meeting Israeli President Shimon Peres, said the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, who accompanied Ausmus to the meeting.

“The opportunity to lead the team struck him as fun and also novel,” Shapiro said of his conversation with Ausmus, who wracked up 1,579 hits –  fifth among Jewish players — while playing for four teams in the majors.

Ausmus has stayed in touch with his Team Israel players. He helped pitcher Alon Leichman deal with some mound struggles at California’s Cypress College and wrote letters of recommendation on his behalf when Leichman was transferring to the University of California, San Diego.

“It meant so much that … he really helped me,” said Leichman, one of three Israel-born players on the team – he was raised on Kibbutz Gezer – and now a pitcher at UCSD. “He owed me nothing, so I’m really humbled by it.”

One player on the Israeli team might even rejoin Ausmus in Detroit: Ben Guez, an outfielder for the Tigers’ AAA Toledo club. Three Team Israel members played in the major leagues in 2013: Nate Freiman of the Athletics, the Astros’ Josh Zeid and Josh Satin of the New York Mets.

Leichman already was a Detroit fan because his mother is a native. But with Ausmus as the Tigers manager, “I’m rooting for them even more,” he said. “Every baseball fan in Israel is now a Tigers fan.”

Adam Greenberg recalls big league dreams come true


They came to be inspired by a man with precisely two Major League at bats.

The Oct. 6 crowd at Temple Ahavat Shalom (TAS) in Northridge resembled that of a Little League game, as 200 parents and children — many dressed in baseball uniforms — gathered to hear the story of perseverance behind Adam Greenberg, the Jewish professional baseball player who stepped into the batter’s box only twice, seven years apart. 

Dressed casually but sharply in dark blue jeans and a white button-down shirt, Greenberg, a 32-year-old Connecticut native, sat down with the Jewish Journal at TAS prior to his speech about how persistence got him from his first Major League at bat in 2005 to his second one in 2012.

After excelling at baseball in high school and in college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Greenberg found himself sitting in his parents’ New Jersey home in early June 2002, waiting for a call to hear if he had been selected in that year’s Major League Baseball draft.

When he got the call, it was thrilling — and surprising — news. The Chicago Cubs selected him in the ninth round to play centerfield. 

“It was a dream-come-true moment for me to get the call,” Greenberg said. “And then it shocked me because the Cubs were a specific team that my agent had said was not a good fit.”

For three years, he worked his way through the Cubs’ Minor League system — $20 a day for meals, $850 a month for salary, and lots of long bus rides and shoddy hotels. Then he and a teammate, Matt Murton, got a call one night from his manager that they would be meeting the Cubs in Miami.

That, Greenberg said, “was the coolest experience of my life.”

Two nights later, friends and relatives were in the stands as he prepared to play against the Florida Marlins. Greenberg, a left-handed batter, said he wasn’t nervous as he stepped into the batter’s box in the ninth inning, as a pinch hitter, to face lefty pitcher Valerio de los Santos. 

As the now-viral video of the at bat shows, Greenberg prepared for the pitch by going through his regular motions in the batter’s box, bending his knees and shifting the bat and his hips until he settled into a comfortable stance. The boyish-looking, curly-haired Greenberg was ready.

As the catcher set up on the outside half of the plate, away from Greenberg, the rookie awaited his first ever Major League pitch. De los Santos began his delivery toward what was supposed to be a fastball away from Greenberg. 

But there was one problem: De los Santos released the ball at the wrong point, sending a 92 mph fastball too high and inside. He stood there, frozen, as the ball found the one spot on the side of his head unprotected by his helmet, just under his right ear. 

If it had hit him somewhere else, he said, pointing a few inches above the point of impact, the helmet would have protected his head and he would have been fine. Instead, the impact knocked off his helmet and Greenberg bent over, stumbled and fell backward, grabbing the back of his head with both hands as he hit the ground. 

Greenberg still remembers: “As soon as it happened, all I kept saying was, ‘Stay alive. Stay alive. Stay alive.’ ”

He didn’t lose consciousness or awareness, but he lost control of his eyes as they rolled into the back of his head. 

Still, Greenberg wasn’t much worried about his budding professional baseball career. A three-day break in the schedule for the approaching All-Star Game had him thinking, “I’ll be back after the All-Star Break, and I’ll be good to go.”

But he wasn’t. In the Miami airport, he almost fell down and blacked out. If he lay down or moved his head in a certain way, his eyes would move uncontrollably. The headaches, he said, were “unbearable,” and he was diagnosed with positional vertigo, a disorder arising in the inner ear.

Even so, an optimistic Greenberg said he had “no hunch that baseball would be derailed.”

He was sent back to the minors and hopped from ball club to ball club — including the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim — for the next six years. Instead of despairing that “all the batting cages, all the games, all the travel hours” only led to one painfully quick plate appearance in Florida, Greenberg said he maintained the attitude, “I’m still going to get back there.”

And he did get back — seven years after his first at bat, thanks to filmmaker Matt Liston, a diehard Cubs fan and Los Angeles resident who followed Greenberg’s career from the time he was a Minor Leaguer. In a telephone interview with the Journal, Liston described how he helped Greenberg get that second chance. 

“What if he doesn’t get back up?” he remembered thinking when the Cubs, in September 2005, didn’t recall Greenberg after they were eliminated from play-off contention. “He was always in the back of my head.”

In 2012, Liston lobbied Major League teams to give Greenberg one more shot. And in September of that year, he created a petition on Change.org for

Adam Grossman’s dream job: Packing Fenway Park


You’d think Adam Grossman has a pretty easy job. After all, with the Boston Red Sox owning one of the most iconic brands in professional sports and gunning for their third World Series title in the past decade, how hard could it be to put fans in the seats at Fenway Park?

But Grossman, the team’s 33-year-old vice president for marketing and brand development, takes nothing for granted. While players and fans are fixated on the World Series starting Wednesday against the St. Louis Cardinals, he’s already preparing for 2014.

“The competition is fiercer than in the past,” Grossman said.

“We have to continue to work to get people to the ballpark, not just once but three or four times a season,” he told JTA in a recent phone interview. And while the Red Sox are blessed with committed owners willing to invest “an abundance of resources” to secure top players every year, he said, “we don’t rest on that.”

Grossman said the team works hard to enhance the experience at Fenway, whether a fan is coming to the ballpark once a year on a family outing or is a season-ticket holder attending all 81 home games.

For example, Grossman and his staff are tackling a long-range project to determine how many times a season-ticket holder actually ventures into the ballpark rather than gives away or sells the ticket. Preferences could then be ascertained and the ticket-holder’s needs consistently met, Grossman said.

Installing WiFi is another “really hot topic” for the Red Sox — as it is throughout spectator sports — because fans are seeking “more technological access” through which to enjoy a game, such as viewing replays in multiple angles on their smartphones, he said.

Grossman eyes fans as consumers with choices extending beyond Fenway Park. Every Red Sox game is televised and ticket-resale sites that bypass the box office are proliferating. Plus there are plenty of other recreational offerings.

“We’re talking about an increasingly crowded marketplace,” he said.

Such concerns might seem overstated, given that the Red Sox sold out Fenway Park for 794 consecutive games. But the 10-year streak ended in April and, despite the club rebounding strongly from a disastrous 93-loss last-place season in 2012 to post the American League’s best record, its home attendance this season actually dropped by nearly 210,000 fans – the equivalent of about six games with empty seats.

According to Baseball-Reference.com, the Red Sox have not led the American League in attendance since 1975. Of course, that’s because even the recently refurbished Fenway remains the smallest of the 30 major league stadiums. Still, only four A.L. teams attracted more than the 2.8 million fans who came to see the Sox play there this season.

Sports remains a bottom-line business on the field and in the ledger, so Grossman knows he faces challenges.

The Duke University graduate doesn’t get much rest — his responsibilities extend to advertising, broadcasting, sponsorships and promoting the team via social media. But working for one of baseball’s flagship organizations, and in sports management generally, is a “dream job,” he said.

Grossman joined the Red Sox straight out of Duke in 2002, and within six years he was named to his current position. He soon took what he dubbed a three-year sabbatical with the National Football League’s Miami Dolphins, handling public affairs and marketing, before returning to Boston.

He launched his career in sports by networking with Mark Shapiro, now the president of the Cleveland Indians, Grossman’s hometown team. But he’s become even closer friends with Shapiro’s brother David, who runs the Boston-based MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. Together they established a Red Sox mentoring program at a high school next to Fenway Park. And their families — Grossman is married with a 15-month-old baby — have celebrated several Jewish holidays together and see each other most Sunday nights.

Grossman “obviously has a passion for sports, for sports’ place in the community and how sports teams can advance society,” David Shapiro said. “That’ll always be a part of the fabric of who he is.”

With the World Series back in Boston, Grossman is enjoying every moment, although it has meant longer work days and a shorter off-season to prepare for ’14.

“This is what we’re here for: the players, the organization, the fans,” he said. “This is where you want to be, to play in October. For awhile, October felt like a natural extension of the regular season.”

The Hebrew Hammers: Jewish players outperform non-Jews in 2013 season


Breaking news!! Stop the presses!!

What's all the fuss about? Hold onto your baseball caps! (Or your yamulkes).

According to the authoritative Jewish Baseball News, the 14 Jewish players on major league rosters batted .254 during the regular season that just ended.

Now compare this to the meager .253 batting average for all other major leaguers.

Statistically insignificant, you say? Baloney!! (Hebrew National, of course).

Making a Mount Sinai out of a molehill?  I don’t think so.

The chosen people? Let's not go there.

But what about pitching? Here, too, the Jews outperformed the rest of their major league counterparts. The four Jewish pitchers had a 3.61 earned run average compared with the 3.86 ERA compiled by all major league pitchers. (The Hebrew hurlers had a combined 26-20 won-lost record).

Check out the individual statistics  at the Jewish Baseball News website.

Jews have been a constant presence on major league teams since Lipman Pike donned a uniform for the Troy Haymakers in 1871 and hung up his spikes 15 years later with a career .322 batting average. The Jewish gene pool also brought us Hall of Famers Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax, and recent super-stars Shawn Green and Ryan Braun.

[More baseball: Kershaw Koufax-esque but Uribe steals the show, sends Dodgers to NLCS]

The number of Jewish players on major league teams has been increasing. There were only eight Jews on big-league rosters in 1950, five in 1960,  seven in 1970 and 1980, and three in 1990. The numbers started climbing in the 1990s, reaching 11 in 2000 and 13 in 2005. This season, even without the four pitchers, there were enough Jews to form a minyan.

Looking for a list of the greatest Jewish baseball players in history? Check out my Jewish All-Time All-Star team, published in the Jewish Journal.


Peter Dreier teaches politics at Occidental College and is the author of The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books, 2012).

Alex Rodriguez sues Major League Baseball, Selig


New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez has sued Major League Baseball and Commissioner Bud Selig and accused them of trying to destroy his reputation and his career.

The embattled third baseman, who was suspended for 211 games for his alleged use of performance enhancing drugs, claims the league and commissioner are engaged in “vigilante justice” and are interfering with his lucrative contracts and business relationships.

MLB and Selig are trying to make an example of Rodriguez, the lawsuit said, “to gloss over Commissioner Self's past inaction and tacit approval of the use of performance enhancing substances in baseball … and in an attempt to secure his legacy as the 'savior' of America's past time.”

Filed in the state Supreme Court in Manhattan on Thursday, the lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

MLB responded to the lawsuit by issuing their own statement, denying the allegations made by Rodriguez and accusing him of trying to circumvent the grievance process of the league and its players.

“For the more than four decades that we have had a collective bargaining relationship with the Major League Baseball Players Association, every player and club dispute has gone through the jointly agreed upon grievance process,” MLB said.

“This lawsuit is a clear violation of the confidentiality provisions of our drug program, and it is nothing more than a desperate attempt to circumvent the Collective Bargaining Agreement.”

In August, MLB suspended Rodriguez through to the end of the 2014 season. He was one of 13 players suspended for alleged links with the now-defunct Biogenesis clinic in Florida that is accused of supplying players with performance-enhancing drugs.

Rodriguez, 38, has denied wrongdoing and appealed the ruling. He continued to play – to cheers and jeers – for the rest of the season, which ended for the Yankees last week when the team failed to make the playoff.

Hearings on Rodriguez's appeal began this week, but a decision is not expected until later this month or next.

The lawsuit claimed MLB also improperly collected evidence against Rodriguez, including buying what were described as stolen Biogenesis-related documents for $150,000.

A 14-time All-Star and three-time Most Valuable Player, Rodriguez is the only player challenging his penalty.

He claimed in the lawsuit that by publicly leaking information into its investigation, MLB has prejudiced his appeal, tarnished his character and damaged his efforts to land lucrative endorsement contracts.

“MLB's public persecution of Mr. Rodriguez has known no bounds,” the lawsuit said. “MLB has permanently harmed Mr. Rodriguez's reputation.”

The other players accepted offers of 50-game bans, but the player known widely as A-Rod received a stiffer punishment because he was accused of other offenses, including lying to the investigators.

“While we vehemently deny the allegations in the complaint, none of those allegations is relevant to the real issue,” MLB said in their statement on Friday.

“Whether Mr. Rodriguez violated the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program by using and possessing numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances, including testosterone and human growth hormone, over the course of multiple years and whether he violated the Basic Agreement by attempting to cover-up his violations of the Program by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner's investigation.”

Additional reporting by Karen Freifeld and Julian Linden; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Maureen Bavdek and Gene Cherry

Praise for Selig and no sympathy for drug cheats


From the ballparks to the anti-doping war rooms of those leading the battle against performance-enhancing drugs, Major League Baseball's crackdown on drug cheats was hailed as an MVP moment in the fight against doping on Monday.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), that not long ago labeled MLB's anti-doping efforts “a joke”, praised commissioner Bud Selig's get-tough stance.

And the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) viewed the unprecedented suspension as a dramatic shift in the doping culture.

“All clean athletes won an MVP award today, as this is a strong and powerful message that their rights and the integrity of the game will be protected,” USADA chief Travis Tygart told Reuters. “When truth and integrity are upheld that's a good day for clean athletes.”

Following an exhaustive MLB investigation into players linked to Biogenesis, the now-shut Miami anti-aging clinic accused of distributing performance enhancing drugs, Selig dropped the hammer on the drug cheats.

He handed out bans to 13 players, including a record 211 game suspension to baseball's highest paid player, New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez.

“WADA commends the actions taken by the MLB in suspending 13 players associated with the performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) scandal concerning the Biogenesis Clinic in Miami,” WADA said in a statement.

“As we have said previously, non-analytical methods are proving to be an increasingly effective means of helping uncover those athletes who have committed foul play and breached anti-doping rules.

“The MLB has approached the matter in a professional manner throughout, and we look forward to maintaining our close relationship as we move forward in our efforts to protect clean athletes and advocate doping-free sport.”

The 14 players caught in the MLB drug sweep, including Milwaukee Brewers Ryan Braun, the 2011 National League MVP who earlier accepted a 65 game suspension, received little sympathy from fellow players although the players' union said it would back Rodriguez's appeal of his ban.

As the suspension announcement approached, the Twitter-verse exploded with reaction, most of it directed at the drug cheats for the damage they have done to the great “American Pastime”.

“Today is a sad day for MLB, the fans of this great game, and all players who may have been negatively affected by others selfishness,” tweeted Tampa Rays Evan Longoria.

“Ultimately, although today will be a day of infamy for MLB, it is a tremendous step in the right direction for the game we love.”

Tygart singled out Selig for particular praise and Rodriguez for scathing scorn for appealing his suspension and failing to face up to his punishment.

Long accused of turning a blind eye to doping, Selig has seen the light after a series of drug controversies that have badly tainted the sport, and evolved into an anti-doping hardliner.

“I commend the commissioner for his leadership on this issue,” said Tygart.

“Obviously they learned in the late 90s and early 2000s this (doping) is the biggest threat to sport and to have the commissioner of one of most popular pro leagues in the world to take a firm stand and support it is really refreshing and give all clean athletes hope.

“They absolutely did the right thing, when you are between a rock and hard place and you do the right thing that is true leadership.”

Reporting by Steve Keating; by Julian Linden

How do you spell chutzpah? R-Y-A-N B-R-A-U-N


It wasn’t so long ago that Ryan Braun was just a rookie phenom, racking up numbers that had Jewish sports junkies rushing to put the Milwaukee Brewers’ slugger in the pantheon with Greenberg and Koufax.

These days, not so much.

The news this week is that Braun has accepted a suspension from Major League Baseball for the rest of the season, all but admitting to using performance-enhancing drugs. I say “all but admitting” because in accepting the time he still hasn’t explicitly acknowledged the crime.

As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect. I realize now that I have  made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions. This situation has taken a toll on me and my entire family, and it is has been a distraction to my teammates and the Brewers  organization. I am very grateful for the support I have received from players, ownership and the fans in  Milwaukee and around the country. Finally, I wish to apologize to anyone I may have disappointed – all of the baseball fans especially those in Milwaukee, the great Brewers organization, and my teammates. I am glad to have this matter behind me once and for all, and I cannot wait to get back to the game I love.

What makes his non-admission admission particularly lame and weasely is how lame and weasely his response was to his failed drug test back in 2011. First he (successfully) challenged his suspension on technical grounds and then turned that victory-by-technicality into an unabashed declaration of innocence.

Chutzpah.

Just man up already and admit what you did. Until then, you’re not even in the same league as Shawn Green and Ian Kinsler. And no more calling you “The Hebrew Hammer” either.

JEWCED: Ryan Braun suspended for PED use


Poor spelling is not the only problem surrounding the Milwaukee Brewers these days.

Major League Baseball (MLB) has suspended former National League most valuable player Ryan Braun for the rest of the season for violating the league's joint drug prevention and treatment program.

MLB did not specify why Braun had been suspended, though the 29-year-old is among at least 20 players in the league who have been implicated in the Biogenesis doping scandal which is being investigated by the commissioner's office.

Braun issued the following statement regarding his suspension:

“I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions. I wish to apologize to … all of the baseball fans especially those in Milwaukee, the great Brewers organization, and my teammates.”

Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president for economics and league affairs, said in a statement on Monday: “We commend Ryan Braun for taking responsibility for his past actions.”

The Brewers slugger earned NL MVP in 2011 when he batted .332/.397/.597 with 33 home runs, edging out Los Angeles Dodger Matt Kemp by only 56 votes.

Braun's father Joe, most of whose side of the family was murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust, was born in Israel. His father immigrated to the United States at age seven.

The suspension will cost Braun $3.4MM.

Hank Greenberg in extra innings


“I think Hank Greenberg was the great American hero,” Washington filmmaker Aviva Kempner says. “What he did on Yom Kippur. What he faced. He was our Jackie Robinson.”

Thirteen years after the debut of “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg,” her documentary about the baseball great, Kempner is rereleasing the film on DVD — including an additional two hours of interviews that didn't make the original cut.

Greenberg, known to Jewish fans as the Detroit Tigers' power hitter who sat out an important game during the 1934 pennant race because it fell on Yom Kippur, scored achievements rivaling those of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Greenberg served in World War II and, after his retirement from playing, went on to be an owner-manager of the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox. He faced anti-Semitism throughout his playing career.

The DVD of “extras” includes players who were contemporaries of Greenberg's talking about him and how baseball used to be. In one humorous juxtaposition, Kempner follows a clip of a spirited argument for why being from the South makes a better player with a clip of an equally confident assertion that being in the North makes a better player. And she weaves throughout the CD an audio interview with Red Sox outfielder Ted Williams.

There are insights from baseball broadcasters and writers such as Washington's Shirley Povich. And the fans have their say: Lawyer Alan Dershowitz tells how he hid his baseball glove behind his Talmud in school. Detroit-born brothers Sen. Carl Levin and Rep. Sander Levin talk about their passion for the game and reverence for Greenberg. Joanne Kinney, identified as a “batgirl,” describes how she convinced Greenberg to do her math homework for her.

Kempner spoke about Greenberg, the second time around:

Washington Jewish Week: What explains the fact that Hank Greenberg is still a household name?

Kempner: He was a very powerful hitter. He almost broke Babe Ruth's record. He stood up to adversity. He fought in war. And our heroes in Judaism are the stories we keep repeating. He taught America that he could be true to his religion, even in a pennant race.

What are the highlights of the extras for you?

Who else could get Ted Williams, the great Hall of Famer, and Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsberg in the same DVD extras? I'm pretty proud of that. Also, Greenberg made all these great innovations in baseball, like taking mitts. [Before the practice changed, players dropped their mitts in the field rather than taking them back to the dugout.] I can't imagine what that was about. Also, there's more of Shirley Povich, [actor] Walter Matthau, Senator [Carl] Levin and his brother, Congressman Sander Levin.

You originally jumped on the idea for a documentary on Hank Greenberg because he was Jewish and played for your hometown team, the Detroit Tigers. Were you also a baseball fan?

My dad always talked about him. Every Yom Kippur my dad would talk about how Hank Greenberg hadn't played on Yom Kippur '34. I grew up thinking Hank Greenberg was part of Kol Nidre services. And another thing — I was tired of always seeing these nebbishes, these nerds on the screen. When Greenberg died [in 1986], I said this is a Jewish hero I grew up with — a 6-foot-4, strapping Jewish male. Of course I had my crushes in baseball. So I thought I've got to do it, but I've got to do it from the point of view of the fans. The worshiping of him was amazing. And luckily he lived up to the image.

Has your thinking on Greenberg changed?

No. Can you imagine what it is to go every day to work and have people yell and scream names to you? It's important for people to see what he faced — and in America. Maybe we can be a little more sympathetic to the other in this country, to immigrants or to people who don't look exactly like us or practice their religion like us.

What I think one of his greatest significances is in '34 is not playing on Yom Kippur. He really taught America what our holiest day was. And how the Supreme Court still has the Hank Greenberg model, according to Justice Ginsburg. They won't have cases argued on Yom Kippur in case there's a Jewish lawyer. She said the justices can take off, but what if it's a lawyer?

Do you think he really did a girl's math homework for three months? I wasn't sure what to make of that.

Absolutely. She swears by it. That was when you had access. There was that other man who followed Greenberg around at the airport and wound up sitting next to him on the plane. It's just a different era.

I was amused at the section in the interviews where the veteran players are griping: about Astroturf, about the balls and bats players use now, about baseball today as showbiz.

It was the golden age of baseball. Games were played during the day. There was more pure hitting. It wasn't being a multimillionaire superstar. It was for the love of the game. I'm not saying that players today don't love the game. What I'm saying is the heroes of the game are the ones who played back then.

Greenberg could have moved into showbiz, become a superstar, if he was playing today, don't you think?

I think he did exactly what he wanted to — he went into management. He loved the game so much. And there were great innovations like the scoreboard, hiring African-Americans in the league. I don't think he was a showy man in that way but, yeah, he could have done pretty much anything he wanted to.

Are you working on a new film?

I'm working on a film about the great philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, the head of Sears Roebuck. One hundred years ago he gave away $62 million to a little over 5,000 schools for African-Americans, and gave to thousands of African-American artists and scholars. I think it's a great philanthropy story, and an unknown story between blacks and Jews.

For information about the film, go to hankgreenbergfilm.org.

Detroit ‘hero’ Hank Greenberg’s Jewishness


The big question in Detroit in the fall of 1934 had nothing to do with the troubled state of the world. Rather, the fans of the Detroit Tigers wanted to know whether their star first baseman, Hank Greenberg, was going to play on the Jewish High Holy Days. After all, the Tigers were in first place and they were contesting the New York Yankees for the pennant.

“The three Detroit dailies issued extra editions with updates every half hour,” John Rosengren writes in “Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes” (New American Library: $26.95), a spirited and insightful biography of the first Jewish ballplayer to achieve iconic status. “ ‘Hank is headed for the synagogue;’ ‘Hank is headed for the ballpark.’ … Detroit baseball fans grumbled: ‘Rosh Hashanah comes every year, but the Tigers haven’t won the pennant since 1909.’”

Sometimes the narrative in Rosengren’s biography reads like a Jewish joke. One local rabbi ruled that the Talmud allowed Greenberg to play, but another rabbi read the same texts and came to a different conclusion.  Ultimately, he was forced to decide for himself.  “He stood, undressed and slowly put on his uniform,” Rosengren reminds us. When he hit a ball out of the park, the grateful fans shouted: “Happy New Year!”

Hank’s parents back in New York, Sarah and David Greenberg, were observant Jews from Romania. They expected their son — whom they variously called Hyman, Hymie or Hy, although “Henry” appeared on his birth certificate  — to put family, school and religion before sports. Of course, they wanted him to be a doctor or a lawyer. But Rosengren points out that Hank’s Jewish background was actually an advantage when he was looking for a way to break into pro ball.

New York’s team owners recognized that a significant fraction of their fans were Jewish, and they were actively recruiting Jewish players. “A home run hitter with a Jewish name in New York would be worth a million dollars,” John McGraw, the storied manager of the Giants, told the New York Tribune.  The Yankees courted Greenberg, but he ultimately accepted an offer of $9,000 from the Tigers and won his father’s blessing: “I thought baseball was a game,” said Pop. “But it’s a business — apparently a very good business. Take the money.” By the fall of 1934, he was playing first base for Detroit.

Detroit, of course, was the home of Henry Ford, whose Dearborn Independent served as an outlet for ugly anti-Semitic propaganda: “American baseball has passed into the hands of the Jews.” Detroit was “a lonely place for Hank Greenberg, the young Jewish transplant from the Bronx.” And yet, amid the alarming news about the rise of Hitler and the Nazis in Germany during the 1930s, Greenberg represented “the elusive Hebrew star,” as the American Hebrew wrote, “for whose discovery and acquisition John McGraw…spent fortunes in vain.”

“Hank Greenberg” is an inside-baseball book, and Rosengren expertly analyzes and explains Greenberg’s career on the field.  Like every baseball book, stats play a prominent role. But the author also captures the human drama in Greenberg’s life and career, and, above all, the dire political and cultural background against which the game of baseball was played in the 1930s and 1940s.

“In a dark time, Hank was certainly giving the Jewish community something to cheer, but he was doing something even more significant: In an age when Jews were considered weak, unathletic and impotent, Greenberg stood as a mighty figure and, in his image as a home-run slugger, a symbol of power,” writes Rosengren. “He changed the way Jews thought about themselves. And the way others thought about them.”

I started watching and playing baseball only after Greenberg’s career had ended, but I learned his name at an early age. Indeed, Hank Greenberg is still revered in Jewish circles.  Yet, as Rosengren points out in rich detail, Greenberg’s sense of Jewish identity had little to do with religious observance and much more to do with showing the world that Jews could achieve greatness in the national sport.

On Yom Kippur in 1959, for example, he told his young children that they would not be attending school on the Jewish holiday.  Rather than taking them to shul, however, he took them to the Hayden Planetarium in Manhattan.  “It was several years before I realized,” recalls his son, Steve, “that Yom Kippur was not a day that Jews went to the planetarium.”


Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal. His latest book is “The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris” (W.W. Norton/Liveright), published to coincide with the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht. Kirsch can be reached at books@jewishjournal.com.

All-star Jewish baseball team


During Yom Kippur, many Jews fret over whether Jewish Major Leaguers will play on the holiest of holidays. This has become a growing problem, because the number of Jews playing Major League Baseball (MLB) has been increasing. 

This season, for example, 13 Jews — Brewer Ryan Braun; the Mets’ Ike Davis and Josh Satin; Padres pitcher Jason Marquis; Phillies reliever Michael Schwimer; Rangers’ Scott Feldman and Ian Kinsler; the Rays’ Sam Fuld; Red Sox’s Craig Breslow, Ryan Kalish, Ryan Lavarnway and Danny Valencia; and White Sox’s Kevin Youkilis — wore big league uniforms. Another 53 Jews played professional baseball in the minor leagues this year.

There have been more than 160 Jews out of the roughly 17,000 players who have played Major League baseball since the National League (NL) began in 1876. Two of them — Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax — are in baseball’s  Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

[Related: Seven years later, player gets second chance at bat]

While Jews were inscribing themselves in the Book of Life, I was inducting the greatest players into the Jewish All-Time All-Star team.

First base: Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg (1911-1986) was the first Jewish baseball superstar. On Sept. 18, 1934, when Greenberg was leading the American League (AL) in RBIs and his Detroit Tigers were in a close battle for first place, he chose to attend Yom Kippur services rather than play. When he arrived at the synagogue, the congregation gave him a standing ovation. 

During his playing career, the 6-foot-4 Greenberg — who hit 58 home runs in 1938, two short of Babe Ruth’s 1927 record — faced anti-Semitic slurs and occasionally challenged bigots to fight him one-on-one. He often said that he felt every home run he hit was a home run against Hitler. 

Playing between 1930 and 1947 (interrupted by the equivalent of four full seasons during his World War II service), Greenberg hit 331 homers, had a slugging average of .605 and batted .313. He led the AL in homers and RBIs four times. He had more than 100 RBIs in seven seasons, including an astounding 183 in 1937. Greenberg played in three World Series, was a five-time All-Star, and was the AL’s Most Valuable Player in 1935 and 1940. In 1935, when the previous year’s pennant-winning managers selected the All-Star teams, Greenberg’s own skipper, Mickey Cochrane, didn’t pick the Tigers slugger for the AL team even though he already had 103 RBIs at the All-Star break, a record that still stands. (Cochrane picked Lou Gehrig and Jimmy Foxx as the All-Star first basemen.) The Bronx native was inducted into the  Baseball Hall of Fame in 1956. 

Second base: Since joining the Texas Rangers in 2006, Ian Kinsler (born 1982) has been selected to the All-Star team three times (2008, 2010 and 2012). He is one of only 12 players in baseball history to join the 30/30 club — to hit at least 30 homers and steal 30 bases — which he’s done twice (in 2009 and 2011). On April 15, 2009, Kinsler went 6-for-6 and hit for the cycle. During his career he’s averaged 25 homers, 81 RBIs and a .273 batting average.

Shortstop: The roster of good Jewish shortstops is pretty thin, so we’ve moved second baseman Charles Solomon
“Buddy” Myer
, an all-around infielder, to this position. Myer (1904-1974) played in the majors for 17 years. Except for two years (1927-28) with the Red Sox, he spent his entire career with the Washington Senators. 

Coming out of Mississippi A&M University (now Mississippi State), he joined the Senators in 1925 and had a lifetime batting average of .303, leading the AL in 1935 with a .349 average. He also led the league in stolen bases (with 30) in 1928. During his career, Myer had 2,131 hits in 8,190 at-bats. He played most of his career before the All-Star game began in 1933, but was selected to the AL teams in 1935 and 1937. Myer is probably the greatest player never elected to the Hall of Fame; his career statistics are equal to or better than those of other infielders, like Billy Herman and Bobby Doerr, who were voted into Cooperstown. 

Third base: Al Rosen (born in 1924) dropped out of the University of Florida in 1942 to play minor league baseball, spent four years in the military during World War II and made it to the major leagues in 1947, becoming the Cleveland Indians’ starting third baseman in 1950. That year he set an AL record for most homers (37) by a rookie, a milestone that wasn’t broken until 1987 by Mark McGwire. Rosen spent his entire 10-year playing career with the Indians, winning the AL MVP award in 1953, when he led the league in homers (43), RBIs (145), runs (115), total bases (367) and slugging (.613), and finished second in batting average by less than one percentage point. Selected for the All-Star team four consecutive years (1952-1955), Rosen twice led the league in homers and twice had the most RBIs. He was a .285 career hitter, with 192 home runs and 717 RBIs in 1,044 games.

Outfield: During his 15-year career (1993-2007) with the Blue Jays, Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Mets, Shawn Green swatted 328 homers, accumulated 1,070 RBIs and hit .283. He made the 1999 (NL) and 2002 (AL) All-Star teams and won the Golden Glove award for fielding in 1999. He hit more than 42 homers three times (with 49 in 2001) and batted in more than 100 runs in four seasons. In 1999, he led the AL in doubles, extra base hits and total bases. On May 23, 2002, playing with the Dodgers against the Milwaukee Brewers, Green hit four home runs (tying the Major League record), a double and a single (going 6 for 6), setting a record (19) for most total bases. In 2001, Green ended a streak of 415 consecutive games played when he sat out on Yom Kippur. Three years later, as the Dodgers’ leading hitter, Green missed the Dodgers game against the Giants on Yom Kippur even though his team was in the middle of a tight race.

Outfield: Ryan Braun (born 1983) has been a superstar since he first arrived in the majors in 2007. He was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers out of the University of Miami in the first round of the 2005 draft (fifth overall). He was the first Jew to win Rookie of the Year honors, hitting .324 with a league-leading .634 slugging average. He was the NL’s MVP in 2011 and an All-Star every year since 2008. In his six seasons he’s averaged 37 homers, 118 RBIs and 23 stolen bases, with a .313 batting average. (He’s currently leading the NL in homers, RBIs and slugging). Braun, who grew up in Mission Hills, once lived with his grandfather in a house that once belonged to Hank Greenberg.

Outfield: Brooklyn-born slugger Sid Gordon (1917-1975) joined the New York Giants in 1941 from Long Island University and played outfield, first base, second base and third base with the Giants, Boston and Milwaukee Braves, and Pittsburgh Pirates until he retired in 1955. He slammed 202 home runs and batted .283. He hit 25 or more homers in five seasons and had more than 100 RBIs three times, and was picked for the 1948 and 1949 All-Star teams. In Gordon’s first Major League game, on Sept. 11, 1941, the Giants put four Jewish players on the field, including outfielder Morrie Arnovich, pitcher Harry Feldman, catcher Harry Danning and Gordon.

Catcher: Harry (“the Horse”) Danning (1911-2004), born in Los Angeles, played his entire career with the New York Giants, from 1933 to 1941. His playing years were cut short when he entered military service during World War II and quit baseball at age 30. In 890 games, with 2,971 at bats, he hit .285, played in two World Series (1936 and 1937) and was selected to the NL All-Star team four consecutive years (1938-1941). On June 15, 1940, Danning hit for the cycle, including an inside-the-park homer. His best season was 1939, when he hit .313 with 16 homers and 74 RBIs. Danning led NL catchers in putouts three times and in base runners caught stealing twice. In 1934, while the Giants were in spring training in Florida, a hotel refused entry to Danning and another Jewish player, Phil Weintraub. After Giants manager Bill Terry threatened to move the World Series champion team to another hotel, the management relented. 

Pitcher: Many baseball experts consider Sandy Koufax the greatest pitcher of all time. Born in Brooklyn in 1935, the left-handed Koufax was a better basketball player than baseball player at Lafayette High and then at the University of Cincinnati. Because he was signed (for $4,000) as a “bonus baby,” the Brooklyn Dodgers had to put him on their roster before he was ready for the majors. Joining the team in 1955, Koufax’s first five years were plagued by wildness. In 1961, three years after the team had moved to Los Angeles, catcher Norm Sherry (a fellow Jew) urged Koufax to take something off his fastball. His control dramatically improved and Koufax became the game’s premier pitcher from 1961 through 1966, when arthritis in his left elbow ended his career prematurely at age 30.

During his career, he won 165 games and lost only 87. Despite his short career, he had 2,396 strikeouts. He was selected the NL’s MVP in 1963. He won the Cy Young Award as the game’s outstanding pitcher, unanimously in 1963, 1965, and 1966 when the honor was for all of baseball, not just one league. In those three years, Koufax led all major league pitchers in wins, strikeouts and earned run average. In 1963, he won 25 games (and lost only five), struck out 306 batters, had an ERA of 1.88, threw 11 shutouts (still a record for left-handers) and led the Dodgers to a four-game World Series sweep over the Yankees. Over his career, he hurled four no-hitters, including a perfect game against in 1965. In 1972, Koufax (then 36), was the youngest player ever elected to the Hall of Fame.

When Koufax decided to skip the Dodgers’ first game of the World Series against the Minnesota Twins, on Oct. 8, 1965, which fell on Yom Kippur, his decision made headlines and sparked controversy around the country. But he also became a source of great pride among American Jews. In his 1966 autobiography, Koufax wrote: “There was never any decision to make … because there was never any possibility that I would pitch … the club knows that I don’t work that day.” On Sept. 25, 1966, one day after Yom Kippur, Koufax lost a 2-1 game to the Cubs’ Ken Holtzman, the next standout Jewish Major League pitcher. Both players had refused to pitch on the Jewish holy day. 

Had we expanded the All-Time All-Star Jewish roster to include backup players, we could have added such outstanding athletes as pitchers Steve Stone (the 1980 Cy Young Award winner with a 25-7 record),  Holtzman (who threw two no-hitters and was a two-time All-Star), Barney Pelty (with a career 2.63 ERA) and Erskine Mayer (who had 91 wins and only 70 losses, with a career 2.96 ERA, between 1912 and 1919), three-time All-Star Youkilis, two-time All-Star catcher Mike Lieberthal, Ron Blomberg (the No. 1 pick in the 1967 amateur draft, MLB’s first-ever designated hitter in 1973 and a career .293 hitter), slugging outfielder Mike Epstein and Lipman Pike, the first known Jewish major leaguer, who hit .322 in an 11-season career that began in 1871, before the modern baseball era. Some lists of Jews claim the great Hall of Fame Cleveland Indians shortstop Lou Boudreau, but although he had a Jewish mother, he was not raised, and did not identify, as a Jew.

Peter Dreier is professor of politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His book, “The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame,” was recently published by Nation Books.

Seven years later, player gets second chance at bat [VIDEO]


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A Chicago Cubs rookie who was hit in the head by a pitch seven years ago and never played another Major League Baseball game will receive a second chance.

Adam Greenberg will sign a one-day contract with the Miami Marlins and be guaranteed one at-bat in Tuesday's game against the New York Mets, Marlins president David Samson told NBC's Today Show on Thursday.

Greenberg, now 31, was hit in the back of the head by a 92 miles per hour fastball in his first plate appearance as a Cub in July 2005. Helped off the field and hospitalized, he never returned to the major leagues after that ninth inning pinch-hit appearance against the Marlins.

No other player has ever had his big league career end on the first pitch, according to Major League Baseball's website.

Greenberg has since dealt with post-concussion syndrome, dizziness, severe headaches, double vision and nausea.

His major league dream seemingly gone, Greenberg has kept his baseball aspirations alive with appearances with several minor league teams and most recently with the Israeli team in qualifying competition for the World Baseball Classic where he drew a walk in his only appearance.

“He has earned this chance as his love and passion for the game never diminished, despite his career tragically being cut short,” Marlins owner Jeffrey Lori said in a statement.

“I look forward to seeing Adam step up to the plate and realizing his comeback dream next Tuesday night.”

Greenberg said he would be ready.

“It doesn't matter if I get a hit or I don't, this has already been a success,” the Connecticut resident said.

“Life is going to throw you curve balls or fastball in the back of your head,” Greenberg said. “I got hit by one of them. It knocked me down. I could have stayed there. I had a choice. I could have said, 'Poor me, and this is horrible.' But I chose to get up and get back in the box.”

Officially his hit by pitch seven years ago is considered a “plate appearance.” Greenberg hopes to change that on Tuesday with a genuine at-bat.

He will donate his one-day salary to the Marlins Foundation, which will make a donation to the Sports Legacy Institute, an organization that advances the study, treatment and prevention of the effects of brain trauma in athletes and other at-risk groups.

Reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina; Editing by Frank Pingue