World Series Jews

October 25, 2022
Alex Bregman (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images); Garrett Stubbs (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Two Jews will be in the World Series that begins this Friday—the Houston Astros’ superstar third baseman Alex Bregman and the Philadelphia Phillies’ little-known back-up catcher Garrett Stubbs.

Bregman has had an exceptional post-season performance so far, hitting .333 with two homers and seven RBIs, helping the Astros defeat the New York Yankees in four straight games to win the American League pennant. His three-run homer home run in the second game was all the Astros needed to beat the Yankees 3-2.

During the season, Stubbs backed up J.T. Realmuto, perhaps the best catcher in the majors, and played only sporadically. But when he had a chance to play, he did well, hitting .264 with five homers and 16 RBIs in 106 at bats in 46 games: his best performance in his four major league seasons. The Phillies, who went 87-75 and finished third in the NL East during the regular season, improbably scratched their way into the World Series, so even with his limited playing time, Stubbs made some important contributions, including a three-run walk-off homer to beat the Marlins in June. Stubbs hasn’t played yet in this year’s post-season games, but he may be needed as a pinch-hitter or catcher, particularly if the best-of-seven series lasts more than five games, or if Realmuto is injured.

Last year, a record four Jewish baseball players played in the World Series between the Atlanta Braves and the Astros. Pitcher Max Fried and outfielder Joc Pederson took the field for the Atlanta Braves. Bregman and Stubbs, who played for the Astros last year before being traded to the Phillies for this season, were on the Houston roster. Stubbs replaced catcher Martin Maldonado in the ninth inning but didn’t get a chance at bat.

In the second inning of game six, which clinched the series for the Braves, Bregman came to the plate against Fried. It was the first time in World Series history that two Jews faced each other.  On Fried’s second pitch, Bregman lofted a foul ball that was caught by Braves’ right fielder Pederson, making it a Jewish trifecta on one play.

Stubbs and Bregman are among the 173 Jews who have played in the majors since 1901, the year considered the start of what is now known as Major League Baseball. (This represents about one percent of all major league players.) This season, 13 Jews donned big league uniforms: Richard Bleier, Noah Davis, Scott Effross, Jake Fishman, Dean Kremer, Eli Morgan, Kevin Pillar, Rowdy Tellez and Jack Weiss, in addition to Bregman, Fried, Pederson and Stubbs. Over the past decade, an average of 14 Jews have played on major league teams each year. That is more than in any decade since 1901.

During the first two-thirds of the 20th century, most Jewish major leaguers were the children of immigrants who learned to play in city playgrounds and parks. Many of today’s Jewish ballplayers are the offspring of mixed marriages.

Stubbs, born in 1993 in San Diego to a Jewish mother and a Catholic father, was raised Jewish. He attended Hebrew school every Wednesday from age eight to 13 and celebrated his bar mitzvah at Temple Solel, a Reform congregation in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, a San Diego suburb.  He played baseball at Torrey Pines High and was twice selected to the All-California Interscholastic Federation team.

After high school Stubbs went to the University of Southern California, where he was an outstanding hitter and catcher for the Trojans. He was eligible for the major league draft after his junior year, but chose to return to USC for his senior year, batting .346, winning the 2015 Johnny Bench Award as the best catcher in college baseball,and earning a spot on the All-American team by both Baseball America and Rawlings.  He graduated with a degree in policy, planning and development.

The Astros picked Stubbs in the eighth round of the 2015 MLB draft. After three years in the minors, the Astros brought him up to the big leagues on his 26th birthday, May 26, 2019. He made his major league debut two days later, slugging a double in his first at-bat and contributing an RBI single his next at-bat. Despite that auspicious start, Stubbs appeared in only 51 games in three seasons with the Astros, mostly as a catcher but also as an outfielder and pinch-runner. He  was traded to the Phillies last November. Now he’ll be playing for the Phillies against his former Astros teammates.

Bregman was born in 1994 and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His father grew up Jewish and his mother was born Catholic but converted to Judaism. In his bar mitzvah speech at Congregation Albert, a Reform temple, Bregman, then 5’4”, said: “I want to be a professional athlete who plays for the love of the game, never quits trying to give my best, and is a good role model for all of the kids who look up to baseball players.”

In 2009, during his freshman year at Albuquerque Academy, Bregman led his team to the state high school championship. As a junior, he hit .678, was named first team All-State, and led the 18-and-under U.S. National Team to a gold medal at the International Baseball Federation World Championship. He missed most of his senior year due to an injury to his right hand. He was drafted by the Boston Red Sox but chose to attend Louisiana State University, where he studied sports administration. He was voted 2013 National Freshman of the Year by Baseball America and won the Brooks Wallace Award as the country’s best college shortstop. He was a two-time All-American and in his junior year led LSU to the College World Series. His LSU roommate was Aaron Nola, now a pitcher for the Phillies. The two friends might face each other in the World Series.

In 2015, at the end of his junior year, the Astros made him the second pick in the first round of the baseball draft, and he signed to play pro ball. He was the highest drafted Jewish player since Ron Blomberg was drafted first in 1967. In 2016, USA Today named Bregman the Minor League Player of the Year. That July, he was called up to the majors.

Bregman has spent his entire seven-year career with the Astros, playing second base, shortstop and third base. In 2017 he was the youngest member of the USA team that won the World Baseball Classic goal medal. That year, the Astros won the World Series. In 2018 Bregman not only made the All-Star team but was also named the game’s Most Valuable Player after hitting a go-ahead home run in the 10th inning. He led the AL in doubles with 51. The following year he made the All-Star team again, led the NL in walks (119), received the AL’s Silver Slugger Award as the best offensive third baseman, and was runner-up for the AL MVP award. In his career so far he’s averaged 28 home runs and 99 RBIs per season while hitting .277. He had a sub-par season this year, batting just .259, but still swatted 23 homers and had 93 RBIs.

Both Bregman and Stubbs have younger brothers who excelled at baseball. Like his brother, Anthony (A.J.) Bregman starred at Albuquerque Academy. He was selected by the Astros in the 35th round of the 2018 draft. He chose instead to attend the University of New Mexico, played one season for the Lobos, but ended his baseball career without playing in the minors. C.J. Stubbs followed his brother to USC and was drafted by the Astros in the tenth round of the 2019 MLB draft. He’s played in the Astros’ minor league system since then. With former minor league teammates playing with the Astros, and his brother Garrett on the Phillies roster, C.J. might be torn over which team to root for in the upcoming World Series.

Peter Dreier is the E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics at Occidental College and coauthor of two recently-published books “Baseball Rebels: The Players, People, and Social Movements That Shook Up the Game and Changed America” and “Major League Rebels: Baseball Battles Over Workers’ Rights and American Empire.”   

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