May 26, 2019

Shawn Green — Following in Koufax’s Footsteps

Shawn Green has a reputation for being an excellent student. At Tustin High School in Orange County, he graduated third in his class. As a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, he polished his baseball skills quickly, earning a promotion to the major leagues at 23. As a big leaguer, his learning curve was steep as well, and after being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers this fall, the all-star was rewarded with a six year, $84 million dollar contract, making him one of the five highest paid players in the game.

While in Toronto, as his career was taking off, Green attracted the attention of the local Jewish community. “People would contact me or my agent, and over time it made me start to really think about the unique position I was in; I became more interested in helping out and getting involved,” he noted.

Now that Green is home and among family and friends again, he is turning his considerable focus on a new area of study. “I want to learn more about my religion,” said the 27-year-old right fielder, who was never bar mitzvah-ed. “The history, the traditions, and what it means to me at this stage of my life.”

As a high-profile Jewish athlete in a Jewish community where many people grew up following the exploits of Dodger Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, Green has been inundated with requests for both his time and money since the day he signed his Dodgers contract. At least six or seven requests a week pass his way, ranging from individuals wanting him to attend a child’s bar/bat mitzvah, be a guest at a synagogue or grace the opening of a new building. Most recently, he attended the opening of a Jewish Community Center in West Hills, close to where he grew up, but he’s mostly taking a wait-and-see attitude.

“It’s been a little overwhelming, but I’m enjoying it too,” he said. “I’m a very private person, but I’m also interested in learning and exploring; I’m trying to take my time with all of it and make some informed decisions rather than just jumping in without thinking.”

This kind of maturity and perspective is one reason the Dodgers were so aggressive in their pursuit of Green. “Shawn not only has tremendous talent,” said Dodgers legend Tommy Lasorda, “but he’s very mature, and we feel he will develop into a real leader over the next few years.”

As a youngster, Green grew up hearing of the accomplishments of Jewish baseball stars like Koufax and fellow Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg. However, it was an award given to a lesser known Jewish hurler that really caught Green’s attention. “I definitely was aware of Koufax and his statistics, as well as his refusal to pitch on Yom Kippur even though it was the first game of the World Series,” said Green. “But when Steve Stone won the Cy Young [award] for the Orioles, that hit home, because he was someone I’d actually seen play.”