The lead story today at Jewish Ideas Daily is “Covering the Bases,” by Michael Arkush–a report on the February 27 “Night of Jewish Baseball” at the American Jewish Historical Society. At the event, Jane Leavy, author of the highly acclaimed biography of Sandy Koufax, spoke about Koufax as a player and a person, calling him “not just the greatest left-handed pitcher I ever saw” but “the greatest mensch I’ve ever met in my life.” Arkush noted that:
[T]here is no doubt his decision not to pitch in the opening game of the 1965 World Series against the Minnesota Twins because it fell on Yom Kippur has had a profound, and lasting, impact on Jews in this country. “It was OK to stand up and say, ‘I am a Jew,’ and Jews don’t work on Yom Kippur,” Leavy said.
There was a bitter irony in the news that Detroit Tigers outfielder Delmon Young had been charged with a hate crime for assault while yelling anti-Semitic slurs during an altercation outside of his team’s hotel during their visit to New York this past weekend to play the Yankees. Young, who was apparently drunk at the time, spent the night in jail and in addition to facing legal jeopardy, Major League Baseball suspended him for seven days. As is his right, under baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, he may return to the Tigers after being evaluated by a doctor and entering a treatment program.
Ballplayers are no more prone to bad behavior than anyone else in society, so there’s no reason for anyone to jump to any conclusion about the prevalence of anti-Jewish sentiments in the game. But the story had to especially hurt the feelings of Jewish fans of the Tigers and not just because it embarrassed their favorite ballclub. As anyone who saw filmmaker Aviva Kempner’s award-winning documentary “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg,” there was once a time when the Tigers were well known as the big leagues’ “Jewish” team.