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Replay: Yom Kippur, or Yom Baseball?

JEWISH BASEBALL NEWS — Last year, Jewish Baseball News published an op-ed by editor Scott Barancik about playing baseball on the High Holidays. Because the topic remains controversial, we are reprinting his piece below in its entirety, along with a 2011 addendum.

Please feel free to share your comments.

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Opinion: Yom Kippur, or Yom Baseball?

September 16, 2010 5 comments

JEWISH BASEBALL NEWS — Every year around this time, Jewish sports fans take out their yardsticks and measure the Jewishness of their favorite players with one simple question: Are you going to play ball on Yom Kippur?

This year is no different. The newswires were abuzz this weekend with a report that Washington Nationals SP Jason Marquis had decided to pitch against the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday night (9/17/2010), a time when observant Jews will be reciting Kol Nidre at synagogue. “Your team expects you to do your job and not let your teammates down, and that’s the approach I take,” Marquis said.

Earlier today (9/16/2010), ESPN.com reported that New York Mets rookie 1B Ike Davis still hadn’t decided whether to play on Yom Kippur.

Holy as Yom Kippur is, it strikes me as a little unfair to judge a player’s commitment to Judaism and the Jewish community by his willingness to sit out a game or two once a year.

Nobody talks about it, but thanks to baseball’s packed schedule, Jewish ballplayers already have to miss countless Shabbat dinners with their families during a season. Can you imagine a Jewish pro asking his manager for permission to skip all Friday night and Saturday afternoon games?

The fact is, team sports and religious observance are mostly incompatible. If you want to be a great baseball player — or simply avoid getting kicked off the high-school team — you’ll probably have to skip religious school in favor of batting practice. Anyone who has reached the pros must have made peace with that trade-off long ago. It’s why you see very few observant Jewish athletes.

I do love it when a Jewish athlete honors his tradition, whether by proudly declaring his religion, or skipping a game on Rosh Hoshana. When Koufax and Greenberg sat out, they honored us all. It takes guts.

But whether to play on Yom Kippur is no easy decision.

Imagine you are Jason Marquis. Your tradition, your conscience, your mother, perhaps — all of these may tell you to skip the game. There are other considerations, though, other constituencies.

You agreed to a two-year, $15-million contract with the Nationals in late 2009. Instead of contributing to the team’s ‘win’ column in 2010, you began the season abysmally before being diagnosed with bone chips in an elbow and spending months on the disabled list. Now, back just one month, you have a chance to pay back the fans and teammates, and to resurrect your career. Is that a prudent time to ask your employers for a day off?

The decision is Jason Marquis’. Let’s leave the judging to the umpires.

– Scott Barancik, Editor

October 7, 2011 addendum:

Why put all the High Holiday onus on Jewish players when it is Major League Baseball — an organization with strong Jewish representation, including commissioner Bud Selig and several other team owners — that sets the playing schedule?

One option would be for MLB to reduce the league’s 162-game schedule to, say, 152 games and declare 10  holidays from across the religious spectrum, such as Good Friday, Easter, Christmas, Rosh Hoshana, Yom Kippur, Eid Al-Fitr, and Laylat al-Qadr. No doubt such a change would elicit howls from many fans, including baseball purists and foes of so-called political correctness. Indeed, it’s unlikely to happen.

But if it is fair for Jewish fans to ask whether Ryan Braun will be playing tonight when the Milwaukee Brewers open their playoff series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, erev Yom Kippur, it seems just as fair to ask whether Brewers owner Selig will be on hand to watch.

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