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The 16 Jewish Cubs

The first Jewish Cub

The first Jewish Cub

By Scott Barancik, Editor

On September 5, 1927, Lefty Weinert tossed a 6-1, complete-game win over the St. Louis Cardinals in the first game of a doubleheader at Wrigley Field, yielding 5 hits and no earned runs.

It wasn’t just the 25-year-old southpaw’s Chicago Cubs premiere. It also marked the very first Jewish appearance in this storied franchise’s history.

Another lengthy dry spell would follow. The next Jewish Cub didn’t appear until September 7, 1942, when 23-year-old third baseman Cy Block went 2-for-4 with an RBI double in his Major League debut.

In time, the numbers grew. Through 2016, a total of 16 Jewish players had worn a Cubs uniform. The most recent: outfielder Ryan Kalish, who first played for Chicago in 2014 and earned a .444 on-base percentage in 10 plate appearances during the 2016 regular season.

 

Jewish Cubs

  1. Ryan Kalish, OF (2014, 2016)
  2. Scott Feldman, P (2013)
  3. John Grabow, P (2009-11)
  4. Sam Fuld, CF (2007, 2009-10)
  5. Jason Marquis, P (2007-08)
  6. Adam Greenberg, CF (2005)
  7. Andrew Lorraine, P (1999-2000)
  8. Jose J. Bautista, P (1993-94)
  9. Ken Holtzman, P (1965-71, 1978-79)
  10. Dave A. Roberts, P (1977-78)
  11. Steve Stone, P (1974-76)
  12. Art Shamsky, 1B (1972)
  13. Ed Mayer, P (1957-58)
  14. Hy Cohen, P (1955)
  15. Cy Block, 3B (1942, 1945-46)
  16. Lefty Weinert, P (1927-28)

The roster of Jewish Cubs is dominated by pitchers. Over the decades, a total of 11 hurlers have combined for 165 wins against 156 losses and a 4.07 ERA. Kenny Holtzman tossed two of the franchise’s 10 no-hitters and racked up 80 wins, tying him for 23rd-most in Cub history. Steve Stone, who also pitched for the White Sox, played three seasons with the Cubs before going on to earn a Cy Young Award with the Baltimore Orioles.

A partial box score from <a href=

Lefty Weinert's Chicago Cub debut on September 5, 1927 (click for full box score)" width="300" height="209" srcset="http://www.jewishbaseballnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/weinert-box-300x209.jpg 300w, http://www.jewishbaseballnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/weinert-box-120x84.jpg 120w, http://www.jewishbaseballnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/weinert-box.jpg 406w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" /> A partial box score from Lefty Weinert’s Chicago Cub debut on September 5, 1927 (click image for full box score)

Pitchers are so dominant on the list that they account for 75 percent of all at-bats by Jewish Cubs — and eight of nine Jewish home runs. Position players have hit .253 with a .343 on-base percentage for the Cubs but managed just one home run in 328 combined at-bats, a solo shot by CF Sam Fuld on the last day of the 2009 regular season.

Art Shamsky burned the Cubs twice. In 1969, the outfielder hit .300 with the New York Mets to help deliver Chicago its most devastating late-season collapse. In 1972, in the twilight of his career, Shamsky managed just two hits in his only 16 at-bats as a Cub.

Ryan Kalish played for the Cubs in 2014 and 2016

Ryan Kalish played for the Cubs in 2014 and 2016

Theo Epstein, the Cubs’ president of baseball operations, assembled the roster that led to the team’s 2016 World Series triumph. There were no Jewish players in uniform during the Cubs’ playoff run, however. Kalish, who hit .368 at Triple-A in 2016, was left off the Major League roster and declared his free agency on October 11.

There was one Jewish Cub in a World Series, if only briefly. Cy Block entered Game 6 of the 1945 Series against Hank Greenberg‘s Detroit Tigers as a pinch-runner in the 9th inning with the score tied 7-7. Although he didn’t cross home plate, Chicago went on to beat Detroit 8-7 in 12 innings despite a Greenberg home run.

Detroit, of course, won Game 7, launching what would be a 70-year World Series drought for the Cubs that would finally end, gloriously, in 2016.

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Authors: Peter Ephross, Martin Abramowitz

Published: 2012

Pages: 227

Price: $35 (Amazon.com or McFarland Publishing/800-253-2187)

Our rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Reviewed by Stuart M. Katz for Jewish Baseball News

Overview

In Jewish Major Leaguers in Their Own Words, authors Peter Ephross and Martin Abramowitz present oral histories of 23 of the Jewish players who were on Major League rosters between 1918 and 2005. Beginning with Bob Berman, who played for the Washington Senators in 1918, and ending with Adam Greenberg, who played one fateful game for the Chicago Cubs in 2005, the book provides an unusual window into America’s pastime.

What’s Jewish about it

Some interesting and common themes emerge in the book. Most of the players from the first half of the 20th century identify themselves as traditional Jews, say they experienced anti-Semitism (although not as virulent as the discrimination they saw African-American players suffer), and typically didn’t play on the High Holidays. Jews who played more recently were more likely to be from mixed marriages and less likely to take the High Holidays off.

Jesse Levis, who played for the Indians and the Brewers, recalls playing on Yom Kippur in 1996. He explains that because he wasn’t a superstar, he didn’t feel he had a choice, although he did fast that day. “I’m not Sandy Koufax…I’m a Major League player trying to make a living,” he says. As it happened, Levis didn’t get a hit that day — or for that matter, he says, the rest of the season. “God punished me anyway.” Former 1st-round draft pick Ron Blomberg recalls playing in a game in 1973 that lasted into the first night of Rosh Hashanah. “The game was tied with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, but we had a man on third base. I had to make the decision: quit the game for Rosh Hashanah, or get a base hit….I got a clutch base hit to win the game – the biggest hit of my career. I cherish that at-bat more than anything else in my life.”

Regardless of the era, Jewish pride resonates throughout many of the interviews. Hank Greenberg, who died in 1986, said that when a Jew hears about a gifted Jewish athlete, statesman or artist, “you take a certain pride in the fact that one of your own people (has) made good.”

My take

Although much has been written about Greenberg and Koufax, far less is known about the careers of others featured in the book, men like Sam Nahem, Cy Block and Mike Epstein. Their stories as non-superstars are no less interesting. Among the most compelling chapters are the ones devoted to Elliott Maddox and Jose J. Bautista, whose Judaism was less obvious because they are African-American and Hispanic, respectively.

The obstacles that Jewish ballplayers faced in the 20th century resembled the assimilation struggles that most American Jews faced during that era. But as these oral histories reveal, maintaining Jewish traditions remained extremely important to the players. I look forward to a future volume featuring interviews with Braun, Youkilis, Breslow, Ian Kinsler, Gabe Kapler and other more recent players. I wonder if they will describe their connection to Judaism as clearly and proudly as those who blazed the trail for them.

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Stuart M. Katz is a die-hard Yankees fan. An attorney at Cohen and Wolf in Bridgeport, Conn., he chairs the firm’s Employment & Labor Group and represents employers as well as executives.
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