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By Scott Barancik, editor

With Team Israel’s surprising run at the World Baseball Championship behind us, Jewish Baseball News turns to that beloved annual rite: Spring Training.

A total of 19 Jewish players were invited to MLB Spring Training camps this year, either as part of their teams’ active roster, 40-man roster, or non-roster invitee list. Here is how they’re doing through games played March 17.

Danny Valencia (Mariners)

  • In the first Spring Training with his new team, 32-year-old Valencia is hitting .184 with 1 HR, 3 RBIs, and 5 walks in 38 at-bats. Although he’s a career .321 hitter against righties (and .246 vs. lefties), he has struggled equally against both so far.
  • Seattle has Valencia playing first base almost exclusively. Last season with Oakland, Valencia had no errors at first base, one in the outfield, and 13 at third base.

Richard Bleier (Orioles)

  • Traded to Baltimore by the Yankees last month, Bleier has performed well this Spring, delivering a 1.50 ERA across four outings and six innings overall, and yielding six hits and one walk while fanning four.
  • Bleier is among several pitchers still fighting for a spot in the Orioles’ bullpen.

Max Fried (Braves/minors)

  • A 1st-round draft pick of the San Diego Padres in 2012, Fried — who missed the entire 2015 season due to Tommy John surgery — was impressive in his first MLB Spring Training, yielding a hit and three walks in three outings (and four innings overall) while striking out five.
  • Atlanta not only has promoted Fried to Double-A but added him to the Braves’ 40-man roster, meaning he will be eligible for call-up during the regular season.

Ryan Braun (Brewers)

  • Braun has seen limited action in Spring Training, going 3-for-11 with a HR, double, three RBIs and a walk while striking out three times. Nevertheless, the 33-year-old has remained something of a lightning rod for criticism, most recently for his complaints that Spring Training lasts too long.

Kevin Pillar (Blue Jays)

  • Pillar has been hot this Spring, hitting .355 with six extra-base hits, one RBI, and a .444 on-base percentage. He’s also been batting leadoff, a privilege largely denied him in past seasons due to a dearth of walks.
  • In prior Springs, Pillar’s average has ranged from .111 to .264.

Rowdy Tellez (Blue Jays/minors)

  • A non-roster invitee with a reputation for power — he hit .297 with 23 HRs last season at Double-A — Tellez has hit .259 this Spring with no home runs, two doubles, two RBIs, four walks, and 10 strikeouts.
  • No word yet on which minor-league team Tellez will be sent to after Spring Training ends.

Brad Goldberg (White Sox/minors)

  • In addition to playing for Team Israel in the 2017 World Baseball Championship, Goldberg pitched well for Chicago during Spring Training. In four appearances and 4.2 innings overall, he delivered a 0.00 ERA and earned a save while yielding two walks a hit and striking out one.
  • Earlier this week, the White Sox sent Goldberg back to Triple-A but placed him on the Major League club’s 40-man roster. He’s likely to make his MLB debut this season.

Ian Kinsler (Tigers)

  • Normally a strong Spring Training performer — through games played March 17, his career average was .328 with 30 HRs and 117 RBIs — Kinsler has hit .263 this year, with one HR and one RBI in 19 at-bats.
  • Kinsler also has played for Team USA in the WBC, hitting .294 in 17 at-bats.

Craig Breslow (Twins/minors)

  • Breslow, who has adjusted his pitching form in a data-driven bid to revive his stalled career, earned a minor-league contract with the Twins and an invitation to Spring Training. So far, so good: in five appearances and 4.1 innings overall, Breslow has yielded no earned runs and just one hit while striking out four. On the down side, he’s walked five.
  • Breslow is likely to begin the 2017 regular season in Triple-A.

Alex Bregman (Astros)

  • In addition to playing for Team USA in the WBC, Bregman has hit .304 in Spring Training, stroking two doubles and a walk while striking out once in 23 at-bats.

Garrett Stubbs (Astros/minors)

  • A non-roster invitee who hit a combined .304 in High-A and Double-A last season, Stubbs didn’t get a chance to play with Houston this Spring due to a problem with his throwing arm. He was later assigned to minor-league camp, but manager A.J Hinch said the Astros were “excited” about Stubbs, whom he called “really good behind the plate.”

Michael Barash (Angels/minors)

  • Barash, a 2016 draft pick, was perhaps the most unlikely non-roster invitee this Spring, having topped out at Single-A his rookie season (and hitting .240 there after batting .314 in rookie-league ball). The 22-year-old catcher went a perfect 2-for-2 with the Angels, singling and doubling in two pinch-hit at-bats.

Ryan Lavarnway (Athletics/minors)

  • Despite a non-roster invite, former major leaguer Lavarnway has seen limited play during Spring Training, having instead spent his time starring for Team Israel in the WBC. The 6’4″ catcher went 2-for-3 with a double for the Athletics before joining Team Israel.

Scott Feldman (Reds)

  • Signed to a one-year deal during the offseason, the 34-year-old Feldman is 0-1 this Spring with a 4.50 ERA. In eight innings spread across the starts, he’s yielded seven hits (including 3 HRs) and two walks while striking out seven.
  • Feldman has secured a spot as a starter in Cincinnati’s rotation and might start the team’s Opening Day game.

Jared Lakind (Pittsburgh/minors)

  • A non-roster invitee, Lakind has recorded one save this Spring and held opponents scoreless over three relief appearances. He has yielded two walks and two hits over three total innings while striking out two.
  • Lakind also played for Team Israel in the WBC.

Corey Baker (Cardinals/minors)

  • A non-roster invitee, Baker made his MLB Spring Training debut before playing for Team Israel in the WBC. In a 2.2-inning relief stint, he gave up 2 hits and a hit batsman but struck out one and yielded no runs.

Ryan Sherriff (Cardinals/minors)

  • A non-roster invitee, Sherriff has made the most of his first MLB Spring Training, going 0-1 with a 1.35 in six appearances and 6.2 innings overall. The 28th-round 2011 draft pick yielded six hits and one walk while hitting one batter and striking out an impressive eight.

Joc Pederson (Dodgers)

  • In a familiar pattern, Joc Pederson is hitting .242 this Spring with both a lot of home runs (4) and a lot of strikeouts (10). But that’s not giving him credit for advances he made in 2016, his second full season in the Majors. Pederson raised his batting average 36 points last year (to .246) while reducing his strikeouts, hitting more doubles, and slightly improving his home-run frequency.

Ike Davis (Dodgers/minors)

  • Davis, a former major leaguer who signed a minor-league contract with Los Angeles during the offseason, went 2-for-2 as a non-roster invitee before joining Team Israel in the WBC. He has been assigned to the Dodgers’ Triple-A team.

Ty Kelly (Mets/minors)

  • Kelly, who played for Team Israel in the WBC but does not identify exclusively as Jewish, is 2-for-8 this Spring with two RBIs and a .500 on-base percentage. He made his MLB debut in 2016.

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By Scott Barancik, editor

The roster of players set to represent Israel in the World Baseball Classic in South Korea this March is taking shape.

Team Israel general manager Peter Kurz, whose squad of former Major League and current minor-league athletes guided Israel to a qualifying-round win in September, said Tuesday that 15 ballplayers had already committed to play in the main tournament in Seoul. The list includes:

  1. Ty Kelly, IF (New York Mets)
  2. Sam Fuld, OF (free agent)
  3. Jason Marquis, P (free agent)
  4. Ike Davis, 1B (free agent)
  5. Ryan Lavarnway, C (Oakland Athletics/minors)
  6. Cody Decker, IF (Milwaukee Brewers/minors)
  7. Josh Zeid, P (free agent)
  8. Nate Freiman, 1B (free agent)
  9. Tyler Krieger, IF (Cleveland Indians/minors)
  10. Nick Rickles, C (Washington Nationals/minors)
  11. Dean Kremer, P (Los Angeles Dodgers/minors)
  12. Corey Baker, P (St. Louis Cardinals/minors)
  13. Jeremy Bleich, P (free agent)
  14. Jake Kalish, P (Kansas City Royals/minors)
  15. Alex Katz, P (Chicago White Sox/minors)

Two key additions are Ty Kelly and Sam Fuld. During the qualifiers in September, Kelly was playing for the New York Mets, while Fuld, then with the Oakland Athletics, was on the disabled list. Also new are minor leaguers Tyler Krieger and Jake Kalish.

Roster spots have been offered to at least seven additional minor leaguers who played for Team Israel in September : Zach Borenstein (Arizona Diamondbacks), Brad Goldberg (Chicago White Sox), Blake Gailen (independent), Scotty Burcham (Colorado Rockies), Tyler Herron (New York Mets), R C Orlan (Washington Nationals), and Joey Wagman (Oakland Athletics). None has provided a final answer yet.

Kurz told Jewish Baseball News that Danny Valencia of the Seattle Mariners and Craig Breslow, who is seeking to return to the Major Leagues, are possible future additions to Israel’s roster. Team Israel also is pursuing Joc Pederson of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Jason Kipnis of the Cleveland Indians.

Several prominent pros politely declined Team Israel’s invitations due to injury, family commitments, Major League aspirations, or other concerns. They include Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers, Kevin Pillar and Scott Feldman of the Toronto Blue Jays, Richard Bleier of the New York Yankees, Jon Moscot of the Cincinnati Reds, and minor-league prospect and Ryan Sherriff of the St. Louis Cardinals. Sherriff played for Team Israel in the September qualifiers.

Alex Bregman of the Houston Astros and Ian Kinsler of the Detroit Tigers have committed to play for Team USA rather than Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic.

Under WBC rules, athletes can play on Team Israel as long as they are eligible for Israeli citizenship. That means having at least one Jewish grandparent or being married to someone Jewish. Nearly all the players on Israel’s roster personally identify as Jewish.

Earlier this month, eight players on the WBC roster visited Israel for a week to learn about the country, meet Israeli fans, and break ground on a new baseball stadium. MLB.com reporter Jonathan Mayo and Ironbound Films co-founder Jeremy Newberger plan to create a documentary about the trip, titled Heading Home.

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By Sam Brief, Correspondent

In September’s qualifying round for the 2017 World Baseball Classic (WBC), Colorado Rockies prospect Scotty Burcham tallied a .455 batting average, the best on Team Israel and among the top 15 for all teams.

If not for Facebook, Burcham might never have swung a bat in Brooklyn.

Since anyone who is Jewish or has a Jewish parent, grandparent or spouse can play for Team Israel, volunteers like Alex Jacobs, a Houston Astros scout, were asked to help find such players. Jacobs often employed creative methods.

Jewish baseball fans didn't know that Colorado Rockies prospect <a href=

Scotty Burcham was Jewish until a volunteer scout for Team Israel 'discovered' him" width="300" height="290" srcset="http://www.jewishbaseballnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/burcham-120x116.jpg 120w, http://www.jewishbaseballnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/burcham-300x290.jpg 300w, http://www.jewishbaseballnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/burcham.jpg 381w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" /> Jewish baseball fans didn’t know Colorado Rockies prospect Scotty Burcham was Jewish until a volunteer scout for Team Israel ‘discovered’ him

“It’s Facebook stalking,” said Jacobs, who recently was named Team Israel’s director of player personnel. “I researched Scotty Burcham, and I found his Facebook. When I research these kids, I look for their parents, and I see if their parents have any Jewish in them. His mother was from New York, I believe. So I checked one box. Then, I looked at a picture of her and thought she looked kind of Jewish.

“So I called [Team Israel manager] Jerry Weinstein and said, ‘How about Scotty Burcham?’ And he said ‘Scotty Burcham? What do you have on him?’ And I’m like, ‘He plays shortstop. He’s Jewish. His mom looks like she’s Jewish.’ So Jerry called Scotty’s manager, and the manager asked Scotty if he was Jewish, and Scotty said, ‘Yeah, I am. Why do you ask?’ And the rest is history. He played really well for us.”

Burcham filled a gaping roster hole in the middle infield and helped Team Israel win the WBC qualifiers for the first time. Israel took down Great Britain and Brazil and then crushed Great Britain, 9-1, in the championship game, to advance to the March 2017 WBC games in Seoul, South Korea.

Houston Astros scout Alex Jacobs (left) and Los Angeles Dodgers scout Jonah Rosenthal (right) volunteered to help Team Israel build its roster for the World Baseball Classic

Houston Astros scout Alex Jacobs (left) and Los Angeles Dodgers scout Jonah Rosenthal (right) volunteered to help Team Israel build its roster for the World Baseball Classic

Israel’s 28-man roster in Brooklyn included former Major League Baseball players such as Ike Davis, Jason Marquis and Josh Satin, who skipped the final game to fly to California for the birth of his child. But Israel’s Law of Return made the roster-building process unlike any other, as the team would venture outside of the database of ballplayers already identified as Jewish.

The WBC’s rules state that a player can join a country’s team if he is eligible for citizenship within that country. Per Israel’s Law of Return, citizenship can be granted to anyone who has a Jewish parent, grandparent or spouse.

“We’re looking for ballplayers who can meet the Law of Return for the land of Israel and become Israeli citizens,” said Peter Kurz, the president of the Israeli Association of Baseball. “That’s a much wider interpretation than the actual Jewish law, which says that you have to have a Jewish mother in order to be considered as a Jew. We were able to make it a little broader.”

Kurz added that Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks, whose father is Jewish, doesn’t qualify since he is devoutly Christian.

“We don’t want people who don’t feel Jewish heritage,” Kurz said.

Volunteers like Houston’s Jacobs, Jonah Rosenthal of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Guy Stevens of the Kansas City Royals, and baseball veterans Adam Gladstone and Ty Eriksen uncovered some previously-unknown gems, such as Burcham. But MLB’s rules require proof of eligibility. That was Kurz’s job. Jacobs, Rosenthal and the others gave Kurz the names, Kurz reached out to the players and proved a Jewish connection, and Weinstein managed the team.

“I would get the emails or numbers of their parents, and in almost every case, the parents were totally thrilled that their sons would compete for Team Israel,” Kurz said. “They would send in their son’s Bar Mitzvah certificate, or a birth certificate or a bris certificate. In some cases, I would need a birth certificate of the father. And in other cases, I would have to go to a grandparent.”

It wasn’t always so straightforward. For one player, a tombstone with a Jewish star had to serve as proof.

“The father went to take a picture of his mother’s tombstone, and sent it to me,” Kurz said. “That was the most extreme.”

In between identifying Jewish players and providing proof of their eligibility to MLB officials, Team Israel had to secure each player’s commitment to play. Some former MLBers, like Davis and Marquis, were tougher gets.

“I called both those guys twenty-something times before I got a return call,” Weinstein said. “Marquis had basically retired in the middle of 2015, when he was playing with the Reds. But he pitched on an alumni team in the [National Baseball Congress] World Series in Wichita, and scouts told me he pitched pretty well. So that sparked my interest in him. … He said, ‘I’m gonna check with my wife,’ then he said, ‘I’ll do it.’ He was a great teammate, and a great pitcher on the team.

“Ike Davis got his release from the Yankees, so he was hanging loose, and the timing was just right.”

Team Israel began with a list of known Jewish players maintained by Jewish Baseball News and Jewish Sports Review. Because certain positions were underrepresented, particularly in the middle infield, Weinstein asked his volunteer scouts to find unknowns.

“A lot of what we did was scouring through systems, like college rosters, to find more,” said Rosenthal, the Dodgers scout. “It was an all-hands-on-deck approach. Some of these guys we hadn’t seen. But we weren’t dealing with the biggest demographic out there. Sometimes it involved calling scouts. Sometimes it involved digging for information.” Roughly half a dozen previously-unknown players were discovered as a result of these efforts.

In March, Team Israel will head to Seoul to face off against Chinese Taipei, South Korea and the Netherlands in Pool A of the WBC, where a total of 16 teams will compete for the title of world’s best.

Unlike the qualifiers, which took place during MLB’s regular season, the WBC will take place during the offseason. Kurz and Weinstein hope to add several Major Leaguers to Israel’s roster, including Joc Pederson (who played for Israel in the 2013 WBC qualifiers), Scott Feldman, Alex Bregman, Ian Kinsler, Ryan Braun, Sam Fuld, and more. Weinstein said Kansas City Royals 3B Mike Moustakas, who is married to a Jewish woman, would be eligible if not for a recent stint on the disabled list.

However the roster pans out, volunteers like Gladstone, Jacobs and Rosenthal hope Israel’s success on the international stage will boosts its popularity within the country, which has been a consistent goal. In early January, players will head to Israel for a team trip.

“When we got that final out in Brooklyn, to know the positives that it would do for growing the game in Israel is amazing,” Gladstone said. “It’s not only the money, but also the equipment and notoriety. You felt like you accomplished something. You had a very small part in growing the game of baseball, and for providing opportunities for young kids in Israel who maybe wouldn’t have that if we didn’t win a baseball game.”

# # #

sam brief mugSam Brief is a sophomore at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, where he is a television reporter, radio producer, play-by-play man and writer. Follow him on Twitter @sambrief and feel free to shoot him an email at briefsam@gmail.com.

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By Scott Barancik, Editor

A total of 146 seasons have passed since Lip Pike became the first Jewish player to homer. Now, we have a new milestone to celebrate.

Joc Pederson‘s game-tying, 2-run blast last night was the 113th Jewish home run of the season, tying the mark set in 2012. Pederson’s home run, his 25th of the year, left his bat at a blistering 110.6 mph, tops in the MLB for the night.

Joc Pederson hits record-tying 113th Jewish HR of 2016

Joc Pederson hits record-tying 113th Jewish HR of 2016

Less than half an hour later, Ian Kinsler crushed a 2-run, go-ahead shot for the record-breaking 114th round-tripper of the year. Kinsler’s 27th home run traveled 410 feet to left-center and left him one behind Lou Whitaker (28) on Detroit’s all-time list of most HRs in a season by a second baseman. The 3rd-inning blast almost didn’t count: despite heavy rain, umpires allowed the Tigers and Cleveland to complete the 5th inning before calling a delay and, eventually, the game.

Ian Kinsler hits 114th Jewish HR of 2016 to break season record

Ian Kinsler hits 114th Jewish HR of 2016 to break season record

Both players likely were unaware they were making history. Earlier this month, Alex Bregman smashed the 3,000th Jewish home run in Major League history.

Although rookie Lip Pike led the National Association with four home runs in 1871, his rookie season with the Troy Haymakers, Jewish players and home runs have not always been so prolific.

In 49 of the past 146 season, Jewish players did not hit a single dinger. During the five seasons from 1986 to 1990, in fact, there was not a single Jewish at-bat.

Aside from Pike, the concept of a Jewish power hitter is, historically speaking, a relatively new one. No Jewish player had hit even 10 HRs in a season until a Detroit Tigers rookie named Hank Greenberg stroked 12 in 1933. This helps explain why Jewish fans went so crazy over Greenberg, who went on to hit a then-N.L. record 58 home runs in 1938, two short of Babe Ruth’s then-Major League record of 60.

By comparison, today is a golden age for Jewish baseball fans. Three players have 25 or more home runs — Ryan Braun (30), Ian Kinsler (27), and Joc Pederson (25) — an accomplishment matched only once before, in 2010.

Jewish HRs by season

Year
AB
HR
Total*107,3153,012
199000
198900
198800
198700
198600
189940
188740
190290
1881180
1985220
1901260
1903270
1920310
1882410
1919470
1991510
1910560
1908580
1927740
1895740
1916760
1918810
1909910
1911920
1907950
1906990
19051110
19041180
19641640
19762380
18753120
19174330
190000
189800
189700
189600
189400
189300
189200
189100
189000
188900
188800
188600
188500
188400
188300
188000
187900
1984631
19572041
18742341
19132491
18762821
18784191
19652372
19252862
19831323
19812233
19593023
19364903
19216373
18711344
19582254
18772664
18732854
19633154
19243554
19305984
19426804
19144225
19266145
19297015
19239495
19622576
19822636
19933116
19125246
18722857
19154367
19614817
19225767
19924248
19318988
19603789
19773959
19435359
19757149
19287579
19321,1609
199447110
194180911
194469913
196775213
195669516
197887518
19331,26118
198085119
199596521
19741,22121
196650622
197979323
194955726
19961,32226
19341,18927
194857930
19681,12231
19731,70534
19551,06035
19711,33536
19451,34837
194789739
19701,48540
20031,80540
19351,28741
20051,64141
19971,71845
20132,00647
19691,43750
19981,52750
19461,30454
19401,47154
19721,90754
20062,41455
19541,61456
20142,29556
19391,87457
20001,99160
19521,87962
20042,04563
19371,95764
19501,19465
20021,86866
19511,90269
20011,70973
19531,71077
20102,30978
19382,45681
20152,82781
20072,44484
20112,16294
20082,223100
20092,277101
19992,089102
20122,598113
2016*2,730114
* Through games played 9/28/2016
Note: The 3,012 Jewish home runs hit through 9/28/2016 were slugged by these Major League players. The tally includes home runs hit by David Newhan before 2000, when he began identifying as a Messianic Jew. It excludes home runs hit by Jim Gaudet, who converted to Judaism after his playing career ended.
Source: JewishBaseballNews.com



As great a season as Jewish players are having collectively, 2016 isn’t close to the most prodigious in terms of home-run frequency.

Through games played 9/28/2016, Jewish players are homering once every 23.95 at-bats, or 13th-best on the home-run frequency chart. The best year came way back in 1950, when Jewish players such as Al Rosen (37 HRs) and Sid Gordon (27 HRs) homered a total of once every 18.37 at-bats.

Jewish home-run frequency, by season

Year
AB/HR
Total*35.63
195018.37
194819.30
199920.48
194921.42
195322.21
200822.23
200922.54
201222.99
196623.00
194723.00
201123.00
200123.41
2016*23.95
194624.15
194027.24
195127.57
200228.30
196928.74
195428.82
200729.10
201029.60
195530.29
195230.31
193830.32
199830.54
193730.58
193531.39
200432.46
193932.88
200033.18
187133.50
197934.48
201534.90
197235.31
196836.19
194536.43
197137.08
197037.13
199738.18
200540.02
187240.71
201440.98
196042.00
201342.68
196242.83
195643.44
198243.83
197743.89
200643.89
198344.00
193444.04
198044.79
200345.13
199545.95
199447.10
197848.61
197350.15
199650.85
199351.83
199253.00
194453.77
195856.25
196757.85
197458.14
194359.44
191562.29
198463.00
187766.50
196168.71
193370.06
187371.25
194173.55
198174.33
196378.75
197579.33
192282.29
192884.11
191484.40
191287.33
192488.75
1959100.67
1931112.25
1965118.50
1926122.80
1932128.89
1929140.20
1925143.00
1930149.50
1936163.33
1942170.00
1923189.80
1957204.00
1921212.33
1874234.00
1913249.00
1876282.00
1878419.00
1990na
1989na
1988na
1987na
1986na
1899na
1887na
1902na
1881na
1985na
1901na
1903na
1920na
1882na
1919na
1991na
1910na
1908na
1927na
1895na
1916na
1918na
1909na
1911na
1907na
1906na
1905na
1904na
1964na
1976na
1875na
1917na
1900na
1898na
1897na
1896na
1894na
1893na
1892na
1891na
1890na
1889na
1888na
1886na
1885na
1884na
1883na
1880na
1879na
* Through games played 9/28/2016
Source: JewishBaseballNews.com

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He didn't know it, but <a href=

Alex Bregman was seconds away from hitting a historic home run" width="520" height="356" srcset="http://www.jewishbaseballnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/bregman-3000th-home-run-9-10-2016-120x82.jpg 120w, http://www.jewishbaseballnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/bregman-3000th-home-run-9-10-2016-300x205.jpg 300w, http://www.jewishbaseballnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/bregman-3000th-home-run-9-10-2016-768x526.jpg 768w, http://www.jewishbaseballnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/bregman-3000th-home-run-9-10-2016-900x616.jpg 900w, http://www.jewishbaseballnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/bregman-3000th-home-run-9-10-2016.jpg 982w" sizes="(max-width: 520px) 100vw, 520px" /> He didn’t know it, but Alex Bregman was seconds away from hitting a historic home run

By Scott Barancik, Editor

In 1871, Lip Pike was considered a slugger. An outfielder with the Troy Haymakers, the 5’8″ rookie led the National Association that season with four home runs, which also happened to be the first four round-trippers ever hit by a Jewish baseball player.

Flash forward 145 years to Sept. 10, 2016 — also known as last Saturday — when another red-hot Jewish rookie came to the plate. Host Houston and the Cubs were tied 0-0 in the bottom of the third when the Astros’ Alex Bregman took a 92mph two-seam fastball from Chicago’s John Lackey and parked it in the right-center seats. Houston never squandered the lead, finishing with a 2-1 win.

Bregman’s 384-foot shot wasn’t just a clutch hit for a playoff-hungry club in front of a hometown crowd. It was the 3,000th Jewish homer in Major League history.

The numbers continue to swell.

In fact, Jewish players are on pace to set a single-season record in 2016. Through games played September 14, they hit a combined 106 home runs, just seven short of the 113 hit in 2012. Three players — Ryan Braun (27), Ian Kinsler (26), and Joc Pederson (22) — have more than 20 apiece, while Danny Valencia is within striking distance at 16.

Jewish HRs, by year

Year
HRs
2016*106
201581
201456
201347
2012113
201194
201078
2009101
2008100
200784
200655
200541
200463
200340
200266
200173
200060
1999102
199850
199745
199626
199521
199410
19936
19928
19910
19900
19890
19880
19870
19860
19850
19841
19833
19826
19813
198019
197923
197818
19779
19760
19759
197421
197334
197254
197136
197040
196950
196831
196713
196622
19652
19640
19634
19626
19617
19609
19593
19584
19571
195616
195535
195456
195377
195262
195169
195065
194926
194830
194739
194654
194537
194413
19439
19424
194111
194054
193957
193881
193764
19363
193541
193427
193318
19329
19318
19304
19295
19289
19270
19265
19252
19244
19235
19227
19213
19200
19190
19180
19170
19160
19157
19145
19131
19126
19110
19100
19090
19080
19070
19060
19050
19040
19030
19020
19010
19000
18990
18980
18970
18960
18950
18940
18930
18920
18910
18900
18890
18880
18870
18860
18850
18840
18830
18820
18810
18800
18790
18781
18774
18761
18750
18741
18734
18727
18714
TOTAL*3004
* Through games played 9/14/2016
Source: JewishBaseballNews.com

The 3,004 home runs hit through 9/14/2016 were slugged by these Major League players. The tally excludes home runs hit by David Newhan after 1999, when he began identifying as a Messianic Jew. It also excludes home runs hit by Jim Gaudet, who converted to Judaism after his playing career ended.

# # #

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kinsler 200th hr 7-3-2016xxxx
By Scott Barancik, Editor

Detroit 2B Ian Kinsler crushed his 200th career home run today in a 5-1 win over the Rays.

The two-run shot, his second in two days, came off P Danny Farquhar in the 9th inning and struck the catwalk high above Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field.

Kinsler is the fifth Jewish player to reach the 200-homer threshold. He joins Hank Greenberg (331 HRs), Shawn Green (328), Ryan Braun (268), and Sid Gordon (202). Kinsler passed Al Rosen (192) earlier this season.

Kinsler’s 200th came in his 1,460th MLB game. By comparison, Greenberg reached 200 HRs in his 860th game, Braun in his 867th, Green in his 1,084th, and Gordon in his 1,458th. All four other players hit multiple homers on the day they reached 200: Green hit a record-tying four round-trippers (May 23, 2002), Greenberg hit two (September 7, 1939), Braun hit two (September 16, 2012) and Gordon hit two (August 14, 1955) — one each in both games of a double-header.

It’s not the only milestone Kinsler reached today. According to MLB.com, he now is one of only three active players — and 40 total in MLB history — with 200 home runs, 1,000 runs scored, 1,600 hits and 200 stolen bases. The other active players are Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran.

Kinsler is enjoying an unexpected power surge this season. Since peaking at 32 home runs in 2011, the 34-year-old Arizona native has yet to hit 20 again. With 16 so far in 2016, however, he already has exceeded his season totals from 2013 (13 HRs) and 2015 (11) and is on pace to breach 30.

Kinsler’s home run was just one of his contribution’s to today’s win over the Rays. With Detroit down 1-0 in the top of the 8th inning, the Arizona State alum doubled and later daringly scored from second base on an attempted double-play. “That got us going, really,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus told MLB.com. “It was great heads-up baserunning, aggressive baserunning.”

The 11th-year player also shone in the field, making a slick backhanded stop and toss to retire Curt Casali in the 3rd inning.

Ausmus summed up Kinsler’s attitude thusly. “He definitely plays with an edge, in a good way. He wants to beat the other team. It’s almost as if he’s a little bit mad at the other team.”

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(MiLB.com)

(MiLB.com)

By Scott Barancik, Editor

Don’t let the first name fool you.

Reliever Ryan Sherriff (St. Louis Cardinals/AAA) is the latest player to join the growing roster of Jewish pro baseball players.

The 26-year-old southpaw is enjoying a tremendous season with the Memphis Redbirds. Sherriff is 2-0 with a 1.45 ERA — third-best among Pacific Coast League players with at least 30 innings pitched — and is limiting opposing batters to 0.96 walks/hits per inning and a batting average of .176.

You might say the California native is pitching beneath the radar. When MLB.com issued its most recent list of the Cardinals’ top 30 prospects, Sherriff’s name was nowhere to be found.

That’s okay. He’ll let his left arm do the talking. Selected by St. Louis in the 28th round of the 2011 draft, Sheriff has a career ERA of 2.89 since then.

Why so many parents of Jewish baseball players have named their son “Ryan” is a mystery. (As Sherriff’s Twitter feed correctly implies, the name is often translated as “little king.”) Sherriff joins four current or former major leaguers named ‘Ryan’ (Ryan Braun, Ryan Kalish, Ryan Lavarnway, Ryan Sadowski), one 2016 draftee (Ryan Gold), and one current independent-league player (Ryan Lashley). Check out this video to get a sense of who Ryan Sherriff is.

Thanks to our friends at JewishSportsReview.com for confirming our reader’s tip.

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(MLB.com)

Ryan Braun (MLB.com)

By Ethel Hilsenroth, contributing writer

Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun, winner of the 2011 N.L. Most Valuable Player award, is having another MVP-type season, excelling with both bat and glove.

Could he win the award again? Statistics-wise, he’s in the mix.

What makes this season very different from 2011, of course, is what happened in 2013. That’s the year Braun finally admitted, after first vehemently denying it, that he had used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).

Don’t tainted ballplayers get blacklisted from future awards?

First, a little refresher. In late 2011, a report that Braun had tested positive for elevated testosterone during the post-season was leaked to the news media. Braun initially denied using PEDs, and he succeeded in getting the test results tossed on a technicality. Later, in 2013, he admitted fault and was suspended 65 games.

What Braun had done was apply a cream and take lozenges that raised his testosterone levels. The drugs promised strength gain, quicker muscle recovery, and prevention of tissue breakdown. Synthetic testosterone can be purchased legally by people who are being treated medically for low testosterone, but it is banned by Major League Baseball.

Back to the question of drugs and awards. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America is responsible for three key honors: MVPs, Cy Young Awards, and Baseball Hall of Fame members.

When it comes to the Hall, baseball writers have not been particularly forgiving of players who took, or were rumored to have taken, PEDs at some point in their career. Consider Barry Bonds, the all-time record holder in career home runs (762) and single-season home runs (73). Or Mark McGwire, who had the second-best and fourth-best home-run seasons ever (65 and 70) and smacked a 10th-best 583 over his career. Or Sammy Sosa, who hit an 8th-best 609 career home runs, nearly half of them over an incredible five-year stretch.

A ballplayer must be named on 75% of baseball writers’ ballots to be enshrined. But Bonds has never done better than 44.3%, McGwire no more than 23.7%, and Sosa 12.5%. Why? They presumably took PEDs at some point during their careers, so their career stats are tainted. Many writers don’t view the numbers as “real.”

When it comes to single-season awards like MVP or Cy Young, writers appear to be forgiving of prior PEDs use so long as the player is no longer juicing.

Consider Nelson “Broomstick” Cruz, who was suspended 50 games in 2013 for using PEDs. In 2015, he came in 6th in AL MVP voting. That still begs the question: did he outperform any of the other players in the top five? That could be a sign writers were discounting his performance — in other words, punishing Cruz for his past PEDs use.

The answer, looking at Cruz’s performance as measured by WAR (Wins Above Replacement, a single Sabermetric baseball statistic developed to reflect a ballplayer’s overall performance), is “No.” Cruz’s WAR of 5.2 was lower than the WAR of each of the five players who came in ahead of him in the voting. Measured this way, the baseball writers voted for Cruz at precisely the level they should have if ignoring his past PEDs use.

The story was similar for pitcher Bartolo “Big Bart” Colón. Suspended in 2012 for 50 games for PEDs use, he came in 6th the following year in voting for the A.L. Cy Young Award. Each of the five players above him in the voting had a higher WAR.

True, it’s an extremely small sample size. But in the cases of Cruz and Colón, it seems baseball writers took the approach — in single-season awards — that past misdeeds had been sufficiently punished and need not be considered when judging subsequent performance.

Braun’s statistics, this year? He’s presumably clean, so there’s no reason to discount the stats. They’re real. And he’s served his time, so to speak, missing 65 games and losing $3.85-million in salary due to his 2013 suspension.

How good a season is Braun having so far? Through games played June 12 — admittedly early in the year — he ranks high in multiple N.L. categories:

  • 1st in fielding percentage among OFs (1.000/tied)
  • 2nd in range factor per game as LF (1.86)
  • 3rd in outfield assists (6/tied)
  • 8th in batting average (.316)
  • 8th in power-speed rating (6.9)
  • 10th in slugging percentage (.541)
  • 10th in OPS (.919)

Bottom line: Ryan Braun’s 2013 suspension for using PEDs is unlikely to hurt his chances of winning the 2016 N.L. MVP Award. If he doesn’t win? It will more likely likely it will be due to injuries, or being outperformed by his peers over the final 100 games.

# # #

Note: “Ethel Hilsenroth” is the pen name of an attorney who writes for Jewish Baseball News.

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By Scott Barancik, editor

Here’s what’s happening in Major League Baseball.

Ryan Braun hit his 250th career home run Wednesday. Among Jewish players, only legends Hank Greenberg (331) and Shawn Green (328) have hit more. The homer, Braun’s 20th of the season, came against the Cubs’ Jason Hammel, the same pitcher who gave up Braun’s 249th round-tripper on July 31. Unfortunately, it came in Wrigley Field, where the silence was audible.

Braun, who added two singles Wednesday, is the 19th active Major League player with 250 or more HRs and the second youngest next to Prince Fielder. He is one home run behind Brewers career leader Robin Yount.

Speaking of home runs, Oakland’s Danny Valencia hit a massive shot to center Wednesday against Toronto, his 10th home run of the season and third since joining the A’s on August 5. Meanwhile, teammate Sam Fuld made two highlight-reel plays in the field, throwing out the Blue Jays’ Troy Tulowitzki at home plate, and — in a classic Jew vs. Jew moment — makes a spectacular catch in left to rob Kevin Pillar of extra bases. (Pillar, who doubled earlier in the game, got the last laugh as Toronto won its 10th straight, 10-3.)

Houston’s Scott Feldman pitched six shutout innings Wednesday in a 2-0 win over the Giants, yielding just four hits and a walk while striking out four. It was the 6’7″ right-hander’s first win since May 26, having sat out nearly 2 months this season after getting knee surgery.

 

 

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By Scott Barancik, editor

Ryan Braun is one shot away from becoming the third Jewish player to amass 250 career HRs, joining legends Hank Greenberg (331) and Shawn Green (328).

Eighteen other active Major Leaguers already have 250-plus HRs. But when Braun joins their elite club, he will stand out in two ways.

Rk Player HR Age AB
1 Alex Rodriguez 678 18-39 10191
2 Albert Pujols 550 21-35 8360
3 David Ortiz 489 21-39 7956
4 Miguel Cabrera 405 20-32 7106
5 Adrian Beltre 404 19-36 9514
6 Mark Teixeira 393 23-35 6528
7 Carlos Beltran 383 21-38 8570
8 Aramis Ramirez 380 20-37 7994
9 Ryan Howard 353 24-35 5288
10 Torii Hunter 349 21-39 8711
11 Miguel Tejada 307 23-39 8434
12 Prince Fielder 305 21-31 5307
13 Adrian Gonzalez 284 22-33 6007
14 Matt Holliday 275 24-35 6179
15 Jose Bautista 273 23-34 4552
16 Curtis Granderson 256 23-34 5419
17 Adam LaRoche 253 24-35 5516
18 Edwin Encarnacion 250 22-32 4654
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/12/2015.

A career Milwaukee Brewer, the 31-year-old left fielder will become the group’s second-youngest member, next to Prince Fielder, also 31. And as long as he homers within the next 35 at-bats, he’ll have the second-fewest overall at-bats of any member, next to Edwin Encarnacion.

Whether Braun will beat the 35 at-bat deadline isn’t certain. Though he had 19 home runs by the end of July — his last was a 395-foot shot to right field off the Cubs’ Jason Hammel on July 31 — Braun is homerless in his last 10 games.

Thanks to Jewish Ball News reader Jack for the tip.

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By Scott Barancik, editor

Matt Holliday’s misfortune has proved opportune for two Jewish ballplayers.

Thanks to the Cardinals outfielder’s injury — sorry, Matt — Dodgers rookie Joc Pederson will replace him in the National League’s starting lineup at Tuesday’s All-Star Game (7/14/2015), and Brewers veteran Ryan Braun will replace Holliday as a reserve on the roster. It’s Braun’s sixth career All-Star nod, but his first since his a 2013 drug suspension. The 31-year-old LF celebrated Sunday with his 16th HR.

Might Braun and Pederson end up in the outfield together sometime Tuesday night?

The All-Star Game isn’t the only occasion for a Pederson/Braun mash-up. In the 6th inning of Friday’s Dodgers-Brewers game, Pederson dropped a single in front of Braun to break up a Milwaukee no-hitter. Pederson’s RBI double in the 7th proved the game-winner.

Dynamic Jew-o: A 6th-inning defensive replacement Saturday, Blue Jays 3B Danny Valencia went 1-for-2 with a 3-run HR. Teammate Kevin Pillar singled, walked twice, and swiped a base in Toronto’s 6-2 win over Kansas City.

The Valencia/Pillar show resumed Sunday. Pillar tripled, doubled in Valencia, and tossed out Eric Hosmer when the Royals 1B tried to stretch a single into a double. Valencia singled and smacked a 2-run double.

Atlanta’s Ryan Lavarnway walked and hit a solo HR Saturday, his first round-tripper since Sep. 4, 2013.

Ian Kinsler, third in career doubles among MLB Jews, hit two Friday to give him 20 for the season. On Sunday, he stroked three singles.

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By Scott Barancik, editor

Now here’s something you don’t see very often: two Jewish players, both centerfielders, smacking 2 HRs apiece on the same day.

Dodgers phenom Joc Pederson and Toronto’s Kevin Pillar accomplished the rare feat Tuesday night. Pederson hit the more prodigious bombs, launching a 477-foot monster in Game 1 of a doubleheader against Colorado and a 472-foot shot in Game 2.

The 23-year-old Palo Alto native added his first Major League triple and drove in 4 RBIs overall. He has homered in 4 straight games and is tied for second in the N.L. with 16 round-trippers.

Pillar was the bigger surprise. Entering Game 2 of a doubleheader against the Nations with just 2 HRs in nearly 200 at-bats this season, the 26-year-old launched a solo shot in the 2nd inning and a 3-run shot in the 6th that plated teammate Danny Valencia, who contributed a double and a sacrifice fly Tuesday. Pillar didn’t his 2nd HR of 2015 until May 30.

(MLB.com)

(MLB.com)

Ryan Braun owns the record for HRs by a Jewish rookie, with 34 in 2007, and was named N.L. Rookie of the Year.  All-time Jewish home run leader Hank Greenberg hit 12 his rookie year (1933), and runner-up Shawn Green hit 15 in his (1995).

The all-time N.L. rookie record of 38 HRs is shared by Baltimore’s Frank Robinson (1955) and the Boston Braves’ Wally Berger (1930). With 16 HRs in the Dodgers’ first 52 games this season, Pederson is on pace to hit 50.

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http://www.wichitawingnuts.com/justinklipp.htmlBy Zev Ben Avigdor, correspondent

One reason we love baseball is because baseball players have great stories. Often those tales make us fans of particular players, regardless of their statistical accomplishments or which uniforms they wear.

Here is one of them, a story of setbacks and adversity, of failure and loss of confidence, and ultimately of perseverance and mastering the mental side of baseball.

Justin Klipp has always been a smart, thoughtful guy. His high GPA and SAT scores attracted the attention of Dartmouth and Harvard, and he was recruited to play baseball in the Ivy League. Instead, the California native chose to make himself more visible as a ballplayer by attending a more traditional baseball school. He played first at Cuesta College, where the Texas Rangers noticed and drafted him in 2004. He subsequently transferred to Cal State Fullerton, the national baseball powerhouse made famous by legendary former coach Augie Garrido. After Klipp’s successes at Fullerton, he was drafted in the 22nd round by the Chicago White Sox, in 2007.

Klipp, 30, has yet to play for a Major League organization, however. During spring training in 2008, he broke his back. Although he was assigned to Chicago’s “Single-A” team, he could not make his first start. He broke his back again in January 2009 and underwent surgery. Doctors said he would not be able to pitch again, but Klipp fought back, worked diligently, and returned to baseball. At first he played in an amateur men’s league in Texas. By 2013, he was playing professional baseball as a member of the Edinburg (TX) Roadrunners in the independent United League. After two weeks in Edinburg, he was picked up by the Wichita Wingnuts of the independent American Association. He pitched two seasons in Wichita, compiling records of 8-3 (3.88 ERA) and 7-3 (3.92 ERA).

This August, while he was in his second season with Wichita, Justin Klipp spoke with Jewish Baseball News. Shortly after, Klipp was traded to the Saint Paul Saints, where he finished out the 2014 season. Following is an edited version of the interview.

JBN: Tell me about your Jewish background.

Klipp: I went to a Jewish preschool, which influenced me in a good way from a young age. And we celebrated family holidays, like Passover and Rosh Hashanah. We’d go to friends’ houses. Very community based. Where I grew up in Calabasas — a lot of Jewish people there. And Hanukah. I got to celebrate Hanukah and Christmas growing up.

JBN: What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?

Klipp: I like Hanukah. Just lighting the candles and singing every night, and it lasts eight days. I didn’t like having to fast on Yom Kippur. I never fasted. Passover, I remember eating peanut butter and jelly on matzah. All the kids would have it.

I had some back issues my freshman year in college and always just had poor posture. It eventually caught up with me and ended up stress-fracturing twice in less than a year.

JBN: You said you grew up with a lot of Jewish kids.

Klipp: Definitely. I would say a conservative estimate would be about 50% of the people I went to school with — junior high and high school — were Jewish.

JBN: Did any of them play baseball with you?

Klipp: I’ve known Josh Satin since I was two years old. We grew up going to play groups and stuff like that. We went to the same middle school. Played PONY League Ball, all the way up, and we were close. Still good friends. Aaron Lowenstein, he made it to double-A. He’s actually one of my best friends. I’m going to his wedding in the Fall. Cody Decker was a little younger than me. I think I played against him — when I was a senior, I want to say. He might have been a sophomore. There’s a lot of guys in the area. Jeff Kaplan I played with in college. He went to [Cal State] Fullerton with me. And then last year with Andrew Aizenstadt here on the Wingnuts.

JBN: Did you play with Ryan Braun in high school?

Klipp: No, he was a little bit older. I mean, Derek Kinzler, you probably don’t know him. He was in the Rockies’ organization. He also played in the Can-Am League. He’s actually really good friends with Ryan Braun. They grew up together and so I hung out with Braun a couple of times, but that was all.

photo from <a href=

Justin Klipp" src="http://www.jewishbaseballnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/photo-from-justin-klipp-300x225.jpeg" width="300" height="225" srcset="http://www.jewishbaseballnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/photo-from-justin-klipp-300x225.jpeg 300w, http://www.jewishbaseballnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/photo-from-justin-klipp-900x675.jpeg 900w, http://www.jewishbaseballnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/photo-from-justin-klipp.jpeg 960w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" /> Justin Klipp pitching for the Wichita Wingnuts

JBN: Was Ryan Lavarnway from Los Angeles?

Klipp: Yeah. So those were really my closest friends that I’ve had that were Jews in baseball.

JBN: What do you like best about being Jewish?

Klipp: Maybe just that it’s different. There’s not as many Jews. And I do like the community, and it’s always nice when I go back home, because I’m still close with a lot of people I grew up with, from high school and that’s just — I love my family. We’re really family-oriented. Jews are really family-oriented, and I like that a lot.

JBN: It must be hard, to have your family back in LA and you’re here.

Klipp: It sucks.

JBN: Israel had a team in the World Baseball Classic. They’re going to have one again in 2016. Your father is Jewish, so you’re eligible. Would you play?

Klipp: Yeah, I would. If I’m still playing professionally, I would love to have the opportunity to go play. Any opportunity to play in the World Baseball Classic, playing with the best guys in the world, would be amazing. I would definitely love to go play for the Jewish — uh, for the Israeli team.

JBN: For “the Jewish team.”

Klipp: For the Jewish team [laughs].

JBN: How did you start playing baseball?

Klipp: Playing tee ball. I was the kind of kid who was athletic growing up, so I tried a bunch of sports. Soccer — the day of tryouts, I told my mom, I’m like, “Mom, I don’t want to do this. Too much running around on the field for no reason.” I was five. So I did tee ball, basketball. I took karate. I did art lessons growing up. I always loved baseball, since I was young. I had a bunch of ups and downs. Baseball is a sport where, obviously, it has a lot to do with confidence, and I had times when I lost confidence playing and it didn’t become fun, but I was always drawn back to it, just because I love playing and I loved the guys growing up.

JBN: Your back has been a problem. What happened?

Klipp: It was a long time coming. I had some back issues my freshman year in college and always just had poor posture. It eventually caught up with me and ended up stress-fracturing twice in less than a year.

JBN: You had surgery in 2009.

Klipp: Yeah, January 2009. It was the Spring of 2011 that I started playing in a men’s league again.

JBN: And then in 2013 you got recruited to play independent league baseball?

Klipp: No, I actually went and tried out for [the independent Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks], I got a spring training invite to Fargo in 2012. Didn’t make the team. I got cut in spring training. I wasn’t quite ready. Actually, to be honest, I don’t think I got a fair shot. They gave me one inning, and I didn’t give up a run. I gave up one infield hit. And a strikeout.

JBN: Sounds like they already had their minds made up.

Klipp: Yeah, they probably had their minds made up. I was just an extra guy — didn’t get a fair shot. It’ll be nice, because tomorrow will my first time pitching against them, since I didn’t get to pitch against them last year and so far not this year. [NOTE: Klipp and the Wichita Wingnuts beat Fargo 7-4 the next day. He scattered 7 hits over five innings, yielding one run and striking out five.]

JBN: Is that in the back of your mind, to say, “I told you so”?

Klipp: Just a little bit, a little bit of shove it in his face. But to be fair, I’m not the same pitcher now as I was two years ago. But, yeah, it’ll kind of be there.

JBN: How did you end up in Austin, Texas?

Klipp: After my back surgery, I was kind of lost, and I just needed a little adventure. I needed to get out of L.A. for a while, and Austin was somewhere I always found intriguing. I always wanted to go to UT.

It’s more about the team in independent ball, it’s more about winning, not as much about developing guys. They don’t really care too much in organized ball if you win or lose; they just want their prospects to get better so they can keep moving them up and getting them ready for the big leagues.

JBN: In your blog, you wrote something about being in Austin and attending classes at UT.

Klipp: I was going to, but I didn’t. That fell through. That was if I was — I thought I was going to be done [with baseball]. At the time I was writing the blog, I thought I was done playing. I had no idea, and that was my plan, to go [to UT]. I was coaching tournament ball. Then I played in a Texas winter league. It’s a league where you pay to play for a month. You pay them, and they help you get picked up…The United League takes a lot of guys out of this winter league. So you go down there — you pay to get on a team. Obviously, you have to be good enough; they’re not going to take everyone. I signed with Edinburg after that, the Roadrunners. Ozzie Canseco was my manager down there. That was interesting, to say the least. Guys would go across the border to play for the cartels. The cartels would put on these men’s league games, and they bet a lot of money on these games, so they would bring ringers from over [the border]. We had a couple guys from the team go over there to play, and after the game, they’d have a trash bag full of money, and they would hand you anywhere from $600 to $1000 for a single game. That was the incentive. It was a month’s pay, right there, in one game, on a Sunday, so you’d have guys shoot across the border and make some money. It was scary. I thought about doing it, but then I left. I pitched really well there, and I got picked up by Wichita three weeks into the season. I had three starts under my belt, and then I came to Wichita. That was how I got here.

JBN: For readers who may not understand the distinction, how would you explain the difference between affiliated ball and independent ball?

Klipp: Not much difference between Minor League double-A and this league. I’d say it’s between high-A and double-A — that would be about the equivalent. Most of the guys here in this league have double-A time and above. There’s not much difference, except it’s more about the team in independent ball, it’s more about winning, not as much about developing guys. They don’t really care too much in organized ball if you win or lose; they just want their prospects to get better so they can keep moving them up and getting them ready for the big leagues. It’s a lot more fun [in independent ball], I would say, especially talking to guys who have been up in the higher levels of organized ball. They love it here, and that’s part of why they’re still playing, too. They can’t let go of that, and it’s that chance to play for love of the game and for that team camaraderie and to win a championship. But as far as difference — there’s not so much difference, [except for] the mentality — it’s about winning. They don’t care if you’re a pitcher and you throw 85, if you’re getting guys out, you’re going to have a job. It doesn’t necessarily work like that if you’re in organized baseball. They don’t care if you throw 95 on our team [Wichita] and walk a bunch of guys and are struggling to find your command. They don’t want anyone like that. They want a guy who comes in, throws strikes, and gets outs — especially our team, very defense-oriented.

JBN: What do you like best about baseball that makes it different from the other sports you played?

Klipp: Baseball has taught me so much over the years. It’s incredible how much influence it’s had on my life and made me the person, the man I am today. I was really influenced, in college especially. Really, it turned me into a man and made me confident, and it taught me a lot of skills that I will take later, once I retire — and if I don’t decide to coach or stay and do something in baseball afterward — and [I] go into in the business world, a lot of skills I learned on the baseball field, such as confidence and taking things one thing at a time and being in the moment and just life lessons that I’ve learned over the years. The biggest thing is confidence, and that’s what I try to instill in all my kids that I teach during the off-season. That’s why their parents really appreciate what I do. Whether little Johnny gets that much better in baseball, they really like the values I instill, and the kids look up to me…It’s always good for a kid to have someone to look up to, other than your parents, outside your family, and that you can talk to and have a relationship with. I think it’s really important.

The big thing that I had to learn was staying in the moment and not thinking about my last at bat that was bad or my last bad outing or that last pitch that I threw that the guy hit 500 feet. 

JBN: You said that those lessons then extend outside baseball.

Klipp: Yeah, I see it. When I grew up, I wasn’t that confident a kid. I had a lot of self-esteem issues growing up, as most kids do. In this game, you have to have confidence. And there’s a fine line between being cocky and having confidence, which I always tell my guys. And that’s what my dad always harped on me, growing up: You never have to tell anyone how good you are, you go and you show them on the field. He always taught me to be humble. That would be the biggest thing, confidence. And also just being in the moment and not letting things that you can’t control affect you. You can’t control what the umpire does, you can’t control if your fielder makes an error. I see a lot of kids — if you’re pitching and your second baseman makes an error, and you turn around and throw your hands up and show bad body language and show up your fielder, which in turn makes them feel even worse than they already feel for making an error. You control what you can control. And it’s the same thing in life. You can’t control what other people do and let that affect you. And the big thing that I had to learn was staying in the moment and not thinking about my last at bat that was bad or my last bad outing or that last pitch that I threw that the guy hit 500 feet. You have to move on, and that’s another great life lesson, that people are so caught up in the past and the future that they’re not going to live in the now and enjoy what’s going on right in front of them. I enjoy working with kids on that, on getting them to lock in, on teaching kids to be able to focus their mind on whatever it is and then be able to space out. You have to have that time, what our sports psychologist called the six seconds of focus: when you step into your circle and you’re ready, because that’s just about the time it takes from the time the pitcher toes the rubber and delivers the pitch — then space out.

JBN:What would you want the readers of Jewish Baseball News to know about you? Something that’s important to you.

Klipp: I’ve started [writing] a book. A working title is “I’m the Man.” It’s from when I had this nine-year-old team, and we had a kid who was a really skilled player. You saw him, and it was like, “Dang, this kid’s really got some talent.” But he didn’t have confidence, he just wasn’t confident — at all.

JBN: Even though he was so much better than the other kids.

Klipp: That’s the thing. He didn’t realize it. And I guess that was the same thing for me growing up. I didn’t realize how — I knew I was better, but I just didn’t have the confidence that I should have had. After one game, when he had a tough game at the plate and just didn’t do well, I called to him, “Matty, come here. What’s going on, bud?” And he was just sitting there, not really giving me an answer, and I told him, “You need to say, ‘I’m the man,’ out loud. You need to tell me, right now, ‘I’m the man.’” Most kids can’t say it. This is a thing I do with a lot of kids to help build their confidence, because they just can’t say it out loud. If you don’t have self-esteem, you can’t say out loud and with conviction, “I’m the man” and “I can do this” or whatever else you want to replace for that. So he started softly, [in a whisper] “I’m the man,” and I said, “No! Say it louder!” I just got in his face. People were around — it was just outside, in a little league facility, and people were watching me and looking at me like I’m crazy. He just said again [still softly] “I’m the man,” and I was, “No, louder.” And he slowly built up, louder, and he kept saying, “I’m the man,” and we keep going back and forth, and all of sudden tears started coming out of his eyes, because he just had so many emotions going on, he didn’t know what to do to deal with them all, he had no idea — and all of a sudden, he just fired off [yelling], “I’m the man,” loud, at the top [of his lungs], with conviction, and he was breathing [hard] and you could just see the transformation right there, just getting him to say that at the top of his lungs. At that point, everyone was looking at us and going, “Oh my God, what is this?” At the next game, which was later that day, because it was a tournament, I had coaches coming up to tell me, “Who’s your catcher? Your catcher is the best catcher I’ve ever seen.” He made a huge transformation. The other parents — and his mom — they thought it was just something special. And then one of the team moms made shirts with “I’m the man” on the back, and our whole team motto was, “I’m the man,” and that just became our thing. And we ended up winning our first tournament a few tournaments after that. It was a special team, special to do that.

I do that a lot with my clients. They can’t say it, they can’t say it like they mean it. I tell them, “You have to go home and look in the mirror and be able to look at yourself and have that confidence to be able to say that.” That’s the one thing I would say is the most important thing that I’ve taken away from this: in life, the ability to be confident and not cocky. Most of the confident kids, it seems like, growing up, are the ones that are bullies. They act — but they’re probably not — confident. Kids are learning how to be confident. That’s part of growing up. Life is tough. It’s tough out there. It’s not easy. You’re very innocent when you grow up. You have no idea what the real world is going to be like when you get out there, and if you don’t have these skills — being confident, staying in the moment, thinking positive…A lot of it is positive thinking, which really affected me. I would always go to the negative, because I’m a perfectionist. Augie Garrido — I read it in his book [Life Is Yours to Win: Lessons Forged from the Purpose, Passion, and Magic of Baseball] — he tells his team, the first day of practice, that he has four rules, and the third rule is that you will strive for perfection, but you will fail. You learn from those failures, you pick yourself back up, basically you get back on the horse, and you keep doing it, again and again: “When you fail, recognize the message that’s in the failure and be motivated to get better. And then to do your best again and again until you find the solution.” You keep striving for perfection, but you have to understand you’re going to fail. Your expectation level has to be realistic. And that’s the thing: I see a lot of kids who are perfectionists, and that’s how I was growing up — I was a perfectionist. But it wasn’t in check. My expectation level was to always be perfect, and when I did fail, everything would just come crashing down. That was the biggest thing, growing up.

JBN: When was the turning point?

Klipp: When I went to [Cal State] Fullerton, they taught me all this stuff. I quit in the middle of my sophomore year, from losing my confidence. I got drafted my freshman year, by the Rangers. Then my sophomore year, I didn’t have a great start, wasn’t throwing quite as hard. I was working out too much, I was trying too hard. I was trying to get better, to be so much better than the season before. It’s a long story. It came crashing down. If you read the blog, a lot of it is in there. I literally quit in the middle of playoffs my sophomore year. I ripped up my jerseys and put them on my coach’s car — that’s how bad it got. I was fortunate enough to go to the Northwoods League and play in Minnesota — Alexandria — and that’s where I fell back in love with the game. And then I was lucky enough to have an agent who gave me the opportunity to throw a bullpen in front of the Fullerton coach, and they invited me to walk on for January workouts. January workouts are intense, 12 hours a day, every day except Sundays for 23 days. I had to earn a spot there, and that was one of my biggest accomplishments. Against all odds, I was going into one of the top programs in the country, in the middle of their toughest time. They made you run two miles in under 14 minutes, and I didn’t make it. I was one of the few guys that didn’t. I was not a good runner then, not a long distance runner. That’s when I broke down. I got shin splints that turned into stress fractures, both my junior and senior years. So you could say I don’t run [long distances] anymore. But I made the team and actually became the right handed set-up guy for a while until I stress fractured my shin and kind of fell off. But they taught me. At first I was like, “What is all this they’re talking about? What is this six seconds of focus and all this psychology?” It took me a little time to buy into it, but once I did — and especially going into my senior year when I really bought into it — I saw the difference of how it transformed me as a person and as a baseball player. I took a class with Ken Ravizza that fall. He teaches at Fullerton. He used to work with Walter Payton, back in the day, and with U.S. Olympians and the Anaheim Angels. Now he gets flown around to different big leaguers to work one-on-one with them. Evan Longoria does one-on-one sessions with him. He’s a great guy. He influenced my life, as well as our whole coaching staff, and in particular Rick Vanderhook. He was the assistant coach at the time. He’s now the head coach. He’s tough. He’s like an army sergeant, and it took me a while, but he really built my confidence, like you wouldn’t believe. His philosophy — the team philosophy — was, if you can deal with the wrath of “Hooky” you can deal with anything out on the field. That’s what they wanted. It took me a while, but once I could accept the ‘wrath of Hooky,’ I had made the transformation.

My senior year, our team had a falling off, and we barely made the playoffs. The whole year I pitched in relief. I had a stress fracture in my left shin, and I couldn’t go more than four innings, or else I would have been the Sunday starter [one of the top three starting pitchers on a college team but not the ace, who is typically the Friday starter]. We didn’t really have a third starter that year, just a bunch of freshmen that kept rotating in and out — there was no set guy — and I didn’t get to pitch in the first two, first-round playoff games out of the bullpen, because I wasn’t needed. At the time, I had an ulcer in my stomach, because of all the pain pills I had to take to pitch, for my shin, and I had a ten-minute tape job — the tape job was like a cast — before each game. I had to walk around in a boot when I wasn’t playing. The next day after I would pitch, I couldn’t even walk, I was limping around — it was that bad.

Guys would go across the border to play for the cartels. The cartels would put on these men’s league games, and they bet a lot of money on these games, so they would bring ringers from over [the border]…After the game, they’d have a trash bag full of money.

JBN: How did you find the strength to pitch?

Klipp: That’s the mentality that they taught me. I fell apart my junior year, and that kind of helped, too, because I had experienced it, so that my senior year I knew how to deal with it. So Hooky got on me on the bus after the game, and I was, at that point, pretty fed up. I was pretty upset, because I didn’t get to pitch those two games, and I felt like, “What was going on?” They hadn’t announced the third starter yet, and Hooky got on my case about going from the bullpen to the dugout to get food. And I just yelled back at him, “Hooky. I got an ulcer because of all the pills that I take to pitch for you, so I have to eat.” I kind of went off on him on the bus, in front of everyone. And he yelled, “Klipper, get off the effing bus right now!” We got there, and he just wore me out, and I wore him out. And he loved it. He loves when you can get to the point where you can [yell back at him]. He’ll break you down, like you won’t believe; he broke me down like I was a wild stallion. And the next morning, I woke up and was all pissed off. I was sitting in my chair, slumped down, and they made an announcement, “Starting pitcher today — Klipper.” I made my first start of the year, and we won. We actually beat Fresno State — half of the guys on that team were on the team that won the College World Series the following year. It was a tough game. That day, while I was sitting there in the stands, getting mentally prepared, I saw Tanner Scheppers, who now plays in the big leagues for the Rangers, get hit in the head by a come-backer. Line drive. And I was in the stands, watching, trying to get ready. It was bad. I was sitting there, watching, waiting for the inning to end. I had my headphones in, listening to music, trying to get ready, mentally ready, and I had to witness this, but I couldn’t think about that. So the first thing, I went out, and I was really nervous. First game ever I’m on national television, and I’m pitching, first start of the year. I walked the first batter of the game, but then settled in. I gave up that run, and I gave up one more hit that inning. I got back to the dugout, and Hooky was, “What the bleep are you doing walking the first batter,” and he got in my face. You have to understand, he’s this short, penguin-looking guy, and he has this voice. I said, “Hooky, get the bleep out of my face. I got this.” I can’t say the rest of it out loud, because obviously it was — but basically I yelled back at him, and he said, “Yeah, alright Klipper,” and he smacked me on the butt, and he said, “You got it.” He knew. And the next four innings, I went out and didn’t give up a run. I gave up two more hits, but that was all. We won the game and went to the next round and ended up going to the College World Series after that. I didn’t get to pitch, though. I was supposed to start the third game, but we went two and out. Heartbreakers. We actually played against [UC] Irvine and [Aaron] Lowenstein in that game, which was a pretty cool experience, playing against my best friend. It was a 13-inning, five hour-and-45-minute game, longest game in College World Series history. If we win, I pitch the next game, and if not, we go home. We ended up losing, and I didn’t get to pitch in the College World Series.

JBN: How did Aaron play?

Klipp: He did well. He’s one of the best defensive catchers I’ve ever seen. [Note: Aaron Lowenstein played from 2008-2011 in the San Francisco Giants’ organization, where he threw out an impressive 42 percent of all attempted base-stealers. Like Klipp, Lowenstein had to deal with setbacks — in his case, multiple concussions that prematurely ended his promising career.] 

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“Zev Ben Avigdor” is the pen name of a university scholar who writes for Jewish Baseball News. Click here to see more of his interviews.

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AL CLARK book coverBy Scott Barancik, Editor

From 1976 until MLB officials told him “You’re out!” in 2001, Al Clark was one of baseball’s most respected umpires, and among very few who were Jewish.

In a new memoir written with Dan Schlossberg, the 66-year-old Clark recalls the highlights and lowlights of his life in and out of baseball, from seeing Bucky Dent’s playoff home run and Nolan Ryan’s 300th win at field level to going to jail after a memorabilia scandal.

The son of a sportswriter, Clark also reflects on things Jewish: how blowing the shofar on the High Holidays prepared him for life on the diamond; his admiration for Shawn Green (and contempt for Bud Selig); and anti-Semitism he faced while umpiring in the minors.

The following excerpt is reprinted from Called Out But Safe: a Baseball Umpire’s Journey, published by University of Nebraska Press on May 1, 2014. Please note that while Jewish Baseball News received no compensation for this coverage, the website will receive a small commission for any books purchased via our Amazon link.

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Chapter 8 – The Yiddishe Umpire

When I was growing up in New Jersey, Jewish boys became doctors, lawyers, or accountants – certainly not professional umpires. I’m proud that I was able to change that.

Because of my career choice, my name is actually the answer to two Trivial Pursuit questions, in the sports edition. One is, “Who was the only person in professional sports who wore his name on his hat?” And the other is “Who was the first and only Jewish umpire in American League history? “

There have been National League umpires who were Jewish — Dolly Stark, Stan Landes, Al Forman, to name three. Later, Paul Schreiber served in both leagues after the staffs were combined. But I was the first and only Jewish American League umpire.

People were surprised when they found out I was a Yid. They said to me, “Geez, that’s not a profession for a Jewish boy, an umpire?” And they’d say umpiring is difficult and getting to the big leagues even more so, adding that if it were easy, more Jews would’ve tried.

I’m very proud I’m Jewish. I was bar mitzvahed in Ahavath Israel, an Orthodox synagogue in Trenton, New Jersey, in a January that had a lot of snow. I even learned to blow the shofar for the high holidays.

My rabbi, Solomon Poll, took religion very seriously and was a very good teacher. Before the High Holy Days, he would bring out the shofar and show all the kids how to blow it. For some reason, maybe I was full of hot air even then, I could put the shofar on the side of my mouth and could hold the ram’s horn. I could blow the shofar and make it have a true sound.

It’s not easy but I didn’t think it was that tough either. The rabbi took a liking to the way I could blow the shofar and assigned me to do it in synagogue during the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur holidays. I was a rookie who came in cold. It’s a good thing the rabbi let me take the shofar home; I did a lot of practicing.

When the holidays finally arrived, I was more skittish than a cat in a room full of rockers. I was more nervous than I ever was on a baseball diamond – probably because I was so young and inexperienced.

But my grandparents couldn’t have been more proud. Their grandson, little Alan, was blowing the shofar on the High Holy Days. It was kind of cool.

Blowing the shofar was not only a good experience but helped make me comfortable years later. I was never nervous in front of people or nervous about public speaking. And isn’t public speaking supposed to be one of the most nerve-wracking things people do?

By the time I walked onto a big-league baseball diamond, I had years of training and experience in dealing with crowds.

I probably could have used shofar spring training but went to Yankee spring training instead. I grew up listening to Mel Allen broadcast Yankees games. We knew Mel was Jewish and came from Alabama; his real name was Mel Israel.

Religion wasn’t a big deal for me in the big leagues. I never forgot that I was Jewish. All I did was work hard.

With the exception of a handful of players, a few owners, and lots of writers – who wanted to be part of the game but probably weren’t good enough to play – baseball is primarily a world of non-Jewish people. The fact that I am Jewish never came into play, although some people did know about it.

Some of the players today don’t have a feeling of the history of the game and feel like major league baseball wasn’t important until they arrived. They don’t know the history. There are some African-American players today who don’t have a grasp on who Jackie Robinson was and what he did, nor Henry Aaron or Willie Mays. That’s a shame. They are cheating themselves of the great multi-ethnic foundation of our game.

There weren’t too many Jewish players in baseball history, but the ones who were there knew who Hank Greenberg was, what he did, and how he did it. And Moe Berg.

What a great story Berg was, whether you’re Jewish or not. He was a covert operative for the United States during World War II. Can a baseball story get any better than a player being a spy?

One story concerning Berg and Babe Ruth is priceless. Berg was a very intelligent man. He spoke multiple languages. After the 1934 season, players took a barnstorming trip to Japan for an exhibition tour. They didn’t fly in those years but took a cruise ship. They left from Los Angeles. The Babe asked Moe if he knew Japanese. Moe indicated he did not. After arriving, Ruth saw Berg speaking to their Japanese greeters in fluent Japanese.

After greetings and salutations, Babe went approached Berg and said, “Moe, you lied to me. Two weeks ago, I asked you if you knew Japanese and you said no.” Berg just looked at him and said, “Babe, that was ten days ago.” On the voyage, Berg learned Japanese.

Stories like that are inherent in our history—and when I say “our history,” the baseball lineage history. Players today should know more about that. The history of our game is what makes our game the greatest game in the world.

Later in life, I realized how important Moe Berg was; I read the book The Catcher Was a Spy. I was proud to know that people in our game were such tremendous patriots – not only Berg but many other players who served during WW II: Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller, Hank Greenberg, and others who selflessly gave of themselves to our country. They are to be admired and honored forever.

I never met Greenberg. I know he was Jewish and that bit of ethno-centrism, that we were both Jewish, made me proud Jews can excel in our national game.

Like Greenberg, Sandy Koufax retired long before I began my own baseball career. But I did meet Sandy a number of times. He is a gentleman above all, a quiet man. He gave of himself very sparingly but when he did, he was all in. He talked to pitchers whenever the situation warranted. He held nothing back once he was committed.

When I was a kid, I met Berg, a friend of my next-door neighbor John “Sparrow” Moran [Flip’s dad]. I even remember playing catch with him in my backyard. I do remember that Berg took the train with Sparrow Moran from Princeton to New York most days and I remember he was a catcher. Moran was a conductor on the now-defunct Pennsylvania Railroad.

My Jewish pride stems from the fact that these players were as good as they were AND we shared a heritage. Greenberg, Koufax, Al Rosen, and Ryan Braun won Most Valuable Player awards while Koufax and Steve Stone, along with half-Jew Jim Palmer, won Cy Young Awards.

Among today’s players, Shawn Green carved his own niche in baseball history, hitting four home runs, a double, and a single in one game. That gave him 19 total bases, one more than Joe Adcock, who hit four home runs and a double for the Milwaukee Braves against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the ‘50s.

I was always a Shawn Green fan. He came to the big leagues as a Toronto Blue Jay. I knew he was Jewish and did go out of my way to be a little nice to him, to make him feel welcome to the big leagues. It was because of the kindred spirit that we all kind of have.

I’m glad he did well but I never would do anything to help. There was one American League pitcher who shall remain nameless. He had a very Jewish name. We were in the dugout one day, before a game when he came to me and said, “Hi, Al.” I said, “How you doing?” He said, “You know, it’s good to see you. I hear that you’re Jewish.” I said, “Yeah, I am.” He said, “You know, I am too.” I said, “Yeah, it’s pretty obvious.” He said, “I’d like to stay up in the big leagues, and any time you’re back there, calling balls and strikes, would you give me a little help? I’d really appreciate it.”

I curtly and strongly told him that was not the way it was going to be. I told him to rest assured that this conversation will never be repeated, not to any other umpires or to anyone else. Thank goodness, baseball’s umpires do not think of anything except the merits of play.

I don’t think that guys knew I was Jewish. Or cared. Green knew because I told him. Rod Carew knew. Jesse Levis knew. And a few others.

1-Al Clark cartoon

There was one September game in Milwaukee when Green was batting, Levis was catching for the Brewers, and I was the home-plate umpire. It was almost Rosh Hashanah. We wished each other a Happy New Year when we were together at home plate.

Shawn was a good guy. After he had established himself as a star, he came to me once between innings of a game and said, “Listen, anytime you need anything, you know, autographs or bats or balls or anything like that for any charity events, you make sure you call me first.” I thought that was very nice of him.

There are so few Jews in baseball that there’s a fraternity or a family that supersedes baseball. Maybe it’s the heritage we’ve all shared. It’s certainly not anything overt; it’s just a feeling.

I’ve never been to Israel but my dad was there. He went over on a Jewish Times trip.

He used to write for that publication so they took him over there and he had a great time. There was a Jewish magazine convention in Jerusalem he attended.

Long after my career ended, a six-team professional league was founded in Israel. Dan Duquette, now general manager of the Baltimore Orioles, was the American contact and a number of Jewish players – Ron Blomberg, Ken Holtzman, and Art Shamsky – were involved as managers. Blomberg’s team won the championship. Unfortunately, the Israel Baseball League (IBL) lasted just one season, 2007.

I tried to become a consultant to that league, helping their umpires, but it never materialized. I would’ve loved going over and doing some clinics and working with the umpires in Israel.

I never experienced any overt anti-Semitism in the major leagues but had three shaky incidents back in the minors.

My partner Ted Hendry and I were walking out of the ballpark in Indianapolis after the Indians played a game against the Iowa Oaks. When Ted and I were walking to our car an hour after the ballgame, there weren’t a lot of people around. Denny McLain, once a 30-game winner for the Tigers who was back in the minors and on his way out of the game, and Ray Busse, a shortstop who had a cup of coffee in the big leagues, were both on the Iowa roster. Iowa had lost that night and I had worked home plate. Unprovoked by anything, they both started verbally attacking me, “You kike son of a bitch. What the fuck is a Jew doing in our game? You don’t deserve to be here. Go the fuck home, you kike motherfucker.” The players both thought their rant was quite funny but neither Ted or I did.

It shook us up tremendously. Ted and I went back to our hotel and called Joe Ryan, then president of the American Association. He was appalled. Ryan called the Iowa general manager and the two guys were suspended that night. When Joe Sparks, the Iowa manager, came out to home plate the next day, he couldn’t have apologized more. He couldn’t have been more professional. And it was certainly appreciated. I’m sure the news of that evening’s after-game activity made its way around the country quite quickly.

Another anti-Semitic incident occurred in 1974, two seasons before I reached the majors. Once again, Hendry and I were together. That time, we were sitting in a restaurant in Des Moines with former National League (and future Hall of Fame) umpire Al Barlick. He was working as an NL umpire supervisor and scout.

We were just talking when the conversation turned to minorities in baseball when Barlick proclaimed, “I’ll tell you one thing. As long as I’m alive, there will never be another fuckin’ Jew umpire in my league.”

I looked him straight in the eye and just as boldly proclaimed, “I’m Jewish.” I then excused myself, got up from the table, and left. Fortunately, I never saw him again.

I felt the same way about John (Red) Davis, a career minor-league manager who was running the Oklahoma City ballclub during the 1975 season. We had run-ins previously but certainly nothing out of the ordinary. He would voice his displeasure with my umpiring ability. I would allow him his argument, then usually eject him from that day’s contest. Just no big deal.

During one particular evening, a call went against the Oklahoma City club. Davis stormed out of the dugout and headed right towards me. Instead of talking or yelling about the play, his first words were, “You’re nothing but a fucking Hitler.” I ejected him immediately, then walked away, leaving him to argue with no one. He finally left the field and we finished the game.

The next day, Davis said to my partner, Jerry Young, “Why did Clark run me so fast last night?”

All I did was call him ‘a fucking Hitler.’” Young started to laugh uncontrollably while on the field, much to Davis’ dismay. After regaining his composure, Young told Davis I was in fact Jewish.

It took Davis another two months but eventually he did apologize and said, “That kind of shit is out of bounds.”

There aren’t many Jews in baseball, now or when I was active, but there certainly was a kindred spirit, a sharing of relationship, among us. I’m not even talking about anti-Semitism, which often lies right under the surface but doesn’t become overt.

I worked with a lot of umpires. One thing we did in clubhouses and locker rooms was tease each other unmercifully. Whether it was race, religion, politics, cleanliness, wives, nothing was off limits. With my short, squat physique, my religion, and my multiple marriages, I was an obvious target. But it was good, clean fun.

However, if anyone attacked any of us outside of our clubhouse, we would circle the wagons and defend each other always. We were and are family.

I certainly wasn’t the only Jewish major-leaguer: in addition to media members and players, Bud Selig, Jerry Reinsdorf, Fred Wilpon, Bob Lurie, Ted Lerner, Jeffrey Loria, Theo Epstein, and Stan Kasten are Jews on the ownership side.

Probably the most prominent Jew in baseball today is Selig, who became Commissioner in 1998. Except for Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, he served longer in that position than anyone. But I’m not one of his fans. He did something very phony early in my career and I never trusted him after that.

Long before there was any talk of him becoming Commissioner, Selig was the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers. Before a game in Milwaukee, it rained. As a result, the dugout steps were wet and slippery.

I was working with Lou DiMuro. He slipped going up the steps, hit his back, and hurt himself so badly that he had to be hospitalized. An ambulance came onto the field and transported him to a local hospital.

I personally went to Selig’s office after the game for an update on Lou’s condition and to thank him for caring. Little did I know that all he really cared about was getting Lou off the field and and getting on with the game. He may have said the right words, but his actions portrayed something totally different. And ever that happened, I was skeptical of him.

The next day, nobody from the Brewers organization asked about Lou’s injury or well-being. Now this wasn’t necessarily Selig but the Brewers brass did say, “How come you guys only have three umpires today? Why didn’t you bring another umpire to work?”

Once again, the only time they cared about the umpires was five minutes before the game, then they said, “Geez, where the hell are the umpires?” I never forgot that about Selig, about him not caring about Lou DiMuro.

I’m sure that as Commissioner, for the game, and for the owners, he’s done a good job. Some of his innovations have proven to be popular, and the newest one (the second wild-card) will prove to be tremendously profitable for the owners.

I’m not sure Selig did a great job for the umpires. I think he let his director of labor relations handle us. I don’t know that for a fact. I don’t know how much involvement he had. I do know that if he ever came into our umpires’ room, it was only for a photo opportunity. He never came in and asked how our families were, never cared about us on a personal basis. And we represented him. I always thought that was kind of squirrely.

There are only a handful of Jews active anywhere in our game and only one Jewish commissioner in baseball history. I’d like to be proud of my lantzmen but that’s not always possible. For me, that’s a great disappointment.

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Ryan xxx Braun celebrates the last of three HRs Tuesday with Carlos xxx Gomez. (AP Photo/Michael xxx Perez)

Ryan Braun celebrates the last of three HRs Tuesday with Carlos Gomez. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)

By Scott Barancik, editor

In an impressive display of strength and agility that spoiled the Phillies’ home opener Tuesday night, Ryan Braun blasted three HRs, collected seven RBIs, and made a diving catch to snuff out a rally and lead the Brewers to a 10-4 win.

The second three-dinger performance of Braun‘s career — he hit a trio against the Padres on 4/30/2012 — marked the end of a personal drought that began more than 10 months ago. The 30-year-old was homerless his final 20 games of 2013, after which he was suspended 65 games for using performance-enhancing drugs.

Several factors made Tuesday’s performance improbable. Numbing nerve damage in his thumb, booing Phillies fans, the absence of drugs, his recent home run drought, and the after-effects of a long layoff made even one HR seem unlikely, not to mention three.

“I didn’t think there was any chance I could have possibly had a day like this,” the 2011 N.L. MVP told MLB.com. “The game works in mysterious ways.” He said the vigorous boos from Philly fans were “very motivating.”

Braun kept at least one Philadelphia run off the board with a diving catch that stranded two runners to end the 2nd inning. The win boosted Milwaukee’s record to 3-4.

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By Scott Barancik, editor

As baseball fans celebrate Opening Day, Jewish Baseball News is taking a look back at the 21 Jews who participated in MLB Spring Training this year.

Fifteen position players and six pitchers saw playing time, some as full-fledged team members, others as non-roster invitees, and several via short-term stints. Their stats are shown at the bottom; players who made their franchise’s Opening Day roster are shown in bold.

Following are some of the Spring’s top stories.

  • It will take a lot more for him to earn back some fans’ trust and affection, but Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun — fresh from a 65-game suspension for taking performance-enhancing drugs — dazzled, hitting .417 with nine RBIs and eight extra-base hits in 36 at-bats.
  • Ike Davis and Josh Satin both made the Mets’ Opening Day roster and will share First Base duties with Lucas Duda. But Davis — who squeaked by with a .241 average in Spring Training — is among the candidates to be sent down later this week to make room for Jon Niese.
  • Nate Freiman‘s 11 RBIs ranked eighth on the A’s, but it wasn’t enough to make the team’s Opening Day roster. Meanwhile, teammate Sam Fuld wowed his way onto the roster with four triples, 7 RBIs and a .348 on-base percentage.
  • With Boston’s Craig Breslow starting the season on the disabled list, Scott Feldman is the only Jewish pitcher to make an Opening Day roster. He also was the only Jewish starter during spring Training. As a group, Jewish pitchers went 1-and-5.
  • After missing much of the past three seasons with surgeries and injuries, former Boston Red Sox OF Ryan Kalish earned a spot on the Cubs’ Opening Day roster. Kalish hit .304 with 3 RBIs, stole 6 of 7 bases, and reached base 38.5% of the time.
  • Texas prospect Aaron Poreda earned some respect in his first MLB Spring Training since 2011. Poreda claimed one save in two chances, held opposing hitters to a .265 average, and walked just one batter over 8.1 innings.
  • Ian Kinsler, traded by Texas during the off-season for Detroit’s Cecil Fielder, outperformed “Big Daddy” with 3 HRs, 9 extra-based hits, 9 RBIs, a perfect 4-for-4 in stolen bases, a .300 average, and a .382 on-base percentage. Fielder matched Kinsler’s power (3 HRs, 9 extra-base hits, 10 RBIs) but hit .246 while striking out 16 times and drawing only two walks.
  • Ben Guez, a 27-year-old outfielder who spent part of the last four seasons with Detroit’s Triple-A club but has yet to be called up, made a brief but exciting splash in three Spring Training games. Against Toronto on 3/18/2014, Guez reached base all six times, going 3-for-3 with two doubles and three walks. His career MLB Spring Training average is a robust .529, along with a .692 on-base percentage.

 MLB Spring Training hitting, 2014

Team AB H 2B 3B HR RBI SB AVG OBP
Zach Borenstein LAA 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 NA 1.000
Ryan Braun MIL 36 15 5 0 3 9 0 .417 .500
Ike Davis NYM 29 7 2 0 2 7 0 .241 .313
Cody Decker SDP 10 3 1 0 1 4 0 .300 .417
Nate Freiman OAK 42 10 2 1 1 11 0 .238 .327
Sam Fuld OAK 59 16 1 4 1 7 1-1 .271 .348
Ben Guez DET 7 5 2 0 0 2 0-1 .714 .818
Ryan Kalish CHC 46 14 1 0 0 3 6-7 .304 .385
Ian Kinsler DET 60 18 5 1 3 9 4-4 .300 .382
Ryan Lavarnway BOS 38 11 1 0 2 5 0 .289 .357
Jake Lemmerman SDP 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .500
Joc Pederson LAD 38 7 1 0 3 6 0 .184 .311
Kevin Pillar TOR 33 5 1 1 0 4 0-1 .152 .176
Josh Satin NYM 50 13 2 0 1 4 0 .260 .333
Danny Valencia KCR 48 11 1 0 1 4 1-1 .229 .327

Notes: Zach Borenstein walked in his only plate appearance

MLB Spring Training pitching, 2014

Team W L ERA G IP H BB SO AVG WHIP
Jeremy Bleich NYY 0 0 9.00 1 1.0 2 0 0 .500 2.00
Scott Feldman HOU 0 2 5.40 4 16.2 21 2 14 .292 1.38
Aaron Poreda TEX 0 1 3.24 8 8.1 9 1 8 .265 1.20
Danny Rosenbaum WAS 0 1 2.70 3 3.1 3 2 2 .300 1.50
Jeff Urlaub OAK 1 1 8.10 4 3.1 4 2 1 .333 1.80
Josh Zeid HOU 0 0 4.15 7 8.2 12 4 12 .333 1.85

Notes: Aaron Poreda earned one save in two chances; Josh Zeid earned a save in his sole opportunity. Boston’s Craig Breslow did not play, due to injury

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By Scott Barancik, editor

Hollywood couldn’t have scripted Ryan Braun‘s return from disgrace any better.

In his first at-bat since completing a 65-game suspension, the presumably drug-free Milwaukee Brewer smashed an 0-1 pitch off Oakland A’s pitcher Tommy Milone over the left-field wall (see video). “It’s still the first day of spring training,” Braun told USA Today. “Better to hit the ball hard then to strike out.”

Naturally, hecklers and jokesters were in attendance. One wore an A’s hat emblazoned with the phrase “MVP-E-D,” a conflation of Braun’s 2011 MVP award and his use performance-enhancing drugs.

In a switch aimed at making room for second-year outfielder Khris Davis, left fielder Braun played right field for the first time in his MLB career, a span that includes 944 regular-season games.

The Brewers faced off against the Oakland A’s, whose lineup featured 1B Nate Freiman (0-for-2) and Sam Fuld (0-for-2).

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By Scott Barancik, editor

Spring Training has only just begun, but there’s plenty going on in the baseball world.

  • Tyler Kolodny didn’t give up on sports when the Baltimore Orioles released him after six seasons in the minors. He just picked a new one. Although the 6-foot-5-inch, 245-pound Kolodny had never played football at any level, he arranged a tryout last year at Pierce College, earned a starting spot at tight end, and ended up being named all-conference after scoring 5 touchdowns on 392 yards receiving. Now the 26-year-old is joining the University of Memphis team as a sophomore. “Tyler is an athletic savant,” Pierce offensive coordinator Jason Sabolic told the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. “If he decides he’s gonna go be a downhill skier, he’ll be the best downhill skier and he’ll practice until he makes the Olympics.”
  • Former minor-league pitcher Jason Knapp is making a comeback. A one-time Top 100 prospect who’s been out of baseball since 2010 due to a pair of shoulder surgeries, the 23-year-old flame-thrower has signed a minor-league contract with the Texas Rangers. The 6-foot-5-inch Knapp struck out an average of 12 batters per 9 innings over his three minor-league seasons up through Single-A.
  • Ohio State recruit Brad Goldberg has only one minor-league season under his belt, but some people believe he could make the Majors as early as 2014. The 6-foot-4-inch Goldberg — who turned 24 on Friday — posted a 1.54 ERA last season, with 49 strikeouts over 35 innings of relief, and will begin this season as a minor-league starter. “Just a hard-nosed, mature kid, with a really good, aggressive approach to everything he did,” Chicago White Sox assistant scouting director Nick Hostetler recently told MLB.com. “I loved the power arm, the big strong body and the competitiveness.”
  • Ryan Lavarnway is learning how to play first base (see articles one, two). The 26-year-old has played nothing but catcher and DH since the Boston Red Sox drafted him in 2008, but according to MLB Trade rumors, “Boston is so deep at catcher at both the Triple-A and Major League levels, Lavarnway‘s only chance at continued playing time may be as a Triple-A first baseman.” The club reportedly hopes a change of pace will reignite his bat, which has suffered from a power outage.
  • Despite going 9-5 with the San Diego Padres last season, Jason Marquis remains a free agent. The key reason is uncertainty: Marquis underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow last July and will need much of the 2014 season to recover. At 35, whether he will be able to return to form is an open question.
  • Former Houston Astros and Colorado Rockies pitcher Jason Hirsh has opened the Jason Hirsh Pitching Academy in Denver, CO. In addition to coaching and training young hurlers, the 32-year-old still likes to play competitively. Hirsh started one game last year with the independent Amarillo Sox, and the independent Denver Browns claim to have signed the 6-foot-8-inch righthander for the 2014 season.
  • The Milwaukee Brewers are moving Ryan Braun from his traditional spot in left field to right field to make room for second-year player Khris Davis, who hit a remarkable 11 HRs and 10 doubles in just 137 at-bats last season. The 30-year-old Braun hasn’t played since his suspension, in July.

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By Scott Barancik, editor

For some Jewish baseball fans, Yom Kippur isn’t just the holiest day on the calendar. It’s also a litmus test of a ballplayer’s commitment to Judaism.

That’s not so true here at Jewish Baseball News, a secular website that holds no grudge against a ballplayer for choosing to swing a bat during the High Holidays (although we take pride when a player like Sandy Koufax or Shawn Green elects to pray rather than play).

Some players find ways to bridge the gap. Consider reliever Craig Breslow, who told Boston’s Jewish Journal:

“In previous years, I have participated in online Passover seders and High Holy Day services, and have fasted as best as I could, even on game days. ‘Typically, I try to observe the holidays in a way that is meaningful to me and indicative of my commitment to Judaism, but also honors and acknowledges the commitment that I have made to my teammates.”

So without further ado, here’s a breakdown of who played last night, and who didn’t.

Played

Six Jewish major leaguers played last night, and five of them emerged victorious:

  1. Nate Freiman, Oakland A’s.Went 1-for-2. Result: defeated the Texas Rangers.
  2. Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers. Went 0-for-2 but drew three walks, drove in a run, and scored 2 more. Result: lost to the Oakland A’s.
  3. Danny Valencia, Baltimore Orioles. Went 1-for-4 with an RBI single. Result: defeated the Toronto Blue Jays.
  4. Craig Breslow, Boston Red Sox. Of the three batters faced, struck out one, walked another, and gave up a two-run double, leading to a blown save. Result: defeated the New York Yankees.
  5. Josh Zeid, Houston Astros. Pitched a scoreless 8th inning, giving up a walk and a hit but no runs, and earning a hold. Result: defeated the Los Angeles Angels.
  6. Sam Fuld, Tampa Bay Rays. Was brought in as a defensive replacement in the 9th inning. Result: defeated the Minnesota Twins.

Did not play, for one reason or another 

Four major leaguers didn’t play last night even though their teams did, and three of the teams won anyway. With the exception of Baltimore’s Scott Feldman, Baylawsuits doesn’t know whether it was the players’ decision not to play or their managers’.

  1. Scott Feldman, Baltimore Orioles. A member of the team’s starting rotation, he’d pitched 2 days earlier. Result: defeated the Toronto Blue Jays.
  2. Ryan Lavarnway, Boston Red Sox. A back-up catcher, he hasn’t played since Sept. 7. Result: defeated the New York Yankees.
  3. Kevin Pillar, Toronto Blue Jays. A back-up outfielder, he’d started seven of his team’s past 10 games and played part of one other. Result: lost to the Baltimore Orioles.
  4. Josh Satin, New York Mets. A versatile infielder, he’d started six of his team’s past 10 games and played parts of two others. Result: defeated the Miami Marlins.

Unable to play

Four players were on the disabled list, and one was on suspension for violating baseball’s anti-drug policy.

  1. Ike Davis, New York Mets. On disabled list.
  2. Ryan Kalish, Boston Red Sox. On disabled list.
  3. Jason Marquis, San Diego Padres. On disabled list.
  4. Kevin Youkilis, New York Yankees. On disabled list.
  5. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers. Suspended.

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By Scott Barancik, editor

Ryan Braun, the Jewish slugger who won the National League MVP award in 2011 and vehemently denied using performance-enhancing drugs thereafter, has been suspended for the rest of 2013 for violating baseball’s drug policy (see MLB.com article).

“As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect,” Braun said in a statement. “I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions.”

That was as close as Braun — the 29-year-old son of an Israeli immigrant — came to admitting he had used steroids, human growth hormone, or some other pharmaceutical forbidden by Major League Baseball.

The suspension includes the final 65 games of the Milwaukee Brewers’ regular-season schedule as well as the playoffs, which the last-place Brewers (41-56) are unlikely to make. The team is owned by MLB commissioner Bud Selig.

Braun’s half-hearted admission, coming as it did after nearly two years of indignant claims of innocence, is unlikely to win him many admirers. Many will see his written statement as revisionist, his apology as forced. Indeed, ESPN and other sports outlets were spilling over with vitriol for the southern California native today.

The Jewish community is likely to respond similarly. To be sure, there will be supporters, among them some Jewish ballplayers. Cincinnati Reds prospect Jon Moscot tweeted this afternoon that he was “Wishing RB [Ryan Braun] all the best right now. Despite what anyone says I know his work ethic on a personal level and have the utmost respect for him.”

But as Tablet magazine pointed out last week, the Jewish community has never shown the sort of giddy idolatry for Braun that it did for Sandy Koufax, Hank Greenberg, or even modern stars like Kevin Youkilis.

Some of that may have to do with Braun’s lukewarm embrace of us. In a 2010 interview with USA Today, Braun claimed to be “really proud” to be Jewish but went on to express skepticism about the Jewish community’s support. “I don’t want groups claiming me now because I’m having success,” he said.

When Braun apologized today to “anyone that I may have disappointed,” he mentioned the Brewers organization, its fans, and his teammates, but he did not mention the Jewish community.

On Jewish Baseball News’ Facebook page, a commenter was unequivocal about today’s greatest Jewish player. “He is a cheat, plain and simple.”

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