Saturday, October 15, 2011

He-Brewer For MVP

My baseball consciousness began in 1967, the year after Sandy Koufax retired so, to my great dismay, I have no recollection of seeing him pitch.  His final six years, from 1961 through 1966, are considered among the most dominant of any pitcher ever.   In 1963, Koufax not only won the first of three Cy Young Awards (given to the best pitcher), but he also was voted the National League's Most Valuable Player.  No Jewish player has won an MVP since.  

I know, you're thinking about the great Rod Carew, who won the American League MVP in 1977.  But contrary to popular belief (and the wishful thinking of baseball-loving Jews) Carew never converted to Judaism, although he married a Jewish woman and raised his children in the Jewish tradtion.

When one thinks about great Jewish baseball players historically -- and Jewish baseball fans tend to do this -- there isn't a long list.  Other than Koufax, it is pretty much Hank Greenberg, the great Tiger slugger who played in the 1930s and 40s, and Lou Boudreau, the Indians shortstop of the 1940s.  All three are in the Hall of Fame.

Sure, there have been other noteworthy Jewish players.  Over the past four decades or so, we've had pitchers Steve Stone and Ken Holtzman, first baseman Mike Epstein, the first designated hitter, Ron Blomberg, outfielders Shawn Green and Art Shamsky, and catchers Brad Ausmus and Mike Lieberthal.  Stone won a Cy Young award in 1980, Holtzman was a formidable pitcher with the Cubs and A's  in the 1960s-70s, and Shawn Green had some excellent years before retiring in 2007.  But overall it is a group lacking in star power.     

But times are changing.  Today's game gives us perhaps the the best and maybe the largest crop of baseball-playing Jews than at any time in baseball history.  This includes Kevin Youkilis of the Red Sox, Ian Kinsler and Scott Feldman of the Rangers, Ike Davis of the Mets, Craig Breslow of the A's, Danny Valencia of the Twins and Jason Marquis of the Diamondbacks.  Youkilis and Kinsler are probably already in the top 10 of all time best Jewish players. 

And then there is Ryan Braun, who, at the age of 27, is not only already one of the greatest Jewish players of all time but has become one of the game's best.  After winning the Rookie of the Year Award in 2007, he has been an All Star the last four years, culminating in a remarkable 2011 season in which he hit 33 home runs, knocked in 106, batted .332 and stole 33 bases.  With the Brewers advancing in the playoffs, we are are lucky to get to see Braun perform on a national stage.   And he just might win the National League's MVP Award.  Mazel tov, Ryan!


Stephen said...

To paraphrase MLK (and RMK*), shouldn't we judge players by the quality of their play rather than the presence (or lack) of their foreskin?

*Ralph McPherran Kiner

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