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may / june 2007:

Why Every American Jew Should Love the Boston Red Sox and Hate the New York Yankees, the Annotated Edition

By Bradford R. Pilcher




There are five seminal moments in the history of Jewish baseball players. Four of them involve the Boston Red Sox. Only one of them involves the New York Yankees. I really think you should do the math.

The history Jewish players have with the Red Sox is only the first reason why — please sit down now — Jews should not support the Yankees. It’s simple logic. The Yankees and Red Sox hate each other, or at the very least, Yankees and Red Sox fans hate each other.[1] Jewish players have a greater history with Boston. Thus Jewish pride demands some form of (at least) token support for the Red Sox, and any support of the Red Sox cannot exist alongside Yankee fandom.

Please do not try this. A Red Sox fan and a Yankee fan in the same body is a paradox of universe-obliterating proportions. Do you really want to be responsible for the end of all existence?

I’m offering this argument for your own good. I even traveled to the team’s spring training to meet Jewish Red Sox and bring you back their story, though that turned into an adventure all its own.[2] Too long have Jews paid homage to the Yankees and their pinstripes. It makes sense, the center of the Jewish universe being in New York[3], but we should be asking, “What have you done for us lately?”

The answer is and always has been, “Not much.” In fact, the Yankees have on occasion screwed us out of our rightful due. I will explain everything to you, but first, the aforementioned seminal moments and why all Jews should love the Boston Red Sox and hate the New York Yankees:

Seminal moment #1: Involves neither the Red Sox nor the Yankees. Thus dispense with quickly. October 6, 1965. Major League Baseball has scheduled Game 1 of the World Series, pitting the Los Angeles Dodgers against the mighty Twins of Minnesota (not really mighty; that part is embellishment).

God has scheduled Yom Kippur. Sandy Koufax, mighty left-handed pitcher for the Dodgers (actually mighty; no embellishment) refuses to pitch in the big game. Jews everywhere go nuts with pride.[4]

Seminal moment #2: Involves the Yankees and Red Sox, but looks better for the New Yorkers. Thus minimize the significance. April 6, 1973. On the hallowed grass of Fenway Park[5], the Yankees face the Red Sox with Ron Blomberg penciled in as their designated hitter. He’s walked in the first inning. This gives him the distinction of being the first major leaguer to play a game as a designated hitter, though he likes to refer to himself as the “Designated Hebrew.” His bat goes to Cooperstown. He goes down with injuries.[6]

I feel it incumbent to point out a few things about that day in April of ’73. It wasn’t all celebrations and champagne for the Yankees. While Blomberg is a fine man who I would never wish to besmirch, he didn’t actually hit anything with that Hall of Fame bat, at least not at that historic plate appearance. He walked. He took four balls and strolled to first base.

I should also inform you that the Red Sox ended that season nine games ahead of the Bronx Bombers. The Yankees didn’t even finish with a winning record. And as for that game in April, the Red Sox beat the ever living bejesus out of the Yanks, piling up fifteen runs to the measly five posted by New York. Fifteen runs. Fifteen. The game was over in the fourth inning.

Seminal moment #3: Involves the Red Sox. Sort of. Thus maximize Boston connection. February 21, 1939. Moe Berg, Jewish catcher for the Red Sox appears on the radio quiz show Information, Please! He does a masterful job, earning kudos from the commissioner of baseball, Kenesaw Mountain Landis[7]: “Berg, in just thirty minutes you did more for baseball than I’ve done the entire time I’ve been commissioner.”[8]

Did I mention he was a catcher for the Red Sox at the time? Berg was an odd goose. He’d gone to Princeton after a year at NYU, studying modern languages — Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, Italian, German, and for some unfathomable reason, Sanskrit. When he played ball in college, he communicated plays with the second baseman in Latin so the other team wouldn’t know what they were saying.

His claim to fame actually comes not from baseball — he had a mediocre career and bounced through five different teams[9] — but from his career as a spy after he retired. His time playing baseball in Japan and his skill with languages made him a perfect candidate when World War II broke out.

As far as Jewish fans are concerned, his moment on the radio, when he “did more for baseball” than the commissioner, will always stand out as a highlight.

Seminal moment #4: Involves the Red Sox. Twice. August 8, 2005. The Boston Red Sox host the Texas Rangers at Fenway. After shellacking them for eight innings, the Red Sox own an 11-6 lead. Manager Terry Francona makes defensive adjustments at the top of the ninth inning. Outfielder Gabe Kapler moves from left field to right field, making room for Adam Stern to enter the game at left. Kevin Youkilis, dubbed the “Greek God of Walks” in the widely read Moneyball book[10], enters the game at third base.

With that little bit of player shuffling, the Boston Red Sox fielded three Jewish players in a single game. That hasn’t happened before. Much. I should make a few caveats.

For starters, the Red Sox and Dodgers had played a game more than a year earlier, and counting Shawn Green of the Dodgers with Kapler and Youkilis, that makes three players. It turned out to be the first time three Jewish players had taken the field in one game since the early 1940s (when four Jews played the afternoon before Rosh Hashanah).

The record for most Jewish players in a game had thus been set more than sixty years before the Red Sox’s ninth inning moves. Three or more players wouldn’t grace the same field in a single game for 63 years, right up until that game against the Dodgers. So that August afternoon in ’05 didn’t break any records, and it had only been about a year since three Jews had last played in a single game.

But wait. This was three players on a single team playing in one game, and what team was that I ask? The Red Sox of Beantown. That’s a significant thing, especially when you consider this little factoid: Boston was also the only team to have four Jewish players on their roster at one time.[11]

Seminal moment #5: Involves the Red Sox, Denis Leary and Mel Gibson. Explanation required. July 28, 2006. Hollywood actor, director, and alcoholic loon Gibson is pulled over for DUI. He proceeds to ask arresting officer if he is a Jew before spewing an anti-Semitic rant. Police report leaks. Gibson apologizes — twice — then goes to rehab.[12]

July 21, 2004. The first episode of Rescue Me airs, starring stand-up comic Leary. Show begins successful cable run.

August 15, 2006. The Red Sox host the Detroit Tigers at Fenway, eighteen days after Gibson’s arrest. The eleventh episode of Rescue Me’s third season airs. Leary and co-star Lenny Clarke show up in the Boston announcing booth to promote the show. The top of the fifth inning, all hell breaks loose.

Now, I can’t convey to you just how incredibly amusing and groundbreaking this event was. That such divergent things as a cable television show, the drunken ranting of a Hollywood director, and a baseball game could converge has to be considered a miracle, a gift from God to Jewish sports fans everywhere.

Youkilis was playing first base, and here is where the “Greek God of Walks” nickname comes into play. Leary mistakenly assumed that Youkilis was Greek, but was corrected by the announcers. Then this followed:

Leary: “Oh Jewish? That’s fantastic! That’s one bottle of whiskey away from being an Irish-Catholic. They got the Manischewitz. We got the Jameson’s. It’s the same guilt, the same bad food. That’s fantastic! We’ve got a Jewish first baseman. I didn’t know that! … I am so proud to have a Jewish first baseman.”

Clarke: “So am I. I hope Mel Gibson doesn’t come into this park. We’ll run him outta here on a rail.”

At this point, Youkilis makes a stunning defensive play. His timing couldn’t have been better. It prompted Leary and Clarke to erupt.

Leary: “Yeah! Where’s Mel Gibson now!? Where’s Mel Gibson now!? Huh? He’s in rehab, and Youkilis is at first base! Alright, Mel? You happy, Braveheart? Did you see that grab, Mel? I hope in rehab they’re showing a replay of that! The Jewish first baseman makes the play, Mel Gibson! I want a whole Jewish infield when Mel Gibson comes out. Bring back Sandy Koufax!”

The funny men didn’t stop there, and the announcers were laughing too hard to rein them in. In all the time I’ve watched the Red Sox, nothing has made me smile more. Nothing has made me happier to be Jewish.[13] Boston ended up losing the game. Somehow it didn’t matter.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I was sitting in a bar. this is not the beginning of a joke. I was actually sitting in a bar, mulling the five seminal moments. This was following my aforementioned adventures at the Red Sox spring training camp.

This was no ordinary bar, either. It stunk of stale cigarettes and spilt beer.[14] There were maybe, possibly, if I bothered to count them, six people in this bar. That includes the bartender and a cocktail waitress who didn’t have any tables to wait on. There may have been people in the kitchen, I don’t know. I’m assuming there was a kitchen; I never looked at a menu.

What you’re thinking right now is, “What the hell does this have to do with the Red Sox?” The answer is it doesn’t have anything to do with the Red Sox, except for this one thing. Also sitting in this bar, three bar stools down from me, was a fan of the New York Yankees.

I know this, because he wore the attire of a Yankee fan: A baseball cap that was the cleanest thing on him. A t-shirt that listed all twenty-six world championships won by New York, the most by any major league team. A jersey, over said t-shirt, with the name and number of a Yankee player, but only a player that makes at least $10.5 million per year. They’re the only ones who have jerseys available for sale.[15]

In addition to these sartorial affronts to decent sports fans everywhere, he also wore a Jewish star around his neck. For a moment, this made me sad for the pitiable schlub. A Jewish Yankee fan, misguided and predictable.

He noticed my Red Sox cap and sauntered up to me. This is what Yankee fans do. They see a Red Sox fan, and they try to start a fight. Unfortunately for him, his drunken state had overshadowed his otherwise top-notch mental faculties. Unable to coherently craft an opening insult, he was defeated before he began and was about to slink back to his stool when I stopped him.

I told him I was working on an article. This article. I mentioned a list of reasons why Jewish fans should hate the New York Yankees and love the Boston Red Sox. If he so desired, I’d be happy to list them for him.

Two rum and cokes and three beers had bolstered my confidence level in direct proportion to a lowered social IQ. Yankee-Red Sox brawls had broken out over less provocation than this, and as his eyebrows furrowed, I wasn’t sure whether he was about to throw a punch or fall over.

My own head swimming with booze, I was even less sure that I’d be able to get out of the way if he decided to strike a blow for his beloved Yankees. Luck was on my side, however. He was interested in what I had to say. So was the bartender. So was the cocktail waitress, since she had nothing better to do. Having attracted an audience, I tried out my material point-by-point.

It is obvious, as I look back on that night, the alcohol had clearly sharpened my skills at persuasion. By the time I was through, the bartender and cocktail waitress were converts to my cause. The cocktail waitress, owner of a crimped hairstyle left over from 1987, may have just been trying to butter me up for a non-platonic encounter, but the schlub Yankee fan looked as if he was about to cry.

Since I’m a generous man, and since I actually wrote these reasons down before I got plastered, I’ll list them for your consideration.

Reason #1: The aforementioned seminal moments. Please review them before proceeding further.

Reason #2: The Yankees are an overpaid, arrogant bunch. Their fans are no different. Twenty-six world championships. Fine, we get it, but give Podunk, Iowa, the biggest payroll in the world and they’ll cart home a couple dozen trophies too. This year, New York is paying their roster $195 million, the most in the major leagues.[16][17]

As for the arrogance, the Yankees like to act as the anointed gods of sport for any reason they can come up with. The obscene number of championships. They’re in New York. Babe Ruth was on their team.[19] Pinstripes make you look taller and thinner.

Reason #3: The Yankees screwed the Jews out of an All-Star appearance. In particular, Lou Gehrig of the Yankees screwed Hank Greenberg, star Jewish first baseman for the Detroit Tigers, out of an All-Star appearance. In 1935, Greenberg cemented his status as one of the greatest sluggers in baseball history by leading the league in home runs (36) and runs batted in (170). He and his .328 batting average led the Tigers to first place in the American League. They’d go on to skin the Cubs of Chicago in the World Series, though Greenberg was reduced to watching from the sidelines with a broken wrist.

Quite predictably, Greenberg snared the Most Valuable Player award for that season. What he did not get was a ticket to first base in the 1935 All-Star Game. That honor went to Gehrig, The Iron Horse as he was known, who’d led the league in homers and RBIs the year before.[20]

And if you think this indignity went unnoticed by Jewish sports fans of the day, including ones resident to the New York metropolitan area, think again. This is what the legendary sportswriter Fred Lieb[21] penned for The Sporting News in the summer of ‘35:

“As for the New York Jewish fans, they no longer are asking why there are no good Jewish ballplayers. When they took pen in hand in late June or early July, it was to express their indignation that Lou Gehrig, rather than their own Hank Greenberg, was picked as the American League’s All-Star first baseman in the big July 8 game with the All Nationals in Cleveland...”

This wasn’t even the first time that Gehrig screwed over the Jewish ballplayer from James Monroe High School. Before landing in Detroit, Greenberg had turned down a lucrative offer from the Bronx Bombers. Why? Because he knew with the Iron Horse glued to first base, the Yankees would likely never bring him up to the big game.

Which brings me to...

Reason #4: The Yankees have had the luxury for decades of sitting in the heart of America’s largest Jewish population, in a town with, at one time, more ballparks than anywhere else in the world. In spite of this, there have been a relatively small number of Jewish players in pinstripes.

Taken by itself, this fact would be less offensive, but when contrasted against the efforts of other New York teams to recruit Jewish players, it’s downright absurd. As far back as the earliest decades of the 20th century, the New York Giants (who would end up crossing the country to San Francisco in 1958) under John McGraw and Bill Terry were scouring the Big Apple for Jewish players. Their interests were largely commercial, not social or political. They wanted the fandom of New York’s Jewish population.

Whatever their reasons, the Giants fielded guys like Moe “The Rabbi of Swat” Solomon[22], Jack Levy, Andy Cohen, and Harry Rosenberg. Most of these guys didn’t amount to anything memorable, but hey. At least the Giants let them play.[23]

But the Yankees? Nope. Lieb, the sportswriter, once wrote, “While McGraw and Terry, his successor, have tried out a whole raft of Jewish players, the Yankees have experimented with only two, Dolly Stark and Jimmie Reese.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As the years went on, more Jews put on the pinstriped uniform in New York, but never more than any other team, and usually less. Certainly fewer did than slid a pair of red socks onto their feet in Boston, which leaves us with the first reason we started with. Jewish pride.

How can a Jew not root for a team that put Denis Leary in the booth to cheer on Kevin Youkilis on the field? How can a team that claimed an historic championship after an 86-year-drought due in large part to the genius of Jewish general manager and boy wonder Theo Epstein[24] not swell the hearts of Jewish sports fans? What isn’t to love about the team that put a Jewish linguist from Princeton behind home plate? The Red Sox have the largest number of Jews on their roster. Can the Yankees beat that? Could they ever?

Maybe none of the Jewish Red Sox are particularly observant Jews. Maybe none of them would ever stand up and refuse to play the biggest game of their careers if it happened to fall on Yom Kippur. But you can’t say they aren’t proud Jews, and you certainly can’t say they’re not making Jews proud to be Americans, to be budding young ballplayers, to be Jewish.

The Yankees? They’re in New York. That’s about it. Now tell me who you’d rather root for? The “evil empire,” as the Bronx Bombers are so frequently called, or the down and dirty, rough and tumble, all heart Red Sox?

Let me put it a different way. You can throw in your lot with Kevin Youkilis, Gabe Kapler, Theo Epstein, Moe Berg, hell even Hank Greenberg and Denis Leary. Or you can buddy up to Mel Gibson and that drunken Yankee fan in some dive bar in Florida.

You do the math. I’ll be waiting at Fenway.



[1] To non-fans, this may seem peculiar. It isn’t. I cannot fully describe the depth of this animosity, but imagine right-wing Israeli settlers and Palestinian terrorists staring each other down on a baseball field. That comes close. [return]

[2] My exploits at spring training with the Red Sox are, as it turns out, not included in this article. As misadventurous as they were, they could easily take up an entire article of their own. In fact they do, right here. See, I wasn’t holding out on you. [return]

[3] Allegedly. I have never seen actual star charts or scientific data to prove this. Also I grew up in the south, so I concede this point only grudgingly and with much resentment. [return]

[4] This really is a big deal, and I brush it aside only because I’ve got a story to write and it doesn’t have anything to do with Koufax, Minnesota, Los Angeles, High Holy Days, the Twins, or the Dodgers — who had decamped from Brooklyn seven years earlier, which I’m fine with if you care to know; New York has enough sports franchises. Koufax went on to blow out the Twins in Game 7. Jews went even more nuts. [return]

[5] Fenway Park is the greatest ballpark in the pantheon of great ballparks. It’s 95-years-old this year, having opened in 1912, and it’s still in use. It has an assortment of unique features, just a few of which include: The Green Monster, Pesky’s Pole, Williamsburg, and the Lone Red Seat. You should look these things up. Trust me. [return]

[6] It’s actually a huge shame about Blomberg’s injuries. I’ve met the man, and you couldn’t ask for a nicer guy to talk your ear off. He’s also a native of my hometown, Atlanta, and he found his way to the Yankees as a wide-eyed kid with the promise of replacing Mickey Mantle. Six injuries later — four knee, two shoulder — and Blomberg washed up on the shores of the Chicago White Sox for one season before hanging up the cleats. Now he manages the Bet Shemesh Blue Sox in the Israeli Baseball League. (See full article here.) [return]

[7] Yes, that is his actual name. No, there are not two N’s in Kenesaw. Yes, feel free to look it up. [return]

[8] Alright, I fess up. This is probably not a seminal moment in Jewish baseball history, but it’s a nice story about a Jewish catcher who played for the Red Sox. This seminal moment probably belongs to Hank Greenberg, who refused to play on Yom Kippur thirty years before Koufax made it popular. In the annals of Jewish baseball history, Koufax and Greenberg are the biggest names. They’re both superstars in their own right, but they were nevertheless made great because they refused to play ball on holy days. [return]

[9] The first of which was the Brooklyn Robins, who had been the Brooklyn Dodgers for a couple years in the teens and would be again after 1932. They moved to Los Angeles in 1958. Considering their prominence in three of the five seminal moments, and the volume of Jews in Hollywood, it’s probably acceptable to root for the Dodgers. Just not against the Red Sox. [return]

[10] Michael Lewis’ book about the Oakland A’s and their success on a shoe-string budget turned the baseball world upside down. It ushered in the age of sabermetrics, a school of statistical analysis that gives traditionalists fits. It also helped catapult Theo Epstein, a Moneyball disciple, into the Boston Red Sox general manager’s office at the tender age of 28. Think of sabermetrics as baseball for nerds, a way to impact the game when you can’t hit a 90-mph fastball to save your life. For bookish Jews like me, Theo Epstein & Moneyball are like Moses & the Ten Commandments. [return]

[11] Craig Breslow, a relief pitcher currently playing for the Red Sox minor league team, was the fourth. He graduated from Yale with a degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry. He likes crossword puzzles and reading. I have no idea why he’s playing baseball. [return]

[12] This is what celebrities do when they’ve done something wrong in public. This is what ordinary people do when they’re addicted to drugs. [return]

[13] Seriously, I mean it. My father only asked for one thing from my mother: a son he could teach to love baseball. It is partly due to my father’s entrenched dislike of the Yankees that I am a full-blown member of Red Sox Nation. And what did I do to thank him? I went AWOL from his faith and converted to Judaism. Finding a bridge between my father’s love of baseball and my Jewish identity gave my life a whole new sense of hope. Let the sun shine in. [return]

[14] OK, so maybe this was an ordinary bar. Nevertheless, I’m not going to tell you the name of it. Quite frankly, nobody should ever obtain refreshments in this bar. If you’re terminally ill and wish to die somewhere colorful, go to this bar. Otherwise, don’t. Also, I forgot to write it down. I’d had a few drinks. [return]

[15] Why only those players, you might ask? Because the Yankees are an arrogant, overpaid bunch of washed up superstars on the downside of their careers. [return]

[16] $195,229,045 to be exact. For 2007, the Red Sox are forking out just under $143 million, the second most in baseball, including $11 million+ for each of their top five players. Kevin Youkilis is only making $424,500. Ignore all of this. [return]

[17] For once, it isn’t doing them a lick of good. New York enters the month of May in last place with a record of 9 wins, 14 losses. If you like rooting for the winners, the Yankees haven’t picked up a title since 2000. The Red Sox won their last one only three years ago[18], and they’re going into May as the first place team. Call that reason 2, subpart A. [return]

[18] Boston won that 2004 World Series title in historic fashion. They are the only team in baseball history to come back from a three games to none deficit in the playoffs. They did this after going 86 years without a championship. Their best pitcher, Curtis Montague Schilling, was forced to throw with a tendon sutured to his ankle bone. His white sock was soaked blood red, literally. Blood red socks. How poetic is that? This wasn’t just any world championship. This was the World Championship. And it belongs to the Red Sox. [return]

[19] Babe Ruth was a member of the Red Sox before the Yankees, let us not forget, and he was arguably a more valuable player in Boston than he was in the Big Apple. He not only hit — and hit well — but pitched in 158 games. In World Series appearances, he threw 29 and 2/3rds consecutive scoreless innings. As post-season pitching goes, that’s almost superhuman. [return]

[20] I’m not going to say a bad thing about Lou Gehrig. The man’s death was a tragedy. But his full name was Ludwig Heinrich Gehrig. He’s not a National Socialist, but it’s not the last time a Jew got the short end from a guy named Heinrich. I’m just saying. [return]

[21] Fred Lieb, while a renowned sportswriter, was also a New York sportswriter and had a good bit to do with slandering the Red Sox owner Harry Frazee and concocting the “Curse of the Bambino.” It was Frazee, a theatre producer as well as a baseball team owner, who sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. Lieb was the one who printed that Frazee sold the Bambino to cover his financial shortfalls and produce the play No, No Nanette. The accusations were false and were based, in part, on the erroneous belief that Frazee was Jewish. [return]

[22] Solomon’s major league career was essentially a publicity stunt. With Babe Ruth, nicknamed the “Sultan of Swat,” blasting homers across town for the Yankees, the Giants called up Solomon and presented him as the “Rabbi of Swat.” They didn’t want him playing much though, and he ended up in only two games in 1923, hitting in three out of eight plate appearances. [return]

[23] One of the great Jewish players for the Giants was Sid Gordon, nicknamed “The Solid Man” for his reliable production on the field. Gordon was one of the four Jews to play in a single game in 1941, when he joined Morrie Arnovich in the outfield while Harry Feldman pitched and Harry Danning caught behind the plate. It was Gordon’s first major league game. He would end up dying on the field, in 1975. Playing softball in Central Park, he had a heart attack, departing the earthly field at age 57. [return]

[24] Epstein is a helluva character. He resigned, briefly, from the team in 2005. To avoid the press, he allegedly fled Fenway Park in a gorilla suit. It was Halloween, if that helps it make sense. [return]

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