Jewish-American History Month presents the perfect opportunity to name the all-time Jewish baseball team drawn from MLB history.
MLB History and Jewish Ballplayers
Jews have been an integral part of the national pastime since its earliest organized days, if not before. Lip Pike starred for the 1860s baseball dynasty Brooklyn Atlantics. Pike and Levi Meyerle belted and legged the most home runs in the inaugural professional major league season of 1871.
Every decade and era of MLB history since has featured Jewish stars, regulars, and players who had just enough time to grab a cup of coffee in the big leagues. Like all ballplayers, they triumphed, failed, played with joy, and contributed to their teams. They also faced anti-Semitism and discrimination in larger American society and on the diamond.
Jews outside of the Ashkenazi and male mainstream played, too. At least four Jewish women competed in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Temple Beth-El, an African-American congregation that gradually adopted more standardized Judaic practices and theology, fielded a team in the minors of the Negro Leagues.
And Jews have excelled in baseball’s off-the-field aspects, sometimes playing critical roles in MLB history. Many Jews advocated for baseball’s integration. Abe Saperstein owned several Negro League teams and helped persuade the Cleveland American League team to sign Black stars. Ed Gottlieb was a part-owner of the Philadelphia Stars and organized the Negro National League schedule. Many Jews have contributed as historians, writers, reporters, and announcers, including John Thorn, Jane Leavy, Joe Posnanski, and Steve Stone.
Jews and Baseball Today
Today, Jewish ballplayers continue to make MLB history. Eight Jews are in major league uniforms. Team Israel, comprised of both Israelis and American Jews, has performed well (sixth-place) at the World Baseball Classic and is working on fulfilling Olympic aspirations with a berth in the Tokyo Games.
The Jewish baseball story parallels and is part of the larger Jewish-American experience. Jews have always been a part of America, and yet also changed and were changed by the American experience. Many Jewish families joined and contributed to the American melting point by becoming fans of the national pastime. Baseball, like America at large, have benefited greatly from the contributions of Jews, just as Jews have benefited from the game of baseball and their fellow Americans.
Distilling the top 26 of approximately 204 Jewish players in MLB history is no easy task, and this list will likely spur more conversations than settle them. So this all-time Jewish baseball team is presented in honor of all Jews who have ever picked up a ball, a glove, or a bat.
Pitcher: Sandy Koufax
The starting pitching spot easily goes to one of the two Jewish Golden Hallers. The Brooklyn-born and raised lefty put together the arguably most dominant five-year run of any pitcher in MLB history.
From 1962 through 1966, Koufax posted a 1.95 earned run average, 0.926 walks plus hits per inning pitched, 2.00 fielding independent pitching, 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings, and 40.8 wins above replacement. Koufax coupled this regular season performance with postseason triumph. His Dodgers won four World Series behind his 0.95 ERA, 0.825 WHIP, and 1.51 wins probability added.
It is in the Fall Classic that Koufax endeared himself to Jews across the country. Though raised a secular Jew, the lefty refused to pitch in game one of the World Series to observe Judaism’s Yom Kippur.
Catcher: Steve Yeager
Several great Jewish players and at least one great Jewish man have served as worthwhile major league backstops. Yet, with 17.9 career WAR, Steve Yeager gets the nod as the starting catcher.
Yeager hails from West Virginia and converted to Judaism, making him the sole Jew by choice among the starting nine. Yeager swung a passable bat, slashing .228/.298/.355 over his 15-year career.
Yet it was his defense, pitch-calling, and guidance of young pitchers that made him a mainstay of the 1970s Dodgers. Yeager contributed 70 runs from fielding over his career, including double digit performances in three different seasons. He threw out 38 percent of would-be base stealers, leading the National League twice in this critical category.
First Base: Hank Greenberg
In an era when Jews were stereotyped as physically weak, persecuted, and oppressed, the Hebrew Hammer struck back. Hank Greenberg became an offensive powerhouse on his way to two World Series titles and defeating the fascists in World War II.
Greenberg was a person of duty who regularly put his values first. Despite being in the prime of his career and offered an official opportunity to avoid service, Greenberg answered the call twice to serve in the American military. And in 1934, with the Tigers chasing a pennant, he made the difficult decision to observe Yom Kippur and miss a meaningful game.
With so many years lost to war, it is best to focus on single-season stats to comprehend Greenberg’s greatness. While there are many seasons from which choose, 1938 stands out. He blasted 58 home runs while walking a league-leading 119 times and slashing .315/.438/.683. Twice an MVP and three more times nearly so, take the time to review his stats, and you will quickly see why Greenberg made both the Golden Hall and serves as first baseman for the all-time Jewish team.
Second Base: Ian Kinsler
The dream of assembling an all-Jewish team in real life is finally being achieved. Thanks to the growing interest in international competition, players of Jewish descent have increasingly elected to play for Israel in the World Baseball Classic and at the Olympics. The latter event requires citizenship, and Ian Kinsler (איאן קינסלר) obtained his in time to participate in the Tokyo Games.
Kinsler will bring to the tournament a veteran presence, complete with 54.1 WAR. The righty played primarily with the Texas Rangers, contributing to back-to-back pennants. A few years later, Kinsler played for America in the World Baseball Classic, contributing with a two-run homer in the championship game. He followed this title by finally winning the World Series with Boston.
Third Base: Al Rosen
Al Rosen shares some similarities with fellow Jewish ballplayers Hank Greenberg and Jason Kipnis. Both Rosen and Kipnis are the only two Cleveland rookies to homer in four consecutive games. Rosen was also the first player since Greenberg to be elected American League Most Valuable Player unanimously.
Rosen grew up as a tough kid in Miami, learning not only baseball but also boxing. After returning from fighting fascists in World War II, the righty put together award-winning minor league seasons with Oklahoma City in the Texas League and the Kansas City Blues in the American Association.
Rosen performed exceptionally in the majors, sporting a 32.3 WAR in ten seasons (32.9 in his seven full campaigns). It is his 1953 MVP season that is the stuff of legend. Rosen slashed .336/.422/.613 on his way to 43 home runs, 145 RBI, 115 runs scored, and 367 total bases. He also led his league in assists, double plays, and range factor.
Rosen coupled his playing performance with a no-tolerance approach to anti-Semitism. When opposing players or fans would taunt him with such remarks, Rosen would stop playing, find the offender, and challenge him to a fight. It seems to be the case that fisticuffs never ensued, as the offenders universally backed down.
Shortstop: Lou Boudreau
At Overtime Heroics, we are of and with the fans, so we strive to make corrections when pointed out. The fans responded to the original version of this article and pointed out a few corrections that were warranted, so, for your reading pleasure, we present an updated shortstop starter. Defining who is and who is not a Jew is always a convoluted endeavor (ask two rabbis and you’ll get five opinions), and for this team we err on the side of inclusiveness.
Lou Boudreau was the son of a Catholic father and Jewish mother, and he is the fan-favorite choice to start at short. Like his potential backup Moe Franklin (more on him in a future article), Boudreau was an Illinois native who attended the state’s flagship university. Boudreau was a fine player and a Hall of Famer.
He accumulated 62.9 WAR, slashed .295/.380/.415, and thrice led the American League in doubles with 45 in each campaign. Yet it was his excellence as a player-manager that set Boudreau in a distinct category from his peers. This Jewish-French-Catholic-American led a similarly diverse team to win the second integrated World Series. The Cleveland club featured players of Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, and White descent, and their 1948 triumph is one to be praised.
Left Field: Ryan Braun
In every generation, one slugger outperforms his peers to assume the mantle of Hebrew Hammer. The first was Lip Pike. Years later, Hank Greenberg and then Al Rosen. Shawn Green held the title at the turn of the last century. In recent years, Ryan Braun has slugged more home runs than any of his Jewish contemporaries.
Braun, of course, achieved his homeric feats with excellent hand-eye coordination, plate discipline, practice, natural talent, and assistance from performance-enhancing drugs. It is this latter chemical component that taints his accomplishments in the eyes of many, but it is the former elements that lifted him to a place on the all-time Jewish team and a place in MLB history.
The Californian has generated 47.1 wins above replacement, smashed 352 roundtrippers, and slashed .296/.358/.532 over 14 seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers. Braun won rookie of the year and most valuable player honors. He led the National League in runs, hits, home runs, and total bases once and slugging and OPS twice.
Center Field: Kevin Pillar
Hitting safely in consecutive games is extremely difficult in all eras of MLB history. The batter must have the acumen and luck necessary to best pitcher after pitcher after pitching, and he or she must not have an “off-day.” The major league record, of course, is held by legend Joe DiMaggio, with 56. Kevin Pillar holds the NCAA Division II record at 54.
Yet Pillar’s greatest big league successes have come not at the plate but rather in the field. The star won the 2015 center field defensive player of the year award and 2016 Fielding Bible Award. Pillar has supplemented this defensive prowess with a career slash line of .261/.298/.406.
Right Field: Shawn Green
Many Hall of Fame players have donned the Dodger blue: Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Zack Wheat, and more. Yet, none of them hold the single-season Dodgers home run record. That honor goes to the Hebrew Hammer of the 1990s and 2000s, Shawn Green.
The left-handed hitter set several records in MLB history, including most home runs in a game, in two consecutive games, and in three consecutive games. Green belted 328 home runs and slashed .283/.355/.494 for his career. He led the American League in doubles and total bases in 1999 with Toronto.
Rest of the Rotation
- Ken Holtzman: 27.3 WAR, 3.49 ERA, 1.289 WHIP, 3.57 FIP
- Dave Roberts: 23.5 WAR, 3.78 ERA, 1.335 WHIP, 3.55 FIP
- Joe Horlen: 23.1 WAR, 3.11 ERA, 1.190 WHIP, 3.31 FIP
- Barney Pelty: 19.2 WAR, 2.63 ERA, 1.150 WHIP, 2.83 FIP
- Brad Ausmus: 16.5 WAR, .251/.325/.344
- Paul Goldschmidt: 44.6 WAR, .292/.390/.519
- Kevin Youkilis: 32.4 WAR, .281/.382/.478
- Alex Bregman: 24.7 WAR, .283/.380/.520
- Sid Gordon: 38.2 WAR, .283/.377/.466
- Lip Pike: 14.3 WAR, .322/.339/.468
- Tiby Eisen: 674 SB, .224/.295/.268
- Elliott Maddox: 14.9 WAR, .261/.358/.334
- Saul Rogovin: 7.7 WAR, 4.06 ERA, 1.353 WHIP, 3.87 FIP
- Steve Stone: 17.0 WAR, 3.97 ERA, 1.355 WHIP, 4.04 FIP
- Erskine Mayer: 13.4 WAR, 2.96 ERA, 1.233 WHIP, 2.95 FIP
- Jason Marquis: 6.8 WAR, 4.61 ERA, 1.447 WHIP, 4.87 FIP
- Scott Feldman: 7.8 WAR, 4.43 ERA, 1.356 WHIP, 4.43 FIP
Follow me on Twitter at @goldenhallofame for more of my content! Don’t forget to join our OT Heroics MLB Facebook group, and feel free to join our new Instagram – @overtimeheroics_MLB, and listen to our baseball podcast, Cheap Seat Chatter! We’ll see ya there!
Come join the discussion made by the fans at the Overtime Heroics forums! A place for all sports fans!
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images