The Boys of Summer and Seder: Baseball, Passover Share Openers

This certainly won’t be the first time that opening day of baseball season coincides with the first Passover seder, but the confluence seems particularly appropriate this year.

Why is this spring training different from all other spring trainings?

It turns out that this winter saw the greatest exodus of Jewish Major Leaguers, or JMLs, in the history of the sport. Six of last year s record-tying 13 JMLs will begin the 2007 season with new franchises, and three are among the top 10 Jewish players in career rankings.

After fading as a starter for St. Louis in the second half of last season — and being left off the post-season roster that eventually took the Cardinals to a World Series championship — Jason Marquis took advantage of his free agent status to sign a three-year, $21 million contract with the Chicago Cubs.

If Marquis wins as few as four games this year, it will send him past Barry Latman into seventh place on the all-time victory list for Jewish pitchers, with 60.

If Marquis has three decent years as a starter with the Cubs, he could become just the fifth Jewish pitcher with 100 victories and he d still be only 32 years old. The other four 100-game winners, in descending order of victories, are Ken Holtzman, Sandy Koufax, Steve Stone and Dave Roberts.

Mike Lieberthal, a catcher who had spent his 13-year career with the Philadelphia Phillies, signed a one-year, $1.15 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers to back up Russell Martin. Lieberthal s first hit and first homer, in 1994, both came in Los Angeles.

Apparently in the twilight of his career, Lieberthal is in fifth place among Jewish home-run hitters with 150, and seventh in runs batted in with 609 and hits with 1,137.

Scott Schoeneweis struggled in the Toronto bullpen during the first half of 2006 and was traded to Cincinnati, where he went 2-0 with a 0.63 ERA and three saves in 16 appearances. The second-half suc! cess for the Reds apparently helped the lefty earn a three-year, $10.8 million contract with the New York Mets, the fifth franchise of his career.

Schoeneweis is particularly effective against left-handed hitters, whom he has held to a .231 average over his eight-year career. He has 466 career strikeouts, 10th overall in the history of Jewish players.

If he makes 41 relief appearances this year, Schoeneweis will pass Larry Sherry and Allan Levine to move into third place on the all-time appearance list for Jewish relievers.

Late-season callup Jason Hirsch was traded from the Houston Astros, where he went 3-4 with a 6.04 earned run average, to the Colorado Rockies. The right-hander was the Texas League Pitcher of the Year in 2005 and the MLB.com Triple-A Starting Pitcher of the Year last season.

In pitching to catcher Brad Ausmus last year, Hirsch was part of the first Jewish battery since the days of Koufax and the Sherry brothers.

The Boston Red Sox will open with at least two fewer JMLs than their 2006 complement of four. Outfielder Adam Stern was the “player to be named later” in the deal with Baltimore for catcher Javy Lopez, and outfielder Gabe Kapler retired to begin a managing career at the helm of the Sox s Single-A Greenville franchise in the South Atlantic League.

If Kapler works his way back to the major leagues as a coach and manager, he would be the first former JML to manage in the bigs since Andy Cohen stepped in as Phillies skipper for one game in 1960.

The seven JMLs who return to their 2006 teams are Mets outfielder Shawn Green; Ausmus, a Golden Glove catcher for the Astros; first baseman Kevin Youkilis and lefty pitcher Craig Breslow of the Red Sox; second baseman Ian Kinsler and right-hander Scott Feldman of the Texas Rangers; and lefty reliever John Grabow of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

(Martin Abramowitz produces Jewish baseball cards and lectures on Jews in baseball as presi! dent of Jewish Major Leaguers, Inc., on the Web at www.jewishmajorleaguers.org.)

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