NEW YORK (JTA) — Some Jewish baseball fans went extra bonkers during the 2005 World Series when Geoff Blum smacked a game-winning 14th-inning home run for the Chicago White Sox.
Oops, false alarm — the journeyman infielder wasn’t a Yid.
But assuming the White Sox return to the Fall Classic soon instead of waiting another half century — it took them from 1959 to 2005 the last time — it may just be an actual Jewish slugger coming through in the clutch. That’s because Chicago’s second most popular baseball team pulled off a trade this week for Boston Red Sox first baseman-third baseman Kevin Youkilis.
Youkilis’ Jewish bona fides are well established. In fact, one fan poll selected the hulking Hebrew hammer as the Jewish player of the decade for the 2000s — a decade in which he helped the Red Sox shake their decades-long curse with World Series championships in 2004 and 2007.
Along the way Youkilis became an All-Star and emerged as the poster child for a growing movement of baseball writers, executives and stat geeks who place a greater emphasis on drawing walks — i.e. discipline at the plate — over more traditional measures of hits, home runs and runs batted in.
Youkilis has been hampered by injuries in the past three seasons, and the emergence of third baseman Will Middlebrooks made him expendable in Boston. Manager Bobby Valentine and Youkilis have had some public disagreements in Valentine’s first season with the team.
Despite the bumps, Youkilis remained a favorite among Red Sox fans. He received a long standing ovation at Fenway Park after leaving Sunday’s game against Atlanta for a pinch runner after tripling in the seventh inning.
In Chicago, the highest-ranking White Sox fan in the Windy City’s Jewish community — Steve Nasatir — is offering a thumbs-up for the trade. The president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago/Jewish United Fund, Nasatir attended his first Chisox game in 1948 and still remembers their pennant winning-season of 1959. And he was in the stands for the World Series in 2005.
Now he has something else to be cheer.
“My friends in Boston are sitting shiva,” Nasatir said, “and we in Chicago are thrilled to have an MOT playing third base for us.”
That’s Member of the Tribe — as in a Jew (not a Cleveland Indian).
Already a favorite among fans longing for modern-day Hank Greenbergs and Sandy Koufaxes to root for, Youkilis’ status as Jewish sports icon reached new heights in 2006 thanks to three perfectly timed fielding plays.
It was a run-of-the-mill, dead-of-August regular season game — except that comics Denis Leary and Lenny Clarke were in the broadcast booth to promote a fundraiser for firemen. Leary inquired about Youkilis’ background and seemed pleased to find out that the Red Sox slugger was actually one of at least two Jewish players on the team, Gabe Kapler being the other).
And with each successive play by Youkilis — he had a hand in all three outs — Leary and Clarke became increasingly excited, punctuating their escalating enthusiasm with a string of putdowns aimed at Mel Gibson, who had recently made headlines with a drunken, anti-Semitic rant against a police officer. YouTube videos of the broadcast quickly went viral, as did a Youkilis-inspired sense of take-that-Mel Jewish pride.
Looking ahead, the question is whether Youkilis still has enough left in the tank to follow in Blum’s footsteps — and put Mel in his place.