No matter who won the World Series this week — an outcome not known by this paper’s Tuesday deadline — one certain winner was Jewish pride.
For one of the few times in history, the rosters of both teams in baseball’s fall championship contained identified Jewish players: outfielder Joc Pederson of the Los Angeles Dodgers and third baseman Alex Bregman of the Houston Astros.
Not only were both playing in The Series, but both were excelling. By game 5, Pederson was leading his team in home runs and runs scored; ditto for Bregman, who had hit the Astros’ dramatic, game-winning, walk-off 10th inning single in Game 5. It was reported to be the first time a Jewish player got a walk-off hit in a World Series game.
Both players were in the running to be named the World Series’ Most Valuable Player, an honor won by Jewish athletes only twice in baseball history, both Dodgers pitchers: Larry Sherry in 1959, and the iconic Sandy Koufax in 1963 and ’65.
Success on the ball field may appear to be a minor accomplishment, but at a time of divisive political discourse, of increasing animus between Israel and much of U.S. Jewry, of rising anti-Semitism and of polls that indicate a decreasing rate of affiliation with Judaism, prominent Jews who publicly identify as Jews – Pederson was eligible to compete for Israel in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, Bregman is a member of a Reform temple in his hometown, Albuquerque, N.M. — make a powerful statement of pride.
And one more source of Jewish pride: Gabe Kapler, a former major league player who served as a coach for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic, who has a tattoo of a Jewish star on one leg and the words “Never Again” on the other, was this week named manager of the Philadelphia Phillies.
For a sport whose first-known Jewish professional player was Lipman Pike, a 19th-century slugger from New York City, the Jewish future in baseball appears to be in good hands.