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Hello! Welcome to The Jewish Sport Report, a brand new sports newsletter from your friends at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Alma. We are excited to bring you the latest and greatest sports news each week, all through a Jewish lens. Grab your peanuts and Cracker Jacks, and don’t forget to share this with your friends!
What made last night different from all other nights? No, it wasn’t the Four Questions — it was the four sports. For only the 25th time ever, all four men’s professional sports leagues were in action on the same day: MLB, NBA, NFL, and NHL. We hope you celebrated accordingly by telling your friends and loved ones whenever a Jewish athlete was on screen.
October has become Joc Pederson’s favorite time of year.
The Jewish slugger thrives like few others do in the MLB playoffs. This year he already has a .308 batting average, 3 home runs and 9 runs batted in for his Atlanta Braves — many of those hits coming in clutch situations.
Pederson spent seven years with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but this postseason, he’s been a key figure in carrying the Braves to a 3-2 lead over LA in the National League Championship Series. His Dodger teammates popularized the term “Joctober.”
“They don’t call it ‘Joctober’ for no reason,” his former teammate Max Muncy once said. “That guy performs on the big stage. It’s just what he does.”
But this year, the craze surrounding Pederson — who has a Jewish mom, and has played for Team Israel — really began on Sept. 29, when the Braves played the Philadelphia Phillies. He came up to bat wearing a pearl necklace — and since then, he hasn’t played without it. In an interview the next night, after the Braves clinched the NL East title, the 29-year-old said “It’s a mystery for everyone, they’ll never know.” On Oct. 2, his legend grew, as he said he was wearing them because he’s just a “bad bitch.” More recently, he explained the inspiration came from seeing other pearl necklaces out and about. “They kind of caught my eye. I was like, ‘You know, those look good,’” Joc said. “I texted my jeweler and got some out.’’
As my colleague Evelyn Frick wrote in Alma: “Whether Joc realizes it or not, his decision to wear pearls during a game, a piece of jewelry which is often associated with 1950s-era housewives and thus femininity, is a subtle act of transgressing sports fashion norms, the pervasive hyper masculinity of professional sports, and ultimately pushes gender boundaries in an extraordinary way. In short, it’s an act that took a lot of chutzpah.”
And now that it’s October — excuse us, Joctober — Joc has given Jewish baseball fans everywhere an easy Halloween costume idea: throw on a Pederson jersey, some costume pearls, even cut your hair into a mohawk, and bam. You, too, could be a Jewish MLB star. (Please, tag us in photos @jtanews and @hey.alma if you / your children do this.) We will remain on Joc Pederson Pearl Watch (JPPW, if you will) throughout the rest of the postseason, and will keep you posted.
Side note: Joc’s Jewish teammate, Braves starting pitcher Max Fried, has also had an impressive October. Despite a less-than-stellar performance last night, Fried is 1-1 this postseason, with a 3.78 earned run average and 17 strikeouts in three starts.
– Emily Burack
Schayes of greatness
As part of the festivities marking its semisesquicentennial (look it up!), the NBA released its Top 75 players list this week over the course of three days. Two days and 50 players in, we were getting nervous — no Dolph Schayes. The NBA’s most distinguished Jewish player made the cut back in 1996 when the league celebrated 50 years with a Top 50 list. But recency bias being what it is (and an understandable skepticism about the style and quality of play in the NBA’s pre-integration era), we were worried that our long-ago legend would get the shaft this time around. Not to worry — shanda averted.
When the NBA released the final 26 names on Thursday night (one extra due to a tie), Schayes was on the list. And for good reason. He was a 12-time All-Star who from 1950 to 1961 was ranked as the best or second best power forward in the league (six times each). If they gave out NBA Finals MVPs back then, he would have won one for leading the Syracuse Nationals (the future Philadelphia 76ers) to the league title in 1955. Yes, the league he entered was a different universe and his high-arching two-handed set shot (nicknamed Sputnik) would be unrecognizable in today’s game. Yet he is widely recognized as an era-crossing player, who remained a star even after the league left its prehistoric era and took its first steps toward the modern game with the arrival of Black players and introduction of the 24-second shot clock.
Want more Dolph? Check out this rundown of factoids and career highlights on JTA.
– Ami Eden
Jews in sports to watch this weekend
⚾ IN BASEBALL…
The playoffs continue tonight with Game 6 of the American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros. Will Alex Bregman and the ‘Stros advance to the World Series, or will Chaim Bloom’s Sox force Game 7? And after falling to the Los Angeles Dodgers last night, Pederson and the Braves head back to Atlanta for Game 6 tomorrow night.
🏒 IN HOCKEY…
The NHL season is underway, and the league has a groundbreaking group of Jewish hockey players right now. From winger Zach Hyman — who intentionally wears #18, or chai — to the Hughes brothers, the crop of Jewish skaters this season is, dare we say, historic. Nearly all of them are playing this weekend. We’ll definitely be watching Adam Fox of the New York Rangers on Sunday — the 23-year-old from Long Island became the first Jewish player to win a major NHL award last year when he was given the Norris Trophy for best defenseman in the league. Check out the full JTA NHL season preview here.
🎾 IN TENNIS…
Italian Jewish tennis player Camila Giorgi is the fourth seed in the Tenerife Ladies Open, a WTA 250 event. As of this morning’s 6-1, 6-1 win in the quarterfinals against Dutch player Arantxa Rus, Camila is into the semifinals. If she wins that match tomorrow, she plays in the finals on Sunday. On the men’s side, Argentine Jewish player Diego Schwartzman defeated former world no. 1 Andy Murray in the European Open, an ATP 250 event. It was the first-ever meeting between the two and Schwartzman won easily, 6-4, 7-6(6). Schwartzman is into the quarterfinals, today, against Brandon Nakashima. Schwartzman is the no. 2 seed, so if El Peque keeps winning (knock on wood), also look for him to play in the finals on Sunday.
🏈 IN FOOTBALL…
As the NFL heads into week 7, three Jews to keep your eyes on: Ali Marpet, an offensive lineman for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will most likely play. (He’s started in all but 11 games since joining the team in 2015!) Nate Ebner, a special teamer for the New York Giants, is back in action after beginning the season injured, and Jewish tight end (and Harvard grad, nbd) Anthony Firkser of the Tennessee Titans may play. A note on Firkser: It’s his fourth season in the NFL, and he’s scored exactly one touchdown in each of his three seasons. Will this weekend be his fourth touchdown? (Will Jewish Sport Report co-writer Emily ever figure out how to play fantasy football even though it’s already week 7? Only time will tell.)
⚽ IN SOCCER…
The MLS is headed into Week 32 (of 34, if you’re unfamiliar with American men’s soccer — don’t worry, we are too, the American women’s national team is way more exciting to track). Some Jews to watch, all playing defense, in order of likely starting to likely not: Steve Birnbaum, a defender for DC United, dressed his family up in very cute “Where the Wild Things Are” costumes this week. But relevant for the Jewish Sport Report, he has started in their last five matches, so absolutely look for him Saturday. Jonathan Bornstein, the 36-year-old Mexican and Romanian Jewish defender for the Chicago Fire, converted to Christianity when he met his wife, but he still feels close to his Jewish heritage (plus, he’s played in the Maccabiah Games and in the Israeli League). He’s started 22 games this season, so for sure look for him on Sunday. LA Galaxy defender Daniel Steres — a former JCC soccer player! — has started 13 games this season, but hasn’t played since their Oct. 3 game, so he could play this weekend. Last: Zac MacMath, backup goalkeeper for Real Salt Lake, has started only 7 games this season with the team. Unless starting goalie David Ochoa isn’t in this weekend, Zac likely won’t be coming off the bench. But perhaps!
📣 The last word 📣
Have a good end to your Joctober! We’ll see you next week.
From our sponsor: Who are the 180 Jews who have played in at least one major-league baseball game? The Jewish Baseball Museum has the all-time roster. Visit their site here for biographies of each player, with career stats and a selection of their baseball cards.