Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Baseball Judaica

One of the things I love about sports is the historical record. Baseball, in particular, has been blessed with (or, depending on your point of view, cursed by) diligent record-keepers right from the start. John Thorn's book "Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game" makes it clear that people were keeping score and maintaining statistics long before the game went pro.

My latest trip into stats-land came courtesy of KCBS (and Eyewitness Blues Band) colleague Doug Sovern, an occasional contributor to our KCBS Sports Fans podcast. Doug wondered if Ryan Braun's hot streak (as of this writing, he's .001 behind Jose Reyes atop the NL batting stats) could make him the first Jewish batting champ. If not, who was the last one?

I did some quick research, and here's what I found:

I'll let the Tribe (not the baseball team based in Cleveland) decide the thorny issue of "Jewishness" on this one: Lou Boudreau was born to a Jewish mother but, according to my research, adopted and raised in a Christian family. He won the AL batting title in 1945 (and of course, those of us of French heritage claim him as one of ours, too) by hitting .327 as a member of the Tribe (the team in Cleveland).

Hank Greenberg hit .313 for his career, is a member of the Hall of Fame...and never won a batting title.

The other "close but no latke" story is Al Rosen, who had a monster 1953 season (also as a member of the Tribe--in fact BOTH Tribes). Rosen went .336/43/145 and missed the Triple Crown only because Mickey Vernon hit .337.

As Doug noted in his original query, 7-time batting champ Rod Carew is, in Doug's own word, "Jew-ish", having married a Jewish woman. Again, this is one for the Talmudic scholars and I will defer.

But the House of David does have one--and only one--clear-cut, no-room-for-debate batting champ. Buddy Myer, who was born in Ellisville, Mississippi and attended Mississippi State University, hit .349 in 1935 to win the AL batting title as a Washington Senator. Myer hit .303 over a 17-year major league career, and stole 157 bases. The Jewish Tribune lists him as the "all-time Jewish stolen base champion" but in fact, Myer's 157 is short of Shawn Green's 162. Neither figure inspires awe among fans of the stolen base.

So Ryan Braun would not be the first Jewish batting champ, but he could well become the first Jewish NL batting champ. And that's something.

1 comment:

Stan Bunger said...

My esteemed colleague Doug Sovern (a Mets fan but otherwise a good guy) read this post and responded:

"OK, I have just done some further research. Stan is right; there has never been a Jewish batting champion in the National League. However, you overlooked the first-ever Jewish batting champ: George Stone, who was undeniably a full-fledged Jew, hit .358 for the St. Louis Browns in 1906 to win the AL batting title. Then you've got the famous Buddy Myer, as mentioned by Stan, in 1935 for the Senators. Then there's Boudreau, who is listed and generally accepted as Jewish, and Carew, who is not (Carew did NOT ever convert, contrary to popular myth).

So Ryan Braun would be the first NL Jewish batting champ, and the third 100% born-and-raised Jewish batting king.

But Jose Reyes is going to beat him anyway..."