Who are the best MLB mensches? Compiling an all-time Jewish baseball team

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Artwork of famous Jewish baseball players (jewishbaseballplayer.com)

Alec Baris, Digital Engagement Associate

America’s pastime has a richer Jewish history than you might think. From legends like Sandy Koufax to current players shining in 2021, Jews and baseball go together like the sport does with the country itself.

Today, let’s take a deep dive into some of the best players of the Jewish faith and compile a full team that would hold its own against some of the all-time greats. Note: While you might not think these players are the best ones who happen to be Jewish, they’re the ones I remember the most and think about when I hear “Jewish baseball player.”

(All players were found using “Baseball Almanac”)

 

Catcher: Brad Ausmus

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Most recently the manager of the Los Angeles Angels in 2019, Ausmus was born to a Jewish mother in New Haven, Conn. He was an all-star in 1999 for the Detroit Tigers, and won three gold gloves in 2001, 2002 and 2006.

 

First base: Hank Greenberg 

Known as “Hammerin’ Hank,” (before the Legendary Hank Aaron took over the mantle), “Hankus Pankus,” and “The Hebrew Hammer,” Greenberg is the first Hall of Famer to make our list. He was a five-time all-star, two-time American League MVP, and won the AL Home Run and RBI titles four times. The two-time World Series champion has his Number 5 retired by the Detroit Tigers, and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1956.

 

Second base: Ian Kinsler

Currently a member of the Israeli National Baseball team and front office advisor of the San Diego Padres, Kinsler had an incredibly successful career in the mid 2000s for multiple teams. He was a four-time all-star, two-time gold glover at second, and excelled at Mizzou for a season after transferring from Arizona State. He was also twice a member of the 30-30 club (30 home runs, 30 steals).

 

Shortstop: Lou Boudreau

Whether it was “Old Shufflefoot,” “Handsome Lou,” or “The Good Kid,” Boudreau’s nicknames are enough to get him a starting spot on this list, but his on-the-field accomplishments only solidify that more. He was an eight-time all-star, AL MVP and World Series Champion in 1948, and won the batting title in 1944. His Number 5 is retired by the Cleveland Indians and he is a member of the Hall of Fame, inducted in 1970.

 

Third base: Alex Bregman

Though Al Rosen could’ve been easily chosen at the hot corner, it was time to include a current player on this list, and Bregman’s accolades aren’t too shabby. He’s currently a two-time all-star, World Series Champion* and a 2019 Silver Slugger Award winner, when he was second in MVP voting. He was recently a first-team All American while he played college ball at LSU, and has already accumulated a 25.5 WAR in just five major league seasons.

 

Outfield: Joc Pederson 

Another current player, Pederson won the 2020 World Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers before heading to the windy city to slug with the Chicago Cubs. He was an all-star in 2015 and can swing with the best of them when healthy. In 2013, Pederson played for Team Israel in the qualifying rounds of the World Baseball Classic, being the youngest player on the team at the time at 21.

 

Outfield: Ryan Braun

A career filled with large amounts of success and controversy, Ryan Braun’s accomplishments give him a starting outfield position on this list. He was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2007, NL MVP in 2011, a six-time all-star, five-time Silver Slugger and two-time member of the 30-30 club. Braun came under scrutiny for his connection to the Biogenesis of America clinic involving performance-enhancing drugs, so his accomplishments have an asterisk, but there’s no doubt that he was one of the game’s best in his prime.

 

Outfield: Shawn Green 

Shawn Green was another example of being one of the game’s best in his prime when healthy. Though he was only a two-time all-star, and won a single gold glove and silver slugger, Green was known for his smooth swing and accurate throwing arm. Green was also one of only a few players in MLB history to hit four home runs in one game, doing so on May 23, 2002 for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

 

Starting Pitcher: Sandy Koufax

The most obvious pick on this list, Koufax might’ve gone down as the best pitcher in Major League history had medicine been as advanced in the 60s as it is today. Koufax has a laundry list of accomplishments:

  • 7x all-star
  • 4x World Series champion
  • 1963 NL MVP
  • 3x Cy Young winner
  • 2x World Series MVP
  • 3x Pitching Triple Crown winner (Wins, ERA, Strikeouts)
  • 3x MLB wins leader
  • 5x NL ERA leader
  • 4x NL strikeouts leader
  • Threw four no-hitters and one perfect game
  • A member of the MLB All-Century and All-Time team
  • Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972

In the Jewish community, Koufax is known most for refusing to pitch in Game 1 of the 1965 World Series in observance of Yom Kippur.

Koufax retired after only 12 seasons due to arthritic pain in his elbow, a condition that can often be fixed by modern medicine through Tommy John surgery. Though his career was relatively short, he still retired with the seventh most strikeouts in Major League history at the time, and one of five pitchers in major league history to retire with more strikeouts than innings pitched.