Stars of David There's a burgeoning subculture of devoted sports fans for whom no Jews is bad news

February 07, 2000

Shel Wallman owns a bimonthly magazine devoted exclusively to
Jewish athletes. "I know," sighs the publisher of the Jewish
Sports Review, bracing for your inevitable jokes. "The world's
thinnest book." It's certainly not the world's thickest
magazine, though it does bring to mind the actual stage play
Jewish Sports Heroes and Texas Intellectuals. True, Texas
"intellectual" George W. Bush once owned a piece of the baseball
Rangers, for whom "sports hero" Wayne Rosenthal pitched in the
early '90s, but Rosenthal, by making the big leagues, is a
statistical anomaly among Jewish ballplayers. "Bar mitzvah age,"
says agent Arn Tellem, "is when a Jewish boy learns he has a
better chance of owning a professional sports team than of
playing for one."

So how is it that we are now living in a Golden Age of Jewish
Athletes? Tellem, who represents Phillies catcher Mike
Lieberthal, one of three Jewish players in last summer's
All-Star Game, appears in an acclaimed new documentary about the
greatest of all Jewish sports heroes, The Life and Times of Hank
Greenberg. So moving is the film, which opened in New York City
on Jan. 12, that it caused the reviewer for the JewishSports.com
Web site to--and we quote--"kvell." The very fact that
JewishSports.com exists is testament to the prominence of such
current stars of David as the Los Angeles Dodgers' Shawn Green,
IBO super middleweight boxing champion Dangerous Dana Rosenblatt
and WCW wrestling god Goldberg. Once, Don Rickles was the only
Jew firing hockey pucks at people; today, there are four Jewish
players in the NHL.

Specialized, celebratory media are growing up around these
athletes. At the SportsJews Web site (www.sportsjews.com), a
recent story began, "Abe Pollin, Washington Wizards owner and
all-around good guy, used his seichel and committed himself to
selling part of his failing franchise to Michael Jordan this
week." (Seichel is Yiddish for "common sense." The story's
headline was MAZEL TOV, ABE!!!)

Alas, since Danny Schayes was waived by the Timberwolves early
this season, at which time the NBA became an all-goyish
enterprise, basketball has been the one sport inducing shpilkes
for Jewish sports fans. The JSR, desperately searching for a new
star to satisfy its insatiable audience, has fixed its gaze on
Doug Gottlieb, the Oklahoma State point guard who led the NCAA
in assists last season (and is doing so again this year) and
who, the magazine informed its 800 subscribers, "shaved his body
hair" over the summer. Sadly, unless Gottlieb makes it to the
NBA, the Jewish basketball archetype will remain more Ed Asner
than Eldridge Recasner.

But so what? Listening to Mandy Patinkin sing Take Me Out to the
Ballgame in Yiddish on the Greenberg documentary soundtrack
reminds you that baseball has historically been the paramount
interest of Jewish sports fans--and "by far," says Wallman, the
favorite sport of JSR readers. Beneath the headline BIG LEAGUE
JEWS, the magazine recently identified 136 major league baseball
players in history--from Cal Abrams to Eddie Zosky--who are or
were members of the tribe. (Or, as in the case of Al Rosen, a
member of the Tribe.)

The JSR, tireless in its service mission, likewise listed those
big leaguers who it believes are frequently misidentified as
Jewish, among them Rod Carew ("never converted although his
children were raised Jewish") and Mike LaCoss ("born Marks, but
took his stepfather's name and becomes irate when he is
categorized as a Jew").

Of course, the magazine still hadn't exhausted the subject, and
so the JSR went on to identify every Jewish player in the minor
leagues and overseas. That is how we've come to learn of a most
worthy successor to Greenberg as a slugging superhero of
Judaism: He is Micah Franklin, a 26-year-old San Francisco
native who hit 30 home runs last season, with 80 RBIs, while
playing in Japan for--sometimes life is perfect this way--the
Nippon Ham Fighters.

Mazel tov, Micah. And keep fighting ham.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO

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