Jewish players to get due in Cooperstown
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"With a few exceptions, these players will not be remembered as great ballplayers and many of them would not be remembered at all except for aficionados. But because of these cards they all have a chance to be remembered as `American Jews in America's Game.' "
A set of the cards now resides in Cooperstown, along with plaques for Koufax and Greenberg and a variety of artifacts from the careers of Jewish players: the bat Green used to hit four homers May 23, 2002; the bat Ron Blomberg used when he became the majors' first designated hitter; more than a dozen items from Mo Berg, the former catcher and World War II spy, including his Medal of Freedom and passport.
Ken Holtzman, who threw two no-hitters, and Norm Sherry, who was Koufax's catcher, are scheduled to attend, as is Blomberg. Harry Danning, 92, the former New York Giant who is the oldest living Jewish major leaguer, won't be there.
"I can't travel," he said in a telephone interview. "Doctor won't let me."
Keeping track of the Jews in baseball has become easier since Greenberg. Before him, many Jews in and out of baseball Americanized their names; just one has done so since the Tigers slugger paved a trail to tolerance.
"They were using their athletic talent, trying hard to make it as Americans," Abramowitz said. "That's true for all of us. We all play America's game and we all have to decide what to do with our Jewishness."
Gilbert said being a Jewish ballplayer was no hindrance by the time he played; though there was peer pressure to participate in clubhouse prayer services, it didn't bother him. Danning said he would hear catcalls from opposing bench jockeys but he never felt burdened by being Jewish.
"The fans, if you played good, they were there for you," he said.
But he also played in New York and had several Jewish teammates.
"It's no coincidence that so many of them played in New York during the 1940s," Abramowitz said.
Danning's brother, Ike, played two games for the 1928 St. Louis Browns. They are among six pairs of Jewish brothers to make the majors, most recently the Sherrys, Larry and Norm, who were teammates on the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1959-62.
And boy, was their mother proud.
For Green, the biggest problem for a modern Jewish ballplayer is turning down all the bar mitzvah invitations from fans.
"I get all kinds of stuff, and you can only do the most you can," he said. "It's tough during the season because there aren't too many Jewish players, so everywhere we go the Jewish communities reach out to us. We do what we can."
Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis was immortalized in the book "Moneyball" as the "Greek God of Walks," but he is not Greek at all. A Jew of Romanian descent, he said he honors a sort of separation of church and plate.
"To me, being a baseball player is one thing and religion is another. I don't mix and match," he said. "Baseball's almost a religion in itself."
At least Youkilis isn't alone: Red Sox outfielder Gabe Kapler is also Jewish. Boston also has Jews throughout the front office, including general manager Theo Epstein and chairman Tom Werner.
"It's unspoken, but we share a common bond out there," Kapler said.
"You have 24 guys who have a very different belief system than the one you were brought up with. You never feel that you are left out, but you understand: There's a difference."
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.