day 15: another jewish ballplayer

Today is 15 days, which is two weeks and one day of the omer: hesed she’b’tiferet.

I swear, “Sandy Koufax didn’t play on Yom Kippur” is the baseball equivalent of “Abraham Joshua Heschel marched with King”: that is, a event that absolutely happened, was extremely significant at the time, and unnecessarily overshadows the commitment of many others. (You can experience my soapbox on the Heschel-King relationship here.) As I noted on Day 4, Hank Greenberg also didn’t play on Yom Kippur.

And guess who else didn’t? Right fielder and fellow Yid Shawn Green, who ended a consecutive game streak at 415 by not playing on Yom Kippur in 5762, even though the Dodgers were in the pennant race. He said at the time, “I felt like it was the right thing to do … I didn’t do this to gain approval. I thought it was the right example to set for Jewish kids, a lot of whom don’t like to go to synagogue.” (And lest you think that antisemitism against Jewish ball players died in Detroit with Hank Greenberg, after Green’s decision Fox had to discipline and apologize for one of its broadcasters who crassly questioned Green’s Jewishness.)

Green also used to toss his batting gloves to a kid in the crowd after each home run in his home ballpark. And in 2007, he donated $180, matched by the Mets, to UJA-Federation for each of his RBI. Right? What a sweetheart.

Apparently when Green walked onto the field at Shea Stadium for his first game in a Mets uniform in 2006, he was met by a poster that read, “The messiah has arrived.” (You can read many other anecdotes of comedy gold in this New York Times article. You know all of the people featured.)

Also, is it possible Shawn Green really never had a nickname in his 14 years of playing professional baseball? I call antisemitism. He could have at least been thrown “Hebrew Hammer,” since that moniker seems to have become a generic term for any Jewish ballplayer. (Do drop me a line if you know of one!)

Green was known for his power hitting and his big smooth . . . swing. In a tribute to great players that won’t be HoFers, Joe Posnanski writes:

Shawn Green was a wonderful player to watch. He was tall and lanky and he had this beautiful swing. He would look so utterly relaxed before the pitch, like he was pondering something deep like water running over stones in a river . . . And then, the pitch would come, and he would unwind — it wasn’t a quick, wristy swing like Mike Schmidt, it was more like George Brett’s swing, a full and flowing thing. And, though it did seem like a long swing, you still couldn’t throw a fastball by him.

Then there was that day in 2002 when, as a Dodger, Green tied the MLB record with four home runs as part of a 6-for-6, seven-RBI performance that also saw him set the MLB record for the most total bases in a single game (19). As he jogged towards home after slugging that last home run, Brewers fans gave him a standing ovation in their own field.

In honor of this kind Jewish boy with the splendrous swing, let’s count day 15, “lovingkindness within beauty.”

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