day 33: steady eddie

Today is 33 days, which is five days and four weeks of the omer: hod she’b’hod.

Today is known as Lag Ba’Omer, an acronym of the Hebrew letters that add up to 33, lamed and gimmel (לַ״ג). The day has a couple of associations relevant to this project.

The first is that it is understood as the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the purported (though not) author of The Zohar, the seminal text of Jewish kabbalah — and thus an important source of the sefirot we’ve been discussing here.

It’s also the day that a plague and its deaths ended. (Ken yehi razton!) One of the reasons that the period of the counting of the Omer is associated with mourning (which is why some don’t cut their hair, or hold weddings, or listen to music) is that 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s disciples died during this period.

Traditional celebrations, marking the end of a period of mourning, include huge bonfires (obviously not possible this year). Children also sometimes play with bows and arrows. Today T’ruah has a great twitter thread about the connection between that play and today’s pandemic.

It’s a nice coincidence that this turning point day of the Omer connects back to the first day, because first baseman Eddie Murray played with Day 1’s Ozzie Smith in high school. What an infield that must have been. (During his MLB career, Murray also was the teammate of two others in this series, Jim Palmer in Baltimore, and Jim Thome in Cleveland.)

Appropriately, this week of hod is populated by humble players, and Murray is no different. He was a giant, to be sure: Bill James rates him the fifth-best first baseman in history. And Murray’s best year, James said, was every year. His consistency over 21 seasons resulted in 3,255 hits, 560 doubles, 504 home runs, and 1,197 RBI. He was only the third player in history to get to 3,000 hits and 500 homer. He was an eight-time All-Star and the 1977 AL Rookie of the Year.

A few days ago, Baltimore posted a nice retrospective on Murray, including that 500th homer.

For most of his career, Murray’s portrayal in the media was not a great one: He was distrustful of and disinterested in talking with reporters. He didn’t want attention — he just wanted to play ball. Batting practice wasn’t a show (“I knew I could hit a fastball down the middle over the right-field fence,” he told a teammate. “Why spend all my batting practice doing what I know I can do?) — it was a chance to work on his timing. He strove for consistency, and he delivered: Every year from 1980 to 1985, he hit batted about .300, with about 30 HRs, and about 110 RBI. The L.A. Times summed it up: “That’s his style — consistent, low key, professional.”

And his teammates loved him for it. They made him captain in 1986, the first in franchise history (an honor he of course didn’t accept right away). A few months ago, Joe Posnanski profiled Murray as a perennial fan favorite.

In our counting we move towards joy, so let’s count Day 33 in honor of this player who just wanted to show up every day and to be a part of a team, manifesting beautifully that double dose of humility.

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