When Sam Bregman was a youngster, he would hang around the clubhouse of the Washington Senators. His father, Stan, was the attorney for the ballclub, which gave him access to such greats as manager Ted Williams and outfielder Frank Howard. One of his favorite players, though, was a big first baseman and left-handed power hitter named Mike Epstein, who hit 30 homers for the 1969 Senators.
“Mike would draw the Star of David on the handle of his bat,” recalls Sam, now an attorney in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “You can imagine what that meant to a Jewish kid like me. He gave me one of the bats once, but I’m afraid I don’t know what happened to it.”
Not to worry. Sam found another way to pass on both Judaism and baseball. His son, Alex Bregman, became the first Jewish player with a walk-off hit in a World Series game — 10th inning, Game 5, Houston Astros 13-12 — in what might have been the biggest week in Jewish baseball news since … ever.
“Let’s see,” says Scott Barancik, the editor of The Jewish Baseball News website. “The Phillies named Gabe Kapler their new manager. Joc Pederson homers three times in the World Series. Sandy Koufax throws out the first ball in Game 7. And Alex Bregman gets a World Series ring.”
During the Series, there was a certain glow in synagogues across the land, lit by a visceral longing among Jews for baseball stars of their own. “Even in Los Angeles, where I wore my Bregman jersey, members of the tribe kept coming up to me to tell me how excited they were for Alex,” Sam says. “I hear that rabbis were saying blessings.”
Rabbi Craig Marantz of the Emanuel Congregation, in Chicago, more than 1,000 miles from either Houston or Los Angeles, devoted an entire blog post to Pederson and Bregman, writing, “It’s comforting and inspiring to know we can watch this sport event and see a couple of hard-working athletes represent our community and exemplify wholesome and redeeming goals like teamwork and shared triumph.”
There have been books, websites, even a 2010 documentary entitled “Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story” and narrated by Dustin Hoffman. How to explain the obsession? In a way, it’s a synapse between the American dream and the national pastime.
As immigrants and the descendants of immigrants, we feel a need to belong. What better way to do that than in sports followed by the general populace? At the same time, we want to be open and honest about our faith. And what better way was there to honor our ancestors than by doing what Koufax did: declining to start Game 1 of the 1965 World Series games because it fell on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in Judaism?
Read the whole article by Steve Wulf on ESPN.