They got underway today with the first game of the Tampa Bay Rays-Texas Rangers series. Which means it’s time to figure out: Who is Tablet Magazine’s official team? Let’s do this one by one, shall we?
• The National League East-winning Philadelphia Phillies are the favorite, not at winning our endorsement but at winning, y’know, the World Series (among other things, they had the most wins this season, 97, although the Rays’ 96 are more impressive given their division). The champions two years ago and runner’s-up last year have essentially the same decent lineup, and, in Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels, claim three of the top ten pitchers in the league—pitching being how you win in the postseason. Philadelphia is America’s fourth-largest Jewish population center (by volume), and the Phillies’ general manager, Ruben Amaro, Jr., is the son of a Cuban-American ballplayer and of a local Jewish girl. He is a member of the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
• The NL wild-card team, the Atlanta Braves, make for a good, intergenerational story: Their most electrifying player is 21-year-old rookie right fielder Jason Heyward; their oldest member is 69-year-old manager Bobby Cox, who has one won World Series and more games than all but three other managers in history, and who has said this will be his final year. Atlanta is, of course, a not-insignificant Jewish population center.
• From a baseball perspective, the NL Central champion Cincinnati Reds are quite likable: Great heritage, great baseball town, super-likable star in first baseman Joey Votto. Their ex-owner (like but recently) was a horrific neo-Nazi racist scumbag, though, and I’m still not over that. Moving along.
• The San Francisco Giants have an interesting case to make, right? Once-great, they have suffered one of the longest championship droughts of all franchises not forbidden from ever winning a championship again. They reside in America’s seventh-largest Jewish population center, and of course hail from its largest, from back when their home stadium, the Polo Grounds, was at 155th Street in Manhattan. Then again, in Jewish terms, they arguably play second-fiddle to the Dodgers to the south; just as, back in the day, in Jewish terms, they arguably played second-fiddle to the Dodgers to the south-east.
• The American League East champion Rays have a bonanza of Jews. A Jewish player (back-up outfielder Gabe Kapler, who is currently injured and, Ron Kaplan notes, isn’t currently on the roster as a result); a Jewish majority owner (Stuart Sternberg); and a Jewish de facto general manager (Andrew Friedman). There’s even a false, anti-Semitic conspiracy theory floating around about their pitching rotation. Plus, the Rays are a likable young team that play an attractive style of baseball.
• The AL Central-winning Minnesota Twins play in the country’s newest and greenest stadium, honor the Twin Cities’ small but famously vibrant Jewish community, and start exciting Jewish rookie third baseman Danny Valencia. Fun squad, with an underrated manager (Ron Gardenhire, who is not Jewish).
• The AL West-winning Rangers and their new owner, Nolan Ryan, are the subject of an interesting Times Magazine story from this past Sunday, which will make you want to root for them unless you categorically don’t like Republicans. Their second baseman, Ian Kinsler, is Jewish and good. Let’s also just pause and note that this is the first season that both Washington Senators franchises (the Twins and the Senators/Rangers) made the playoffs.
• As for the AL wild card team, see this. Also this. Intellectual honesty compels me to note that the New York Yankees undoubtedly have more Jewish fans than any other baseball team. But they will not be our team.
• The Boston Red Sox did not win enough games to qualify for the postseason.
Judaism should mean rooting for the underdog, and you could most usefully define the word “underdog” with reference to the Yankees’ being its exact opposite. If they merely had the largest payroll in baseball, dayenu. But they have the largest payroll in baseball by more than $50 million. Their payroll is about 35 percent larger than second place (the Sox), about 150 percent larger than the median, and 500 percent larger than last place (the putrid Pirates of Pittsburgh).
At the least, our team should be in the bottom half of payrolls, which leaves us with the Rays and the Rangers. The Rays have Jewish ownership and a better chance. Go Tampa Bay!