Will Three Jewish Baseball Stars Play on Yom Kippur?

Putting the Koufax Rule to the test

By Armin Rosen|October 8, 2019 12:28 PM


Call it the Sandy Koufax rule. Halachically speaking, no Jews should be working on Yom Kippur, but if you’re worse at your job than Sandy Koufax was at his in 1965, then you really, really shouldn’t be working on Yom Kippur. This is a tautology, of course: No Jews have ever been as good at their jobs as Sandy Koufax was at his in 1965, a year that he had 26 wins and a career-low WHIP of .855 and heroically sat out a World Series game that fell on the 10th of Tishrei. 

Chances are the three Jewish players with games scheduled for Tuesday night and Wednesday, the decisive stretch of the divisional round of the MLB playoffs, aren’t going to consult Masechet Yoma or Masechet Koufax as a guide for what they should do. Still, it would be a beacon of meaning in these dark and meaningless times for Alex Bregman, Max Fried, or Joc Pederson to decide that there are more important things than baseball going on later today and tomorrow, just in case they happen to be reading.  

Here’s a look at Yom Kippur’s playoff implications. 

Astros at Rays, 7:07 PM tonight: Candle-lighting in St Petersburg, Florida, home of the Tampa Bay Rays, is at 6:51 PM. Sixteen minutes later, Tampa pitcher Diego Castillo will fire off the opening toss of what will be an elimination game for the Rays. Will he eventually have to face Alex Bregman, Houston’s MVP candidate third-baseman and someone who might be in the midst of the greatest season [2] that any Jewish slugger has ever had?

“When I think about the future and how I can make a difference in the world, I want to be able to use my love of the game of baseball to be a good example and a good person,” a 13-year-old Alex Bregman said [3] at his Bar Mitzvah in Albuquerque in 2007. Kinda hard to think of a more visible or memorable way to do that than sitting out a playoff game on Yom Kippur.  While Bregman is the best of the Jewish ballplayers who may or may not be in action today and tomorrow, he is also strangely dispensable: Justin Verlander, perhaps the most dominant pitcher of his era, will take the mound for the Astros, who are the World Series pick for just about everyone who’s not a Yankees fan.

Cardinals at Braves, 5:02 PM tomorrow: With shuls in the Atlanta area somewhere in the book of Jonah, the despicable Saint Louis Cardinals will take the field against the disgusting home-town Braves for a winner-take-all game 5 between perennial National League heels. One of the more fun parts of a high-stakes baseball game is the bizarro bullpen management—any pitcher could come in at just about any time, especially a starter with an ERA in the low 4s like the Braves’ Max Fried. 

As it happens, in August of 2017 the Atlanta Jewish Times asked [4] Fried what he would do if his spot in the rotation came up on Yom Kippur. “It would definitely be a very tough decision,” said Fried. “I’d have to consult my family and everyone else to see what the best decision would be.” Fried wore Sandy Koufax’s number 32 in high school, where he played on the same team as Jack Flaherty, the Cardinals’ likely starter tomorrow afternoon.

Nationals at Dodgers, 5:37 PM PST tomorrow: Joc Pederson formed half of the first all-Jewish Home Run Derby bracket in history [5] this past summer. He played for Israel in the 2017 World Baseball Classic but was not raised religious–odds are he’ll be suiting up for the Dodgers in their game five matchup against the visiting Washington Nationals.

If Pederson’s on the bench, it will be because of his .182 batting average. Then again, Nats pitcher Stephen Strasburg has flummoxed postseason hitters regardless of ability level. Barring some freakish injury or a late-breaking conversion to Judaism—not really possible, in any case—Strasburg will be taking his .064 career ERA, achieved over a mind-boggling 28 playoff innings, to Dodger Stadium on Wednesday afternoon, as Jewish Nats fans anxiously think of ways to politely excuse themselves from break-fast gatherings over on the opposite coast. 

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