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Golden Boy of a Golden Age

And where the High Holiday and playoff schedules clash

Marc Tracy
September 21, 2011
Ryan Braun last Friday.(John Grieshop/Getty Images)
Ryan Braun last Friday.(John Grieshop/Getty Images)

An article in Moment asks, “Is This The Golden Age of Jewish Baseball?” The numbers don’t lie: Jewish players have a larger presence in Major League Baseball than ever before, and if they haven’t yet produced a talent comparable to Hank Greenberg or Sandy Koufax, there are a couple very good ballplayers and one who could well be on his way there.

Moment runs brief profiles of five of the top players, but we’ve been focusing on one. The Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun, in the fifth year of his career, is a legitimate candidate for the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award*, which would make him only the fifth Jewish MVP ever—after Greenberg, Lou Boudreau, Al Rosen, and Koufax—and the first since 1963. The Brewers currently have the third best record in the majors, and are likely to win their division (though a late-season surge by the St. Louis Cardinals has prevented them from clinching). In the Triple Crown categories, Braun leads the National League in average (.332); is tied for seventh in home runs (31); and is fifth in RBI (101). Best of all, he is number-one in OPS—on-base percentage plus slugging percentage—with a stratospheric .984. Bleacher Report (I know, I know) has him ranked the second-most likely MVP candidate, after the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Justin Upton.

Finally, the playoffs soon arrive. We will get around to endorsing a team when they actually do (although you probably just got a decent hint of whom we’ll be supporting), but already, the indispensable Ron Kaplan has asked the more pressing question: will any players have to Koufax? Rosh Hashanah seems safe. The last games of the regular season are next Wednesday night—after sundown of which, the Jewish New Year begins. Most of these games are during the day. Will Braun sit out the night-time contest against the Pirates, the team’s playoff spot theoretically locked up by then? What about Ian Kinsler, whose Texas Rangers play the California Anaheim Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim? And the two divisional-round games on Friday, the second day of Rosh Hashanah, will likely take place after sundown. But Yom Kippur? As Kaplan notes, if necessary, the fifth game of one of the National League Division series will take place on Kol Nidre; and the first game of the American League Championship Series will be the following day. Millions of Jewish boys and their mothers are watching … .

* I am, incidentally, in the camp of those who believe Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander should win the A.L. MVP, becoming the first pitcher to win either league’s award since 1992. Argue in the comments if you like.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.