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Israel’s National Baseball Squad Takes Shape

Shawn Green will play; Tablet talks to manager Brad Ausmus

Marc Tracy
May 25, 2012
From left: Brad Ausmus; President Peres; Ambassador Shapiro.(Ambassador Dan Shapiro/Facebook)
From left: Brad Ausmus; President Peres; Ambassador Shapiro.(Ambassador Dan Shapiro/Facebook)

A year ago, the World Baseball Classic announced it was expanding to 32 teams and inviting Israel. The WBC allows players to compete for countries of which they could be citizens, and so the hope was that some of America’s venerable crop of Jewish ballplayers, all of whom could declare Israeli citizenship if they wanted to, would join the Israeli club.

It’s happening. Earlier this week, reported that retired catcher Brad Ausmus, who was an All Star and in 2010 was named professional sports’ ninth-smartest athlete—he’s a David Grann fan!—is managing the Israeli team (that’s him with U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro and President Shimon Peres: the national colors are the same as his old Dodger white-and-blue). He has already recruited Shawn Green, one of the all-time great Jewish sluggers, albeit one who retired in 2007, and outfielder Gabe Kapler, another recent retiree. In November, they will play a mini-tournament against the French, South African, and Spanish squads; winner gets into the final, 16-team competition.

Yesterday, Ausmus told Tablet Magazine over email that he hopes to recruit “any professional players,” with claiming current stars like the Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun and the Texas Rangers’ Ian Kinsler are very much being targeted. (So is Sam Fuld, late of the Tampa Bay Rays, darling of Jewish fans everywhere.)

Ausmus, a special assistant to the San Diego Padres, said he was contacted by Haim Katz, the President of the Israel Association of Baseball. “After Shawn Green, Gabe Kapler and I met in Orange County, California, with officials involved with the IAB, we came to a consensus that this was something that would be fun and challenging to be a part of,” he explained.

Ausmus was in fact emailing from Israel, which he is visiting for the first time. “This is a very impressive country, and have been having a blast,” he said, noting that roster spots will also go to Israeli citizens.

I asked him what it is about catchers and managing: take a look at most of baseball’s managers, and many of baseball’s most accomplished ones (from Connie Mack to Joe Torre), and you will find a bunch of ex-catchers. I really liked Ausmus’ explanation:

Catchers have a unique position. They constantly have to be in tune with the game. They must know the score, the inning, the strengths and weaknesses of the hitter, the strengths and weaknesses of the pitcher, who is on deck, who is available to pinch hit, who are the baserunners, how many outs, who is warming in the bullpen, do we need a double play or a strikeout, etc., and then, they must instantaneously price this information, and call the pitch. I think this prepares a catcher for a managerial job where many of the same thoughts are processed. Also, a catcher understands what it takes to play everyday, but still relates to pitchers who may only play once a week.

I have a job to do, and so I asked if the stereotype of the cerebral catcher is magnified among Jewish ones. “I don’t think it’s just Jewish catchers,” Ausmus replied. “I think it’s catchers.”

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