There is a famous scene in the 1980s classic film Airplane, where an elderly woman asks the flight attendant for some “light reading.”
Cleverly, the flight attendant hands her back a leaflet titled “famous Jewish sports legends.”
From actors to musicians to politicians to bankers to Nobel prize winners, prominent Jews in various fields have proven that population really is just a number.
However, there are certain fields that are lacking in illustrious Jewish participants. Take sports, for example. With the exception of Sandy Koufax and perhaps Hank Greenberg, most people would be hard-pressed to name more than a few Jewish athletes.
Jews in sports have not experienced the same success or prominence that they have in other fields. Indeed, the leaflet stereotype does seem to have quite some truth to it.
This year’s World Series featured a rare development. Four Jews — two on each team — participated in this year’s World Series matchup between the Atlanta Braves and the Houston Astros, the former emerging as the 2021 champions for the first time since 1995.
Pitcher Max Fried and Outfielder Joc Pederson were the Jewish players on the Atlanta Braves. Fried, a LA native, grew up watching Sandy Koufax play for the Dodgers, while Pederson grew up in Northern California, though he played for the Dodgers from 2014-2020.
In fact, while playing varsity baseball at Harvard Westlake, Fried wore number 32 in admiration of Koufax. In 1965, Koufax famously refused to pitch Game 1 of the World Series in observance of Yom Kippur. He would pitch Game 2 instead, allowing 2 runs in 6 innings as the Dodgers lost 5-1.
Down 2-0 in the Series, the Dodgers would proceed to win the next three games at home in a dominant fashion. After Minnesota won Game 6 to tie the series at 3-3, Koufax, on a mere two days of rest, pitched an unbelievable complete game shutout in Game 7 to secure the World Series title for the Dodgers.
On the Astros, Jewish players represented well, too. Alex Bregman, the Astros’ Jewish third-baseman, grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The fourth Jewish player, Astros catcher Garret Stubbs, filled in for starting catcher Jason Castro, who was dropped from the team’s World Series roster due to COVID-19 protocols.
In Game 2 of the series, Jewish sports history was made in the first inning when Max Fried faced off against Alex Bregman. This was the first time in MLB World Series history that a Jewish pitcher would stand on the mound against a Jewish batter at the plate. Bregman would hit a sacrifice fly in that at bat, scoring teammate Jose Altuve and propelling the Astros to an early 1-0 lead. The Astros would go on to win the game handily.
In baseball, and most of the sports world in general, Jewish athletes could be confined to a leaflet. This World Series, however, may mark a paradigm shift in the history of the Jewish community in American sports.