The Yanks have signed Kevin Youkilis, the scrappy, dirty-uniformed third-baseman, who instantly becomes the most prominent Jewish ballplayer in the Bronx since Jack Ukeles (the Jewish communal demographer and planner, but no relation) last took his glove to the park.
While the Yanks have not had many Jews on their roster during their century in the American League — they include Ron Blomberg, Mel Allen (broadcaster), Ken Holtzman, Elliot Maddox, and Jimmy Reese (who was Babe Ruth’s roommate, or rather “I roomed with his suitcase,” said Reese) — they are now only eight shy of a minyan, with Larry Rothschild, pitching coach, already on board.
Youkilis, proud enough to announce that he would have played for the Israel national team in the upcoming pre-season World Baseball Classic (had the Israelis not been eliminated last September while Youkilis was still playing for the White Sox) but his ethnicity was not always so obvious. While still a minor leaguer, Youkilis became somewhat well-known as a sought after “fat kid” prospect made famous in the 2003 book, “Moneyball,” when Youkilis’ ability to generate a high on-base percentage sparked the interest of Oakland general manager Billy Beane. Because of confusion generated by his last name, Youkilis was nicknamed “the Greek god of walks,” for his smart at-bats. Nevertheless, Terry Francona, his manager with the Red Sox, said, “I’ve seen him in the shower and he’s not the Greek god of anything.”
Married to Julie Brady, Tom Brady’s sister, Youkilis is a native of Cincinnati, a two-time World Series champion with the Red Sox, a three-time All-Star, and a Gold Glove winner at first base, his other infield spot. On Aug. 8, 2005, Youkilis, Adam Stern and Gabe Kapler appeared together in a game for Boston, establishing the all-time American League record for Jews in a lineup, with three. (Each of them entered the game as a late inning replacement with no hits.) The National League record is four Jews in a lineup, by the Giants in 1941.
Another Jewish player, Ian Kinsler, second basemen of the Texas Rangers, has said that “Youkalis always says something to me on the bases. ‘Happy Passover,’ he’ll throw something at me.”
Beginning his tenth season, in 2012, Youkilis, who’ll turn 34 during spring training, hit .236 (.284 career) with 15 homers (148 career), a .346 on-base percentage (.384 career) and a .425 slugging average (.482 career). His .284 lifetime batting average is sixth on the all-time Jewish list.
In the documentary, “Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story,” Youkilis said he couldn’t help but notice, “how many people are really rooting for me and cheering for me. And it’s not just because I went 3-for-4, or had a great game. It’s just the fact that I represent a lot of Jewish people and a lot of the Jewish heritage, and the struggles that a lot of our people have had.”
He also said, “In my religion, the Jewish religion, that’s one of the biggest things that’s taught, is giving a mitzvah, forming a mitzvah”, said Youkilis. “I was always taught as a kid giving to charity. You’re supposed to give a good amount of charity each and every year…. It’s just a great thing when you can make a kid smile that’s going through some hard times in life … I wish more people, not just athletes, would give people just a little bit of their time. It doesn’t take much … It can make a huge difference.
Perhaps the nicest advice for Youkilis might be the memory that has come down from Ron Blomberg, who looking back on his own career in the 1970s, has said, “To be able to play in front of 8 million Jews! Can’t beat it. … It was like I was related to everyone.”