In 1871, before the invention of the telephone, the mail-order catalogue, or barbed wire, five years before the Chicago Cubs played the first of 21,056 regular-season games, back in those mists of time, a 5-foot-8 gentleman named Lipman Pike became the first Jewish fellow to get paid to play baseball.
Drawing a modest paycheck from the Troy (N.Y.) Haymakers, Pike hit four home runs, a mighty feat in the National Association, a loose collection of teams pre-dating the National League. After all, in those days the outfield fence was further afield, fences intended to keep non-paying spectators out rather than providing a reasonable target for men such as Pike.
Last month, as the baseball regular season was drawing to a close, the 6-foot Alex Bregman, a leading rookie, Jewish or otherwise, with the Houston Astros, hit a pitch from the Cubs’ John Lackey over Houston’s right-field fence of Houston’s Minute Maid Park. Perhaps the world will little note nor long remember what Bregman accomplished, but according to Jewish Baseball News, Bregman’s homer was the 3,000th round tripper by a Jew dating back to Pike of the Haymakers in 1871.
Despite nostalgia for Jewish baseball heroes of yesteryear, the current decade will someday be seen as the real good old days for Jewish sluggers. For not only did Bregman’s homer satisfy that milestone taking 146 years to reach, but on Sept. 29, Ian Kinsler hit his 27th home run of 2016, breaking the collective single-season record for homers (114) by Jews. That is, reported Jewish Baseball News, the collective number of homers hit in one season by all Jewish major leaguers added together. The previous record was 112 homers, set in 2012.
Along with Kinsler, this summer’s “murderer’s row” included Ryan Braun (30) and Joc Pederson (25), only the second time (2010 being the other) that three Jews each hit at least 25 homers in one year.
Pederson, who played for Israel in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, is likely to again play for Israel in the next round of the 2017 Classic, as might Braun, Kinsler and Bregman.
Before anyone dismisses the collected barrage of 114 Jewish homers as a less-than-majestic ethnic record, keep in mind, say the record-keepers, that if you wanted to see a Jewish home run in any of 46 different seasons since 1871 you couldn’t because not a single homer was hit by any Jewish major leaguer in those 46 years whatsoever.
Should you prefer your Jewish athletes more tender than tough, the current online edition of Derek Jeter’s Player’s Tribune features an extended essay written by the Dodgers’ Joc Pederson in collaboration with his brother Champ, who has Down Syndrome. Champ is always welcomed around Dodger Stadium, the brothers write, and often accompanies Joc to the clubhouse, where Champ has become friends with numerous Dodgers and players around the game.
With Rosh HaShanah’s Book of Chronicles being sealed in Heaven on Hoshana Raba (Oct. 23), perhaps it will echo Grantland Rice, who wrote: “For when the one Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, He’ll ask not did you win or lose, but how you played the game.” Joc Pederson should do OK.