Geoff Blum’s dramatic home run last week in Game 3 of the World Series had barely cleared the fence, lifting his Chicago White Sox to victory in the 14th inning, before Jewish sports fans began asking the eternal question: Is he or isn’t he?
The Internet was abuzz about Blum, a 32-year-old journeyman infielder who was inserted into the game as a late-inning replacement. His homer at Minute Maid Park in Houston snapped a 5-5 tie and sent the White Sox to a 3-0 Series lead over the Astros on their way to a sweep.
"Does that home run push Geoff Blum past Shawn Green and Jason Marquis as the most prominent Jewish baseball players?" a fan asked on deadspin.com. Green plays for the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Marquis for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Apparently the answer is no. Neither a White Sox spokesman nor an editor at the Chicago Jewish News had any evidence that Blum, a California native, is a Member of the Tribe (the Jews, not the Cleveland Indians).
Jewish interest in the religious affiliation of athletes is "part of wanting to show ourselves to be Americans," says Yeshiva University history professor Jeffrey Gurock. "And there’s nothing more American than sports."
Particularly baseball, long designated as the national pastime.
"There’s a long history of Jewish affiliation with anyone who accomplishes anything in the sports world," says Gurock, author of the recently published "Judaism’s Encounter With American Sports" (Indiana University Press).
Jewish fans are always trying to deduce which players with Jewish-sounding names actually are Jewish. Two prominent ones who aren’t: David Eckstein of the Cardinals and Morgan Ensberg of the Houston Astros.
This season, about a dozen Jewish athletes were on major league rosters at various times. And the White Sox owner, Jerry Reinsdorf, is Jewish.
Incidentally, the Astros did have a Jewish player on their roster, catcher Brad Ausmus. That was one more than the number of African-American players on the club. The National League champions were the first team in the Series in 52 years that did not have any black players.