By Michael Bamberger
Paul Newman's half Jewish,
Goldie Hawn's half too,
Put them togerther,
What a fine-looking Jew!
ADAM SANDLER'S Chanukah Song is on the radio regularly in this most wonderful time of the year. The next time Sandler updates that tune, mabey he'd consider adding the following lyrics:
Shawn Green's not Irish.
He is in fact a Jew.
The Best Judeo batsman
Since that awesome Rod Carew!
JEWS HAVE a long history with baseball. The children of Jewish émigrés, seeking to distance themselves from the old country, embraced the national pastime in large numbers. In time, Jews became owners. (Among the Jewish team owners today are Jerry Reinsdorf of the Chicago White Sox nd Fred Wilpon of the New York Mets.) They became executives. (Donald Fehr, the head of the palyers' union, and Bud Selig, the commissioner, have at least one thing in common.) Jewish players even in the Hall Of Fame. Carew. Hank Greenberg. And of course Sandy Koufax, a stable in the rabbinical sermons to this day for what he did on October 6, 1965, when Yom Kippur and the first game of the World Series shared calender space: Koufax went to synagogue, not to the mound for Los Angeles Dodgers against Minnesota Twins.
Now there is Shawen David Green -- a surname that was Greenberg only two generations ago--one of perhaps eight jewish players on Big League rosters. If Green had a dollar for every barmitzvah he was invited to over his first five years in the big leagues, all with the Toronto Blue Jays, he'd be rich.
Come to think of it, he is rich. On Nov. 8 - as part of a four-man trade with the Bluejays that sent slugging outfielder Raul Modesi to Toronto-The Dodgers signed Green, A 27-year-old Outfielder who bats left handed, to the fourth largest contract(Total Value) in baseball history, $84Million over 6 years. Green has been a true everyday player in the Majors for only two years, Last season and in '98, when he had 35 stolen bases and 35 Home Runs. (After that season a headline for the New Jersey Jewish News read TORONTO BLUE JAYS' SHAWN GREEN BECOMES FIRST JEW IN THE 30/30 CLUB.) Greens 1999 numbers were whopping: 190 Hits for a .309 AVG, 42 HR's and 123 RBI's, .588 Slugging percentage, 1 error in 346 chances and 20 stolen bases in 27 trys. Scouts speak of 5 tool players. Green may have a sixth. He can hit for average, hit for power, run, throw and field. And he can think.
Green is a 1991 graduate of Tustin High in Orange County, about 40 miles south of Dodger Stadium. He ranked third in his class, never made less than a "A" in four years there, And was admitted to Stamford. As classes were beginning in his freshman year, He signed with the Blue Jays for a $725 000 bonus. For two years he attended classes during the first semester and then played for a Toronto minor league team.
He's a reader-One of the books that shaped him is "SIDDHRTHA", The Herman Hesse novel set in India about a mans search for Holiess-and like alot of readers, He's not a big talker. Greens father, Ira, says his only son doesnt say anything without thinking about it first, which makes something Shawn said this fall particularly fascinating. In the throes of the trade talks, he declaired that he would sign a long-term deal only with a ball club that has a signifficant Jewish population. For Shawn, this was a new one. Given that Green did not have a Bar Mitzvah, and that he does not attend synagogue, that he has not learned in the customs of his religion, It was a all together unlikely prerequesite. Why the Jewishness of his is teams city became important to Green is not something he can easily articulate. It has something to do with all the bar mitzvah and seder invitations he has recieved sinse comming to the bigs. It has something to do with his ongoing discovery of what is means to be a jew.
New York Yankees owner George Stienbrenner-Not a Jew-Had a fantasy about bringing Green to New York City, Which has almost Two Million Jews. But in the end, Only the Dodgers had a chance. Green wanted to go home. He wanted to play where. His performance could help turn his team into a contender. "My father and I talked about going to the Yankees," Green says. "But if I go there, and they continue to make the playoffs, What have I really contributed?" Los Angeles had the nessacery Jewish population: nearly 600 000 in the metropolution area. The Dodgers could afford Green, and they needed to do something with Mondesi, Who was highly paid, Hughley talented and deeply miserable in LA. Finally, the Dodgers had the legacy of Koufax.
The other day Green was in one of those brightly painted, brightly lit southern California cafe, eating huevos rancheros, drinking freshly squeezed orange juice and reading. Nobody bothered him. He often goes unrecognized, even in his own gym. His manner could not be anymore unassuming. He was wearing sneakers, shorts and a black, short-sleaved shirt. He's a hansome guy, with dark hair, dark skin and a long (6'4"), lean (200 pounds) body that is topped by a long, lean face. (Note to all matchmakers: he's not married, but he's all set, Thanks.) He actually looks like Koufax Circa 1962. While eating his breakfast, Green happened to be reading a piece on Koufax that ran in SI in July: He was a aristocat in spikes, with a gentlemans carrage and an assassin's arsenal-his fastball and curve. His last six seasons are mythic: 129-47 with a 2.19 ERA. He threw 27 complete games with a painfully artheritic arm in 1966 and then quit. He slipped into a private life fundamentally no differant from his days as a beloved public icon: Unfailingly true to his ideals. He always put the team before self, modesty before fame and god before the world series.
Hell probablly meet Koufax next spring in Vero Beach FLA. , when Green shows up for his first Spring Training at Dodgertown. A major bust last year when they went 77-85 and finished 3rd in the NL west, the Dodgers could be very good in 2000, althought they are still a weak team defensively, particually in the infield and at catcher. But some big pieces are in place. They have a smart and accomplished manager in Davey Johnson. They have a potentially stellar rotation lead by right handers Kevin Brown and Ismal Valdez. They have the heart of the order that could be the most potent in baseball: Gary Sheffield in left and batting third; Green playing right and batting fourth; Eric Karros, playing first and batting fifth. However, for that threesome to produce the enourmous collective numbers expected of them, each needs to become a more disaplened swinger.
In 1999 Shawn Green became the 13th player in league history to hit 40 or more home runs and steal 20 or more bases in a single season. Add a Gold Glove, and the club gets even more exclusive. Below are the players in the 40-20 club. (Gold Gloves were first awarded in 1957.)
Green by no means regards himself as a complete player. He's a perfectionist ; he'll likely never be wholly satisifyed in anything. "Trying to get better at something, thats what makes it all interesting," he says. For the 2000 season, Green wants to cut down on his strikeouts, to less than 100. "He had 142 in 1998 and 117 last season." He wants to increase his walks to at least 75. "He had 50 in 98 and 66 last season." He feels he needs to walk more and strikeout less in the final innings of games. "Green batted .328 in the first six innings of games last year, and .268 from the seventh inning on." He wants to increase his batting average by at least 20 points. Thats just the start of his To Do list.
He learned the game from his dad, A serious student of the baseball swing. Ira Greens father, a welder who shortened the family name for "buisness reasons," died when his only child was 2. Ira was raised by his mother, Betty, in the Julia Lathrop housing project in Chicago, Where he and his mother were amoung a handful of Jews, and playing sports helped him stay out of trouble. He was a forward on the basketball team at DePaul, from which he graduated in 1966, Married a fellow Chicagoan Judy Schneider, and began his working life. First he was a gym teacher and coach, later a medical supplys salesman and finally the owner of a sprawling indoor batting facility, The Baseball Academy, near Tustin where the family moved in 1985.
Theres a clip from that year, appearing in the Orange County Register, Posted on a Bulletin Board at the Baseball Academy about a little leaguer batting .717, his baseball dreams, his commeted parents. "The Greens consede they have been absorbed in a project that will most likely end in failure," the story states. There a final quote from Judy : "If Shawn doesnt make the majors, he'll just become a doctor."
"When we started working with Shawn, we used Charlie Lau's books and tapes, emphasizing that the most important thing in hitting is watching the ball," Ira said the other day, sitting in a worn chair at the Baseball Academy. "Then in High School we made a shift, keeping his weight balanced left and right, thru the swing, in the Ted Williams tradition."
When Shawn meet Williams in July, During the All Star Game at Bostons Fenway Park, it was one of the thrills of Greens life. Williams was in a wheel chair, in the run way leading from the dugout to the clubhouse, on his way out.Green said to somebody in the Williams entourage, "Can I please meet him?" The two left handed batters talked hitting for five minutes. More accurately ACC, Green listened to Williams talk hitting for five minutes.
The other night Judy was in her roomy, sparkling house in Tustin, Which Shawn recently bought for his parents. She was talking about her sons contract. "I think our society is out of whack," She said. "When you think about what policemen, school teachers, firemen and paramedics do and what they are making, its crazy what we pay our athletes and entertainers. But I know the money wont change Shawn. I know he'll do the right thing with it."
Green has already commited 1.5 million dollars to the Dodgers dream foundation, which builds and referbishes baseball diamonds in rundown city neighbourhoods. He plans to set up a charitable foundation with the purpose of giving away much more. He'd like to hire his only sibling his sister, Lisa, 28, to run the foundation, to sort thru the request. He's particularly interested in Jewish philanthropies.
"Growing up, we knew we were Jewish but we didnt do anything with it," says Green. "I've learned more about my religion in the five years I've been in the majors than in the 24 years before that. The Jewish communitys in Toronto and New York and other places made me feel very welcome. It was a great feeling to know that so many kids were looking up to me just because I was jewish." Since making the majors, Green has never had a game on Yom Kipper, The holyist day on the Jewish Calendar. He says he would likely not play baseball on Yom Kipper in the future (It falls on Oct. 8-9 next season), not for religious reasons, but to make a statement.
Over the years many alltime, all-jewish lineup cards have been written by Jewish baseball fans with too much time on their hands. Historically, they have looked something like this:
Rod Carew, 2B, Hall of Famer
Buddy Mayer, SS, Career .303 hitter
Al Rosen, 3B, Had 145 RBI in '53
Hank Greenberg, 1B, Hall Of Famer
Sid Gordon, RF, 202 Career homers
Elliot Maddox, CF, Career .989 fielder
Moe Berg, C, Spoke 12 languages, Hit in none
Sandy Koufax, P, Ranked up there with Moses.
Poor Sid Gordon. His spot is starting to look iffy. If Green keeps up his good work, He could be batting fifth and playing Right in the AllTime, All-Jewish lineup. All he has to do is keep doing what he has been doing. Shawn Green has all the stuff to become a hero to his people. He has all the stuff to become a hero, period.