The Right Call

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Orioles fans celebrate before the last out against the Toronto Blue Jays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Sept. 16. The O’s clinched the American League East that night with a 8-2 victory. (Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire 255/Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire/Newscom)
Orioles fans celebrate before the last out against the Toronto Blue Jays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Sept. 16. The O’s clinched the American League East that night with a 8-2 victory. (Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire 255/Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire/Newscom)

Jewish baseball fans, journalists, broadcasters and players face a very important decision this week. They must choose between baseball or attending Yom Kippur services.

The Orioles won the American League East title and hosted the Detroit Tigers, winners of the Central Division, in the league’s Division Series opener on Oct. 2. Forty-three south, the Washington Nationals won the National League’s East Division and open their division series on Oct. 3.


The Nationals’ game will be played on Erev Yom Kippur, and Game 2 of that series on Oct. 4, which is Yom Kippur. Game 2 of the ALDS between Orioles and Tigers also will be played on Erev Yom Kippur at Oriole Park.

The Lerner family, who own the Nationals, announced last week that it will not attend any games —  including the playoffs — that fall on Jewish holidays including, of course, Yom Kippur. Neither the Orioles nor the Nationals has a Jewish player.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Alan “Bud” Selig, who likely will be in Baltimore on Oct. 3 and in Washington on Oct. 4, will have to choose between baseball or Yom Kippur. So will Tigers manager Brad Aumus and his star second baseman, Ian Kinsler, who are in Charm City Friday night.

There are other Jewish players in the playoffs who will have to make the same choice: Ike Davis (Pittsburgh Pirates); Sam Fuld and Nate Freiman (Oakland A’s); and Joc Pederson (Los Angeles Dodgers).

Historically, two of the most famous of all Jewish baseball stars, Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax, faced the same decision: play or pray.

Greenburg, a first baseman for the 1934 Tigers, was the team’s best player. His Tigers were in the middle of a hot American League pennant race. It was Rosh Hashanah, and he had been pressured for more than a week from rabbis and Jews nationwide, some telling him not to play, others telling him that he could not let down his team.

See Orioles Rally pictures here.

Greenburg chose to play and hit two home runs, including one in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Boston Red Sox, 2-1. Nine days later, he sat on Yom Kippur, and the Tigers went on to represent the American League in the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Greenburg had an outstanding Series, but the Cardinals rode the strong arms of standout pitchers — and brothers — Paul and Dizzy Dean to win the championship.

However, it was Koufax who made national headlines in 1965 for choosing “praying over playing.” He wasn’t just any other pitcher; the future Hall-
of-Famer was the Major League’s very best at the time.

He sat out Game 1 of the World Series against the Minnesota Twins. Koufax, one of the most private superstars in sports history, fasted and prayed in his hotel room in Minneapolis rather than draw attention by attending services at a local synagogue.

Don Drysdale took Koufax’s place in Game 1, and the Dodgers lost. Koufax started Game 2, and he too lost. But the Dodgers rallied to win the Series, as Koufax pitched shutouts in Game 5 and the decisive Game 7.

For journalists who have followed the Orioles and Nationals since February, when both teams started spring training, it has been an exciting nine-month, 162-game ride. Yes, the playoffs are what we all had hoped for; and yes, each one of the games is special. But there are far more important matters.

Despite wanting to cover the Orioles and Nationals, I will be attending services at Chizuk Amuno, not only because, to me, it is the right thing to do, but if the great Sandy Koufax can choose to sit out starting Game 1 of a World Series, one of the most exciting experiences in sports, out of respect and love for being Jewish, I can surely miss three first-round playoff games.

Jim Williams is a local freelance writer.

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