Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ryan Braun: "The Hebrew Hammer" Brings Hanukkah Joy Early To The Jews

OK, so the book of "Great Jewish Athletes" is a rather thin one, although perhaps thicker than the book of Jewish conservatives (which, actually, is more of a pamphlet).  But we can add a page today, with the selection of Ryan Braun as the National League's 2011 MVP:

Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun has bested Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp for the National League MVP Award. Braun hit .332 with 32 homeruns and 111 RBI for the NL Central Division champions. Known as The Hebrew Hammer, Braun also led the NL in slugging percentage (SLG) and on base plus slugging percentage (OPS) with .597 and .994, respectively. Braun becomes the first Jewish player to win the NL MVP since Sandy Koufax did it with the 1963 World Series champion Dodgers.

Almost half a century since the nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn took the honors.  The list of Jewish MLB MVPs is a short one, but let's honor them all:

1935 & 1940: Hank Greenberg - The first Jewish MVP was the greatest Jewish power hitter of all-time and endured the type of abuse most people only associate with African-American ballplayers.

"Hammerin' Hank" was taunted by Anti-Semitic rants from fans, opposing players and even some teammates. He wasn't afraid to fight back and was a model to other athletes of all races and religions.

The 6'4" slugger mostly took his anger out on the ball, helping the 1935 Tigers to the World Series with a league-leading 36 homers and 170 RBI.

1948: Lou Boudreau - known to Indians fans as the great player-manager of the last Cleveland team to win the World Series in 1948. The Hall-of-Fame shortstop hit .355 with 106 RBI that season and blasted four hits to help topple the Red Sox in a one-game playoff for the AL pennant.  (Note: Boudrou was born to a Jewish mother but raised Catholic, technically in the eyes of the faith this makes him Jewish but it's not as if he grew up eating matzoh on Passover...)

1953: Al Rosen - Rosen's MVP year included an AL-best 43 homers and 145 RBI, and his .336 average was second to only Mickey Vernon of the Senators (.337), as Rosen just missed the Triple Crown. It was the best season of Al's career, and like Braun, he wore the nickname "Hebrew Hammer" proudly.

1963: Sandy Koufax - Koufax's five-year stretch of dominance from 1962-66 included three Cy Young Awards (when it was only given to one player in all of baseball) and the '63 National League MVP Award, when he went 25-5 with a 1.88 ERA and 306 strikeouts. He capped off the year with two World Series victories in LA's sweep of the Yankees.

In 1972, the author of five no-hitters was the youngest player ever elected to the Hall of Fame six years after arm woes forced his retirement at age 31.

1977: Rod Carew (with an asterisk*)

Carew hit .388 in 1977, the hugest batting average since Ted Williams .406 in 1941, and justly won the MVP .   BUT:  Carew's wife was Jewish, and he raised his kids in the faith, but there are conflicting reports on whether or not he ever converted. But as we mentioned, our book is a tad thin, so we'll add a page for one of the best pure hitters of his generation - one that did eat matzoh every Passover...

Congratulations, Ryan, on making the book. A little bit of Jewish pride for us all today. Now, did you ever think about making a real career move, and bringing your talents to New York? Every deli would line up for your endorsement, and every synagogue would vie for your attendance. And that baseball team that plays in Queens really could use a little bit of that Jewish charity right about now....

(note: some of the stats above taken from this slideshow)

UPDATE:  Thanks to the esteemed Professor Jacobson at Legal Insurrection for the link!

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