Jewish Astros Leave Mark on Local History

Introduction

Morris Frank

Dear Loyal Readers of The Pecan Park Eagle: Prepare yourselves for a special scholarly and entertaining review of our franchise history with Jewish players and personnel of the Houston Colt .45s and Astros. One of our wonderful contributing researcher/writers, Maxwell Kates of Toronto, Canada has just knocked one way out of the park with this first earnest paper on the contributions of Jewish people to Houston’s new status as 2017 World Series Champions.

We don’t have to go back too far to tap into the most recent major Jewish Astros player contribution to our winning ways either. Alex Bregman’s walk-off single in the arguably greatest thriller game in World Series history, Game Five at MMP this year, is as far we need look.

During the 1940s and 1950s, the late Morris Frank was a sports writer, the PA announcer for Houston Buff Texas League baseball games, and the boondocks humorist quality MC for every baseball banquet and function that local minds could find a reason to conjure. For reasons of affinity to both baseball and Judaism, you would’ve heard from Morris by nightfall, Maxwell!

In the absence of Morris Frank, you will just have to settle for the rest of us saying, “Thank you, Maxwell Kates, for an excellent job well done.”

Sincerely,

Bill McCurdy

Publisher and Editor,

The Pecan Park Eagle

********************

 

JEWISH ASTROS LEAVE THEIR MARK ON FRANCHISE HISTORY

By Maxwell Kates

PROLOGUE

Maxwell Kates
Baseball Writer

 

Maxwell Kates’ interest in baseball players who share his religious heritage dates back to a chance meeting with Brooklyn Dodgers’ outfielder Cal Abrams at a strip mall in Coral Springs, Florida. Growing up, he thought his was the only family whose heirlooms included a ‘Jewish collection’ of baseball cards…that is, until he joined SABR. At the 2002 convention in Boston, Maxwell even attended a brunch with 15 baseball ‘mavens’ to debate which players warranted inclusion in a forthcoming Jewish baseball card set. Two years later, in 2004, he wrote “Of Horsehides and Hexagrams: Baseball as a Vehicle for American Jewish Culture” for The National Pastime. Maxwell also developed his article into a lecture to be delivered at the Limmud Conference at York University, also in 2004. In honour of Alex Bregman’s contributions to the 2017 World Series championship, he has reformatted “Of Horsehides and Hexagrams” with a new title to chronicle the contribution of Jewish players and personnel to the evolution of major league baseball in Houston.

Cal Abrams
Outfielder

Note: In the story that follows, the years in parentheses reflect the time span that each player played for Houston

Right now, it’s a great time to be Alex Bregman.

Alex Bregman
Having a 2017 World Series Happy Moment

In the epic Game 5 of the 2017 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers, it was Bregman whose swing of the bat ended a 10th inning stalemate in the bottom at Minute Maid Park. At 1:38 am Eastern time (12:38 Central), Bregman sliced a single off Kenley Jansen to score Derek Fisher and push the Astros ahead 13-12. Playing in all seven World Series games, Bregman drove in five runs – including a solo home run in Game 4 – while making spectacular defensive plays at the hot corner.

Alex Bregman is also the latest of many players of the Jewish faith to suit up for the Astros. Being Jewish myself, I have long taken an interest in the accomplishments of my co-religionists on the baseball diamond. This essay will chronicle the lives and career highlights of Jewish players and other personalities who have contributed to the history of the Houston Astros.

Jews in Baseball Lithograph

Before beginning, it is worth asking the question, “Who is a Jew?” As I described in “Of Horsehides and Hexagrams,” “if rabbis and Talmudic scholars could not arrive at a consensus 3,000 years ago…how could baseball collectors agree today?” The Union of Orthodox Rabbis defines a Jew as (a) anyone born to a Jewish mother or (b) any convert to Judaism. More liberal denominations include the progeny of interfaith couples regardless of which parent is Jewish. But what if the mother was Jewish but the player chose his father’s religion? What if only the father was Jewish and after the parents divorced, the mother raised him exclusively in her Christian faith? What if a player was born to two Jewish parents but has decided independently to practise a different religion? Every one of these scenarios describes the religious identities of different Astros players.

 

Kevin Pillar

Another question is worth asking and that is “Why is this important?” In other words, in 2017, why are we even discussing a player’s religion? There is a reason and it has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. Rather, although there are between 13 and 16 million Jews in the world, depending on whose statistics are used, the figure seems considerably smaller given internal divisions along religious, political, and ethnic lines. Differences of opinion on the interpretation of liturgical texts, the observation of the Sabbath, and secular political issues have spliced many communities, while as New York lawyer and author Douglas Lyons once noted, “[it seems] no two Jews observe the same rules of keeping Kosher.” According to a classic joke, when a man was asked how he would spend his time alone on a desert island, he replied “I’ll build two synagogues – but I wouldn’t be caught dead in one of them!”

Full-length kneeling shot of Detroit Tigers Hank Greenberg. 1942

 

Sandy Koufax
“The One and Only”

Meanwhile, sports and entertainment have served to unite rather than divide. Although the American Jewish community has produced more basketball players on a professional level, it was baseball that served as their secular cornerstone. The zenith in Jewish immigration to the United States took place between the assassination of Czar Alexander II in 1881 and the adoption of the Johnson-Reed Act in 1924. During this period, the two most popular sports in the United States were baseball and boxing. In the 1930s, a Jewish baseball hero emerged in Hank Greenberg. Playing most of his career in the shadow of Henry Ford and Father Charles Coughlin in Detroit, Greenberg’s rookie year of 1933 also coincided with Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Nazi Germany. Suburban flight during the postwar era meant the stickball games of inner city neighbourhoods like the Lower East Side of New York were now transposed to sandlot games in bedroom communities. Until the playoff system expanded in 1969, it was common for the Jewish High Holy Days to coincide with the World Series. Most Jewish sports fans, even the most ardent supporter of the New York Yankees, could identify Sandy Koufax as a cultural icon. As baseball cards became an adult hobby in the 1970s, the phenomenon of the ‘Jewish collection’ began to emerge in many families. According to Vancouver-based hobbyist Ernest ‘Kit’ Krieger, the only ethnic identities to specifically collect baseball cards of players from their culture are Cubans and Jews (1).

Don Taussig

 

Randy Cardinal

It was a cousin from the New York branch of Krieger’s family who became the first Jewish player in Houston major league history. In 1961, the Colt .45’s selected outfielder Don Taussig (1962) in the expansion draft from the St. Louis Cardinals. Injuries limited Taussig to 27 plate appearances as he batted .200 with one home run. Other Jewish members of the Colt .45’s included pitchers Randy Cardinal (1963) and Larry Yellen (1963-1964), along with catcher Steve Hertz (1964). Yellen was the intended starting pitcher on September 27, 1963 when the Colts fielded an all-rookie lineup, but a higher power interfered – his mother.

Steve Hertz

Larry Yellen

“When my mom read in the New York Times that I was going to pitch on Yom Kippur, she called to ask me how I could disgrace the family.” Some forty years later, in 2004, Hertz and Yellen reunited at the launch of the Jewish Major Leaguers baseball card set, in New York.

Home Run Spectacular

Pitcher to the Shower

The Colt .45’s moved into the new Harris County Domed Stadium in 1965; the venue became the Astrodome, the tenants, the Astros. Appointed to oversee the operation of the state of the art electronic scoreboard was a young naval officer from New Jersey named Tony Siegle. As he remembers, there were very few Jews working in major league baseball at the time:

Tony Siegle with the San Francisco Giants, 2013

“Baseball was known as the ‘Irish mafia’ as most baseball executives were Irish (MacPhail, Giles, McHale and so forth). Even in my minute capacity, I was the only Jew…in the Astros’ hierarchy. When I told [my dad] of my new post, he asked if I were inside the scoreboard hanging numbers. I told him this one was different.”

Barry Latman

Larry Sherry

Prior to the 1966 season, the Astros purchased the contract of pitcher Barry Latman (1966-1967) from the Angels. Despite a disappointing 2-7 record, the Los Angeles native posted an impressive 2.71 earned run average in his first season in a Houston uniform. Latman’s former Fairfax High School classmate, Larry Sherry (1967), soon joined him in the bullpen. Meanwhile, a third Jewish Angeleno was patrolling the outfield for the Astros. His name was Norm Miller (1965-1973) and on April 15, 1968, he scored the winning run against the Mets to end a 24 inning shutout, the longest in major league history. The following year, he enjoyed his most successful year with the Astros, hitting 21 doubles and four triples while batting .264 in the cavernous Astrodome.

Norm Miller, 1970 Topps Card

To All My Fans
By Norm Miller

Late in the 1969 season, Miller paradoxically refused to play on Yom Kippur after previously disavowing organized religion. As his teammate Jim Bouton elaborated in Ball Four, “I play on [the first day of Rosh Hashanah] and go 0-for-4 against Niekro and the next day I go 0-for-5, and that’s it. I’ll never play on a Jewish holiday again!” Miller recently described to journalist Dan Epstein the significance of having three Jewish players on the Astros in 1967:

“I’m sure I instigated a lot of stuff. I probably told people that if they needed their money handled, we were the three guys who could do it…we were vicious human beings back then; and when one of your teammates ripped you, you felt accepted.” Miller also admits that he believes he was hindered by “a degree of anti-Semitism” before a back injury forced him to retire from baseball at age 29. He later pitched batting practise for the Astros and worked in the team’s front office.

 

 

Bo Belinsky, 1967

 

 

Whether or not there was a fourth Jewish player on the 1967 Astros remains a matter of dispute. When asked about Bo Belinsky, Norm Miller replied, “It depends on who he was talking to, I guess. Okay, so we only had three and a half Jews on our team!” That Belinsky was born to a Russian Jewish mother and a Polish Catholic father are accepted facts. A larger than life character, he held out for more money in spring training of his rookie year and was as well known for his ability with a pool cue as his pitching arm (2). Despite a lifetime record of 28-51 with a 4.10 ERA over eight seasons, Belinsky no-hit the Baltimore Orioles as a rookie on May 5, 1962. He identified as a Christian and when he died in 2001, age 64, he was given a Pentecostal Christian funeral. Many older sources considered Belinsky to have been Jewish. More modern texts such as the McFarland series by Burton and Benita Boxerman do not include him. Although I tend to agree with the Boxermans, I am reminded of a debate with my father about the identity of Leo Bloom. He retorted my claim about the protagonist in James Joyce’s Ulysses with “Bloom might not have considered himself Jewish – but other people did!”

Dave Roberts

 

Dan Warthen, 1978

Two additional Astros pitchers in the 1970s have frequently been misidentified as Jewish. One is Dave Roberts (1972-1975). A durable starter acquired from the San Diego Padres, Roberts’ best season with the Astros was 1973 in which he won 17 games including six shutouts, with a 2.85 ERA. Roberts’ original name was David Arthur Roth, born to a Jewish father and a Christian mother. After his parents divorced and his mother remarried a man name Roberts, Dave was raised Christian. According to biographer Gregory H. Wolf, Roberts was a devout Christian. Throughout his 13 year major league career, serving as chapel leader, seeking advice from his priest, and was nominated more than once for the Danny Thompson Award for upstanding Christian character.

Dan Warthen, 2010, Mets Kippah

Meanwhile, Dan Warthen (1978) has also been misidentified as Jewish. Warthen’s potential claim to Judaism was brought to a head in 2010 when as pitching coach for the Mets, was seen wearing a kippah on television when he briefly removed his cap. Ron Kaplan examined the question in a column of Kaplan’s Korner. According to Mets’ vice president of media relations, Jay Horwitz, Warthen’s wife is Jewish but he is not. It turns out the kippot were gifts to Ike Davis from a rabbi and Warthen “was simply trying one on.” Former Astros pitcher Jim Bouton (1969-1970) married Paula Kurman in 1978; although he raised his stepchildren with Paula’s Jewish faith, the author of “Ball Four” never himself converted.  On the other hand, Skip Jutze (1973-1976), who caught the Astros for several seasons in the 1970s, did convert to Judaism.

Skip Jutz

Paula Kurman and Jim Bouton

One of the more memorable moments during the Astrodome era involving a Jewish player took place in an exhibition game on July 19, 1973. Prior to the game in which the Astros hosted the Detroit Tigers, manager Leo Durocher announced that “Jerry Lewis will play first base and hit leadoff in my lineup.” Yes, that Jerry Lewis. The 47 year old comedian was anything but a nutty professor in Astros double knits, drawing a walk before rapping a single off Mike Strahler to contribute towards a 10-7 Houston victory. Later that evening, Lewis attended a dinner party while still wearing his jersey number 9. As he told Sports Illustrated, “you’ll need a meat cleaver to get this off me.”

Jerry Lewis
In his brief fun tenure as an Astro

Contributions to major league baseball in Houston by Jews were not limited to achievements on the diamond. The first general manager for the Colt .45’s was Gabe Paul, signed by the yet-unnamed Houston franchise in 1960. Tal Smith remembers working for Paul before the general manager’s departure for Cleveland in April 1961:

Original Astros GM Gabe Paul
Served a very short term before leaving. His term was remindful of an old Groucho Marx movie song:
“Hello. I Must Be Going”

“I have to thank Gabe for giving me the opportunity to start my baseball career and then he provided me with an opportunity to come to Houston which was obviously unique with an expansion franchise…I actually worked for Gabe with Cincinnati, Houston, and the Yankees and I stayed in touch with him until his passing [in 1998].”

 

Mickey Herskowitz, 1965

Mickey Herskowitz, 2014

Among the reporters covering the team in the early years were Morris Frank for the Houston Chronicle and Mickey Herskowitz for the Houston Post. After Roy Hofheinz suffered his debilitating stroke in 1970, he delegated oversight of the Astros first to Reuben Askenase and then to Sidney Shlenker. After a nine year exodus in Philadelphia and Milwaukee, Tony Siegle returned to the Astros in 1979 as assistant to Tal Smith, by now the general manager. No longer operating a scoreboard or hosting guided tours of the Astrodome, Siegle’s new duties included “negotiating contracts, waivers, and dealing with agents.” A year later, Al Rosen was hired as the general manager.

Al Rosen, 1953

 

Born in Spartanburg, South Carolina in 1924, Rosen played 3rd base for the Cleveland Indians from 1947 to 1956. The four-time All-Star hit 37 home runs for the Tribe in 1950 while still qualifying as a rookie. In 1953, Rosen won the American League Most Valuable Player; he led the junior circuit with 43 home runs and 145 RBI while narrowly missing the Triple Crown – his .336 batting average was one point shy of Mickey Vernon’s .337. Never one to shy away from his religious heritage, Rosen sought to earn his legacy as “one Jewish kid every Jew in the world could be proud of.” His experience as an investment advisor in Cleveland provided him with the financial capital to augment George Steinbrenner’s purchase of the New York Yankees in 1973. Rosen became team President in 1978 and a year later, fellow Yankees investor John McMullen bought the Astros from Roy Hofheinz’ creditors.

Al Rosen, 1982

Rosen was given the dubious task to replace the popular Smith as general manager. The fans, media, and even McMullen’s partners were upset at the decision while Tony Siegle even remarked that “General Santa Ana received a friendlier welcome [in Houston].” Rosen wasted no time to tinker with the roster of the defending National League West champions. He signed Don Sutton to a free agent contract to replace an ailing J. R. Richard in the starting rotation while dispatching Enos Cabell, Ken Forsch and Joaquin Andujar in trades, respectively, for Bob Knepper, Dickie Thon, and Tony Scott. In 1981, the Astros won the second-half National League West title before losing to the Division series to the Los Angeles Dodgers (the Dodgers had not heard the last of the Astros). A year later, with the second most expensive team in the National League, the Astros plummeted to fifth place. Amid the after effects of an oil shock on the local economy in Houston, Rosen adopted an austere stance against free agent signings. After three years in the middle of the pack, the Astros decided to part ways with Rosen in 1985. He served seven years as general manager of the San Francisco Giants and passed away in 2015, age 91.

One of the more evasive aspects of researching this assignment was to determine a religious identity for Andres Reiner. The Venezuelan businessman established the Astros’ Venezuelan Baseball Academy in 1989. In his seventeen years with the Astros, he signed several players who excelled on the major league level, including Johan Santana. Reiner, who passed away in 2016, was born in Budapest in 1935 and fled with his family to Venezuela in the 1940s. Considering the timing that his family left Europe and that Reiner is a rather common Jewish name in Hungary, the question was asked whether Andres was Jewish.

According to Milton Jamail’s Venezuelan Bust, Baseball Boom, Reiner did indeed flee Hungary with his family, but they departed Europe in 1946 to flee the Communists rather than the Nazis. While 1946 was a watershed year for immigration into Venezuela, only 600 Jews immigrated to the South American nation. Research leads with the University of Texas at Austin, the Tampa Bay Rays, articles about Reiner, his Venezuelan obituary, and even an interview with Budapest-born Andrew Reiner from Toronto all proved to be evasive in identifying his religion.

Finally, SABR member Rory Costello was able to contact Venezuelan journalist Alfonso Tusa, who informed us that while “other families named Reiner were registered as Jewish,” Tusa had “no direct evidence about Andres.” Therefore it is reasonable to conclude that it was unlikely Andres Reiner had been Jewish.

 

 

Frank Charles

 

Jason Hirsh

 

Eddie Zosky

The participation of Jewish major leaguers reached its nadir in the 1980s. After the White Sox designated Mark Gilbert for assignment in 1985, three years would pass before one of his co-religionists would return to the big leagues (3). In the 1990s, meanwhile, Shawn Green and Mike Lieberthal were two of over a dozen Jewish players to break into the majors. The first Jewish Astros in nearly a quarter century were both promoted from AAA New Orleans late in the 2000 season, catcher Frank Charles and infielder Eddie Zosky. Measuring a gargantuan 6’8″, Jason Hirsh (2006) went 3-4 with a 6.04 ERA in nine starts for the Astros before he was sent to the Colorado Rockies in an offseason trade. Utility infielder David Newhan (2008) ended his eight year big league career with the Astros, batting .260 in 104 official at-bats. He was nicknamed “Son of Scribe,” as he is the son of Los Angeles sportswriter Ross Newhan. The younger Newhan identifies as a ‘Messianic Jew,’ which most Jewish denominations understand to mean a form of Christianity.

Columbia Space Shuttle Patch

In 2003, the Astros became the only major league baseball team to wear an Israeli flag on their uniforms.   On February 1, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts aboard. One of the astronauts to lose his life was Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli in space. As a tribute to the fallen astronauts, the Astros wore the official patch of STS-107 on the sleeve of their uniforms. The patch lists the surnames of all seven astronauts, along with an Israeli flag beside Ramon’s name.

Josh Zeid

 

Scott Feldman

Besides Alex Bergman, there were Jewish players on the Astros in the 2010s. In 48 appearances, Josh Zeid (2013-2014) posted a record of 0-1 with a 5.21 ERA. Seen in the above noted photograph, Zeid is reading a children’s book about Sandy Koufax to students at the Shlenker School in Houston (4). Nine years after breaking in with the 2005 Texas Rangers, Scott Feldman (2014-2016) signed a three year, $30 million contract. The Astros’ 2014 opening day starter, he posted a record of 8-12 while setting a personal best 3.74 ERA. One of Feldman’s eight wins was a three-hit shutout of the Texas Rangers on August 30. His success on the field earned him as the cover illustration on the Astros’ 2015 yearbook. In July 2016, Feldman was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Brad Ausmus, 1997

 

Brad Ausmus, 2001

Now you as the reader may wonder, “When is he going to write about Brad Ausmus?” As a Detroit Tigers fan, I am tempted to answer “Who?” Ausmus (1997-1998, 2001-2008) was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1969, to a Jewish mother and a Protestant father. As he told Brad A. Greenberg of the Los Angeles-based Jewish Journal, “I wasn’t raised with the Jewish religion, so in that sense I really don’t have much feeling towards it.” Ausmus admits that being a role model to a young generation of Jews has influenced retrospection towards his matrilineal heritage as “a sense of pride,” adding that “if you can have a positive impact on a kid, I’m all for it.”

After breaking in with the Padres in 1993, Ausmus spent parts of four seasons in San Diego and Detroit before he was traded to the Astros in 1996. He batted .266 in 1997 while ejecting 44% of potential base stealers while coordinating a starting rotation of Mike Hampton, Darryl Kile, Jose Lima, and Shane Reynolds. Tal Smith considered Ausmus’ presence behind the plate to be “invaluable,” deserving “a lot of credit for our success,” and likening him to “another manager on the field.”

Meanwhile, the Astros won their first division title in 11 years. Ausmus won Gold Gloves in the first two seasons in his second tour of duty with the Astros, even fielding a stellar .997 in 2001. Of his catching abilities, pitcher Octavio Dotel lauded Ausmus as “a great catcher,” adding that “if he feels 100% I should thow a pitch, then I will go with him.”

Brad Ausmus, 2005

 

Brad Ausmus, 2008

Ausmus and his Houston teammates enjoyed one of their most memorable seasons in the major leagues in 2005 as the Astros won their only National League pennant. The Dartmouth graduate led all catchers with 66 hits after the All-Star break, while drawing more bases on balls during the regular season than strikeouts (51 to 48). Meanwhile, on September 18, he surpassed Alan Ashby having caught the most games in Astros history. Although he hit only three home runs in the regular season, don’t tell that to the Atlanta Braves and their bullpen.

The Braves took a 2-1 lead in the National League Championship Series. An Atlanta victory in Game 4 signified elimination for the Astros, a result that seemed imminent after the Braves took a 5-0 lead. Trailing 6-5, the Astros sent Brad Ausmus to bat with two outs in the bottom of the 9th. Facing Kyle Farnsworth, Ausmus pulled a ball which barely cleared the left field fence at Minute Maid Park. It was ruled a home run; bedlam ensued as the Astros and Braves were tied. That’s when both clubs suddenly forgot how to produce runs. An additional nine innings would pass before Chris Burke’s home run gave the Astros a 7-6 victory.

“We had gone 18 innings,” Ausmus told Bill Brown and Mike Acosta. “We were starting to get extremely tired. We wanted the game to end. Rocket comes out of the bullpen and goes three innings…so that was one of those games for the ages.” The consummate team player, Ausmus played all 18 innings, catching 15 and playing three at first base. Tal Smith, having worked for the Astros franchise for over 35 years, described the blast as “one of the greatest hits in franchise history.”

Brad Ausmus, 2013, with
Shimon Peres and Daniel Shapiro

 

Brad Ausmus, 2015, with
Lance Berkman and Craig Biggio

Ausmus remained with the Astros until 2008. Amazingly, for someone who caught over 1,900 games, he never spent a day on the disabled list through the 2008 season. After two years with the Dodgers, Ausmus retired as a player in 2010. He managed the Israeli national baseball team in 2013 and then spent the next four years piloting the Tigers. The Astros’ decision to hire Joe Espada to replace Alex Cora as their bench coach ended any speculation of Ausmus’ imminent return to Houston.

Alex Bregman, 2016 Futures Game

The Astros selected Alex Bregman as the second overall draft choice in June 2015. His meteoric rise through the minor leagues included stops in Quad Cities, Lancaster, Corpus Christi, and finally Fresno. Fans received a glimpse of Bregman’s offensive abilities when he was a home run short of hitting for the cycle at the 2016 Futures Game in San Diego. As Bregman told Bill Brown, “I feel like I’m (close to) accomplishing one of my goals, and that was to get to the big leagues this year.”

Bregman would not have to wait long, as he was recalled to Houston on July 25. As the Astros hosted the Yankees at Minute Maid Park, the 3rd baseman made “some dazzling plays” and “came up about three feet short of a grand slam.” He batted .264 in 201 official at-bats for the remainder of the season. Meanwhile, batting .306 with 20 home runs and 61 RBI between Corpus Christi and Fresno, Bregman won USA Today’s Minor League Player of the Year Award for 2016. There would be no second cup of coffee for this Bregman – he was in the majors to stay (5).

Alex Bregman, 2017 Team USA

Even before the World Series, the legend of Alex Bregman was growing in 2017. Before the regular season, he earned a gold medal as a member of Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. Bregman’s 19 home runs and 71 RBI include a grand slam off Masahiro Tanaka at Yankee Stadium. Not simply a one-dimensional threat, Bregman batted .284 with 39 doubles, 5 triples, and 17 stolen bases, while leading American League 3rd basemen with a .970 fielding percentage.

HOUSTON, TX – OCTOBER 30: Alex Bregman #2 of the Houston Astros celebrates after hitting a game-winning single during the tenth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game five of the 2017 World Series at Minute Maid Park on October 30, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

An important hallmark in religious and secular Jewish families alike is passing on traditions from one generation to the next. As Suzanne Fields, also known as Alex Bregman’s great aunt, chronicled in the Washington Times, the 3rd baseman is the fourth generation in his family with a connection to baseball. Suzanne’s father, the late Bo Bregman, was a Russian immigrant who was a standout catcher in Washington’s amateur leagues in the early 20th century. Bo’s son Stanley was a lawyer retained by the Griffith family who owned the original Washington Senators. Meanwhile, Stanley’s son Sam, now an Albuquerque lawyer, played baseball at the University of New Mexico. In Suzanne’s words, “my father didn’t live long enough to know Alex but he would have popped his vest buttons if he had seen Alex step up to the plate for his first World Series at-bat.” In other words, ‘my great grandson, the ballplayer.’

Top Jewish Major League Baseball Players

To paraphrase Morley Torgov in his coming of age novel, The Outside Chance of Maximilian Glick, “where there is oxygen, there are Jews.” Both on and off the field, Jews have contributed to major league baseball in Houston from expansion franchise to World Series champions. Perhaps the most significant exploits were by Alex Bregman last month during the seven game series over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Great things are predicted for the 3rd baseman whose next birthday shall only be his 24th. Astros fans of all backgrounds no doubt will hope to continue to see Bregman in a Houston uniform for years to come.

NOTES

(1)            Krieger himself had an unusual tie to professional baseball. On the final day of the 1968 season,

the 19 year old was the starting pitcher for the Vancouver Mounties of the Pacific Coast League.

(2)            I will leave further details of Belinsky’s well-documented personal life to other writers.

(3)            Gilbert, who lasted one week in the major leagues, later found greater success in a different field.

In 2015 he was named the United States ambassador to New Zealand.

(4)            The Shlenker School was indeed named after Sidney Shlenker’s family. Sidney served as team

President of the Astros from 1975 to 1976.

(5)            An unrelated Bregman family in Toronto owned a coffee chain called The Second Cup for years.

 

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and Gregory H. Wolf, eds. Phoenix: Society for American Baseball Research Inc., 2016.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Martin Abramowitz, Mike Acosta, Ray Anselmo, Geoff Becker, Benita Boxerman, Burton Boxerman, Bill Brown, Mindy Bullion, Rory Costello, Harold Freeman, Henry A. Green, Howard Kaiman, Ron Kaplan, Neil Keller, Kit Krieger, Maxwell Lapides, Lew Lipset, Greg Lucas, Doug Lyons, Bill McCurdy, Norm Miller, Ross Newhan, Irving Osterer, Andrew Reiner, Peter Sevitt, Tony Siegle, Tal Smith, John Thorn, Alfonso Tusa Campos, Mark Wernick

Special thanks to Rory Costello and Tal Smith for their help with the research of this paper.

 

********************

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

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9 Responses to “Jewish Astros Leave Mark on Local History”

  1. maxwell1901 Says:

    Bill, thank you for publishing the article and for the introductory text on Morris Frank…and the photo of Frank! I was looking all over for a photo of his without success. We can only wait another year to see what the Astros can do for an encore in 2018.

    • Tom Hunter Says:

      I enjoyed your piece, Maxwell. Alex Bregman is my favorite Astros player. However, I do have one suggestion for an edit. The original name of the Astros was the Colt .45s–no apostrophe after the 5.

  2. shinerbock80 Says:

    Nice job, Maxwell.

  3. Sam Quintero Says:

    Outstanding contribution to the history of professional baseball in Houston. Thank you for sharing your work with us.

    Much appreciated!

  4. jeff share Says:

    Excellent piece. Of course it was the 13th inning that Bregman got his hit in game 5. I also was curious why he played on Yom Kippur.

  5. Mark W Says:

    Bregman’s game winning hit in game 5 was in the bottom of the tenth.

  6. Mark W Says:

    In the 18 inning playoff game vs. Atlanta in 2005, the Astros went into that game leading Atlanta 2 games to 1. Had Atlanta won that game, the series would have been tied and the 5th (and final) game would have been played in Atlanta. By winning the game,
    the Astros moved on to the NLCS vs. St. Louis.

  7. Mark W Says:

    Interesting article. Thank you for this contribution to baseball lore Maxwell.

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