Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Baseball Talmud

I recently finished looking through The Baseball Talmud: The Definitive Position-by-Position Ranking of Baseball's Chosen Players by Howard Megdal and I found his All-Time Jewish team to be interesting. Before I touch on it, there are a few things I want to comment about.

First the Jewish-isms (Is this correct to say?) were hilarious. I'm not sure if Megdal was writing the book with a specific reader in mind but I found his descriptions of Jews and Non-Jews alike to be entertaining.

Second, I guess I'm not really surprised that only 3% of all Major Leaguers throughout the years were of Jewish decent (As of 2008, 16,696 players of which less than 160 were Jewish). With the exceptions of major Urban centers like New York and Los Angeles that were major centers of Jewish culture and representation, people in this country could be Anti-Semitic in both thoughts and actions. I would have thought the percentage of Jewish players to be higher since Major League Baseball has been integrated since 1947 but I'm not surprised with the 3%.

Third, I find it amazing how fully dependent some people are on Metrics to compare players. Thanks to Mr. Bill James for introducing the world of Baseball to Sabrmetrics. The author heavily relies on such statistical categories as WARP3 (determines season value in terms of wins over a replacement-level player, adjusted for park and era), EQA (offensive production expressed as an average), ERA+ (adjusts a raw ERA for park and era, relative to the league average with 100 being average) and OPS+ (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage adjusted for era and park, and expressed relative to average) among others. Though I think these usage of metrics can be exaggerated, I do believe that they can be a valid for comparison sake.

Baseball players from different eras differed in methods of training, facilities, economic, educational opportunities and life experiences. For example, a player from the late 30's and early 40's most likely lost between two to four years of prime baseball years to military service in World War II, while no other players from later eras lost that much time to military service (except Ted Williams who served as a fighter pilot in both World War II and Korea earning kills in both).

In addition, players today are better off economically than yesterday's players so they spend their offseason training instead of working second and third jobs to make ends meet. I can go on but I think you see what I mean. Statistical measurement can help to bridge the generational gaps between players of different eras. Now on to the list.

Here is his list of the best Jewish players (The Link takes you to the player page on

1. Hank Greenberg
2. Sandy Koufax
3. Lou Boudreau
4. Shawn Green
5. Buddy Meyer
6. Al Rosen
7. Sid Gordon
8. Ken Holtzman
9. Harry Danning
10. Mike Lieberthal

I have no quarrels with his list, especially with his choices for one and two: Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax. I was surprise with number his choice for number three: Lou Boudreau. I had no clue that he was Jewish and the statistic that stood out the most for me was in 1948, while playing SS for the Cleveland Indians, Boudreau struck out a total of 9 times for the whole season (560 At-bats). Nine times!!! Amazing!!!BTW, in 1947, Boudreau struck out 10 times in 538 at-bats. Some players of the list are unknown to me such as (list players) and I was able to watch some like Shawn Green and Mike Lieberthal. The one player that the author describes fondly was Moe Berg. This gentleman was truly amazing.

Berg was not much of a ballplayer though he was able to play for 12 years, it was his extra-curricular activities that were astounding. He was a linguist, studied at the Sorbonne, he was a lawyer, a spy during World War II for the OSS (the early form of the CIA) and an avid reader of newspapers and other forms of information. The story of Mr. Berg does have a sad ending but I recommend that you read The Catcher Was a Spy by Nicholas Dawidoff. (Photo credit The Jewish-American Hall of Fame Website)

The author also has a list of the best Jewish players to reflect players that are currently active in the majors. Here is the list for 2018 (The Link takes you to the player page on

1. Hank Greenberg
2. Sandy Koufax
3. Ryan Braun
4. Lou Boudreau
5. Shawn Green
6. Kevin Youlikis
7. Ian Kinsler
8. Buddy Meyer
9. Al Rosen
10. Sid Gordon

So there you go. Any opinions, disagreements, additions or subtractions?

For further reading
Dawidoff, Nicholas The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg (Vintage Press, 1995)

Levine, Peter Ellis Island to Ebbets Field: Sport and Jewish Experience (Oxford University Press, 1993)

Megdal, Howard The Baseball Talmud: The Definitive Position-by-Position Ranking of Baseball's Chosen Players (HarperCollins Publishers, 2007)

- Click here for the Howard Megdal's personal blog page

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