Sunday, June 6, 2010
Athletics, Pt.2: Famous Jewish Sports Stars, Me Included
OK, so back to sports. Sports, sports sports.
I was born in the year 1985, to two Jewish parents, who were the children of more Jewish parents, and back and back along the way to the ultimate First Jew, who I guess was Jesus' dad, God. I digress, but what I am trying to illustrate is that I come from Jewish blood. Hence the title of this blog. My Jewish identity comes with many cultural norms. Those do not include physical strength, agility, or athletic prowess. Not at all.
One of my favorite lines in the movie "Airplane" comes when an elderly woman, sitting in one of the aisles of the plane, asks for some reading material for the flight. The stewardess replies, "Here, we have this pamphlet: "Famous Jewish Sports Stars." The pamphlet is literally as thick as two loose leaf sheets. I think that's about right.
I'd like to name some of these aforementioned Jewish Sports stars. Let's start with basketball. Interestingly, the NBA began with a league comprised of mostly Jewish players. This is because at the time the NBA was founded, the mid 1940's, the players of the sport were mostly composed of the lower economic classes of society. The street people. At that time, Jews were just in the warm-up stage of taking over the world, and controlling all the money, and were in fact pretty poor, particularly in New York City, where basketball was mostly played. And so the first New York Knicks basketball team was composed almost entirely of Jewish players. The most famous Jewish athlete I can think of from that era was Red Holtzman, who played for the Knicks and won the Rookie of the Year in 1948, going on to become a legendary head coach for the franchise. Going down the historical line we have Dolph Shayes, an unreasonably tall Jew who played center, and whose son, Dan, also played in the 90's. All the rest of the Jews have since become general managers.
Football? Yeesh. Sid Luckman is probably the most famous, a quarterback for the Chicago Bears in the 40's, considered by most to be the best Jewish player in NFL history. The picture to the right is of Sid at his Bar Mitzvah. He came ready to play. More recently, Mike Rosenthal played for the Giants for several seasons as an offensive lineman. And of course, who could forget:
There has never been a Jewish hockey player ever.
And of course, baseball. I could not in good conscience start anywhere but Sandy Koufax, our hero. Sandy Koufax (born Sanford Braun) was a Hall of Fame pitcher for the LA Dodgers in the 60's. His most famous moment was sitting out Game 1 of the 1965 World Series against the Minnesota Twins, in observance of Yom Kippur, during which Jews don't work or eat all day. I assume he also sat out the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating contest held that day. This was a seminal moment in Jewish Sports History; an athlete sitting out perhaps the most important game of his career in religious observance. He made Jews happier than if they were to suddenly come upon a mountain of toasted poppyseed bagels in the middle of the desert. After sitting out Game 1, Koufax pitched 7 solid innings in Game 2, which the Dodgers lost. Notably, the Dodgers ended up beating the Twins in seven games, with Koufax winning Game 7 on two days rest. This began a long history of Minnesotans getting totally pwned by Jews.
Other notable Jew baseball players included Hank Greenberg, and more recently, Shawn Green, Gabe Kapler, and Alex Rodriguez.
Oh! Almost forgot! Mark Spitz, legendary swimmer, whose record of 7 gold medals was recently eclipsed by some fucking stoner.
This leads me to the most famous Jewish Sports star of all:
As mentioned, I grew up playing sports a lot. Even in the big city, I found fields to play baseball, soccer, even flag football. Of course, there were plenty of basketball courts around. I would play tennis in the Central Park courts, and biked a lot. I roller-bladed and even dabbled in roller hockey.
My athletic career began in earnest at the Upper West Side Children's Athletic Training Society, abbreviated CATS. Yeah, I didn't realize how gay that abbreviation was at the time. At age 7, I was thrilled to arrive at an old building on West 73rd street, the basement of which had been turned into an all-purpose indoor fieldhouse, where we played b-ball, soccer, and baseball. It was awesome. Wait, actually, before that I attended the Columbus Gym on 89th and Columbus, a few blocks from my apartment, where as a pre-schooler I dabbled in gymnastics. I was the semitic Nastia Liukin, alright.
I went to a summer camp, Camp Mah-Kee-Nac (pronounced mackinack) in the Berkshires. While activities at this camp were mostly sports, I was relieved to discover that almost the entire camper population was made up of other Jewish kids from the Tri-State area (NY, NJ, CT). I will get into how much I hated kids from NJ and Long Island in another post, but I fucking still hate those kids.
So by age 13, I was pretty good at most sports! Despite the fact that I went through a pubescent phase of fat-kid-itis, I could run pretty well, had good agility, some quickness, and a bit of strength. Sure, I wouldn't have survived a day among athletes made up of people of color (not racist, let's be real here folks). But at MahKeeNac, I was pretty darn good. In basketball, I made the "tournament team," which played against other camps in tournaments. I played in a number of soccer leagues, excelled as a defenseman in roller hockey, and was ranked about 10 (of about 50) in the tennis ladder rankings. At the time, theater held no appeal for me, although I did it at camp, and quite well, being the star in the plays and musicals we produced with our sister camp, Camp Danbee. I obviously don't need to describe how awkward we all were with our Camp "Sisters", but suffice to say I didn't really talk to the girls much.
In middle school, I played on the Cathedral School of St. John the Divine (my middle school, not entirely composed of Jews) basketball team. Our team was pretty good from 5th-8th grade. I played the 3-spot, which was a lot of running for a fat kid. A lefty, I had a good mid-range jumpshot and my large body was effective at driving to the hoop. Basketball was cool.
My baseball career started at the Jewish Community Center league, where I began my career as a First Baseman, the only position I have played ever since. I was a lefty and a very talented fielder, handling grounders with ease and even scooping throws from across the diamond in the dirt. My dad was also a first baseman, and taught me all the fundamentals.
I continued but my career withered and died in West Side Little League. The above picture is not of my team. For those who don't know, this was the premier little league in Manhattan. Pretty competitive, they sent a team to the Little League World Series every year. I started out doing pretty well in this league, but ultimately my career ended due to extremely poor hitting. Indeed, in my entire career, I believe I got one legit hit. This I refer to as "The Hit," literally because there was only one. Playing on the Dragons, I clobbered a slow fastball into left center for a sluggishly ran double, much to the joy of my frustrated father. Mostly though, I was afraid of the fast pitches, struck out a lot, and retired soon after. I now relive those days on the Brave New Workshop Softball Team, the Skirt Turtles, where I excel among the other Theater fags.
The only notable moment in my soccer career occurred in 7th grade when I broke my rib running into the opposing team's goalie. That was pretty fucking funny to watch, I'll bet.
To close, my athletic career ended with a thud during the first week of high school. At age 14, I had had seven good years of sports, and decided to take it to the next level. In one of the worst decisions I've ever made, I tried out for the Riverdale Football Team. I lasted a whole one day. I realized three things about football that day: 1), you need to run a lot, 2) the other guys hit you, really hard, and 3) football players and coaches are complete and total assholes. I returned my virtually unused pads to Coach Kreso before Day 2, explaining that I wanted to focus on my studies in my totally meaningless freshman year. He laughed at me, then proceeded to make fun of me for the rest of the year as my gym teacher. An example of this happened when we would go for jogs around Van Courtland Park. Riding alongside us in his douchemobile of a golf cart, he would see me panting for breath and yell, "Hey Leibowitz, you gonna quit? You gonna run home to Mommy like you did with football?" I hope that guy has since drowned in his own diarrhea.
Soon after football, I performed in a play and, most importantly, tried out for the improv group. I made it on my first try, and the rest is history.
So sports will always have an important place in my heart. I like knowing more about sports than most Thesbians. It makes me appear to be much less gay, and I like watching sports a lot. I can also do some pretty damn good Sports-related improv scenes!
Thanks for reading today. You've taken one for the team.
P.S. I also did fucking Karate, I almost forgot. For two years, my Dad would take me down to World Seido Karate HomBU on 23rd street and 6th avenue. I started as a lowly white belt, advanced to blue, then yellow, then green then advanced green, which is one below brown, which is one below BLACKBELT! There was a really hot sensai named Sensai Stephanie who I really wanted to roundhouse kick in the face. And by roundhouse kick, I mean bang. So add that, too.
PSS My Dad has included a list of Jewish sports athletes I have missed:
Marty Glickman- Hitler objected to him competing in the 1938 Olympics so the U.S. pulled him out.
Bernie Kosar (QB)
Bennie Friedman (QB)
Moe Berg- was also a spy for the United States while playing in the majors.
Ron Blomberg- first designated hitter in baseball
Thanks to Lenny Leibowitz for the updated list!