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Kevin Cullen

New book honors Jewish baseball players

Wednesday was about as good as it gets around here. No clouds, a soothing sun, temperatures in the low 70s with low humidity. I had absolutely no intention of going into the office when Boston felt like San Diego, and then I got the perfect excuse not to go into the office in the form of somebody from San Diego.

His name is George Mitrovich and his is a bicoastal life, living in San Diego, dreaming in Boston. He runs something called the Great Fenway Park Writers Series. George told me he had lined up a guy from Brookline named Larry Ruttman who has written a book called “American Jews & America’s Game,” and that Ruttman and the inimitable Dr. Charles Steinberg were going to talk about Jews and baseball at Fenway Park.


So the only question was how soon could I get to the Fens.

Ruttman spent five years researching the book, interviewing not only Jewish players and executives but fans, like Rabbi Michael Paley and famed attorney Alan Dershowitz, who just plain love baseball. It’s fascinating stuff.

I knew that Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax were great players who happened to be Jewish. But who knew that Al Rosen, the great Cleveland Indians third baseman in the 1950s, called himself “the luckiest Jew alive” and was the first unanimous MVP?

Who knew that Ken Holtzman, the winningest Jewish pitcher in the major leagues, refused to pitch a playoff game for the Oakland A’s in Baltimore in 1973 because it fell on Rosh Hashanah? The Orioles’ owner, Jerry Hoffberger, sent a limo to pick him up for services and then Holtzman flew back to Oakland and beat the Orioles and the A’s won the pennant.

“I always thought there was some divine intervention,” Holtzman told Ruttman.

Who knew that Craig Breslow, the Red Sox reliever, is Jewish, graduated from Yale, and was accepted at New York University Medical School?


Well his mother, Anne, a math teacher in Bridgeport, Conn., did and I can imagine her saying, “Oh, so you can perform a tracheotomy and throw a backdoor slider, Mr. Bigshot, but you can’t remember to call your mother?”

Ruttman says it takes a tough guy to tell a Jewish mother he’s skipping med school for a longshot in the minor leagues, but Breslow fought his way to the majors. He’s been a journeyman, but found a home at Fenway, 150 miles from where he grew up in Trumbull, Conn., and his numbers of late are staggering: he’s allowed just two earned runs in the last 29 innings.

How can’t you like a guy who named his bearded collie Koufax?

Breslow is a mensch. The Sox just nominated him for the Roberto Clemente award for community service.

Ruttman asked Breslow why he chose baseball over medical school.

“Nearly every one of my friends is sitting in an office and has no idea if it is light or dark or snowing or sunny,” Breslow told him. “I’m running around on a field with thousands of people yelling my name and cheering for me. There is no way I’d exchange that, not now at least. Every day is something new. That’s the nature of baseball.”

Dr. Charles Steinberg couldn’t agree more. He’s the impresario of Fenway, but grew up bleeding orange and black in Baltimore. His life has unfolded like a Barry Levinson movie. He eschewed a dental practice and thinks he’s as lucky as Al Rosen because he’s been able to make his living by going to the ballpark every day, first at the old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore when he was an intern for the Orioles, then working for the Padres in San Diego, the Dodgers in Los Angeles, and the Sox at Fenway.


I’m thinking they should make the Red Sox clubhouse keep kosher because the team really took off this season as soon as half the lineup started sporting facial hair that makes them look a lot like Orthodox rabbis.

Those beards are working.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.