- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

The Chosen Player

I have a Shawn Green baseball card, the back of which says…

Following in the tradition of Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax, Shawn announced his decision not to play on Yom Kippur.

Good news: Yom Kippur this year falls on the Monday between the end of the season and the start of the playoffs.

Better news: We’ll have a game that Tuesday. And so, just given Bud Selig’s blessing, will Shawn Green.

Looks like we have a stand-in for Cliff Floyd. Looks we can deploy Endy Chavez in his customary secret weapon role. Looks like Michael Tucker can be Matt Franco in the late innings. Looks like any pressure that might weigh on Lastings Milledge can dissipate. Looks like Ricky Ledee may need a ride to the airport.

Looks like the Mets will have their first Jewish ballplayer in a quarter-century.

On a day when Tom Glavine’s left arm was diagnosed as unclotted — mazel tov! — the trade for Shawn Green (giving up Norfolk lefty Evan MacLane to the Diamondbacks and taking on a thus far undisclosed chunk of salary) feels like a little extra mitzvah from Minaya. Mostly because he’s an experienced outfielder with a bat and an arm, and veteran stars tipping toward the other side of their careers have a happy history of reviving with contenders. But a little because he’ll be the Mets’ first Jewish ballplayer in a quarter-century.

When Shawn Green came to Shea with the Blue Jays in 1999, I joked to my companion that I guess I should have brought a Star of David flag and paraded through the stands with it. This was in the era of fannies in seats for stars of other teams and displays of allegiance to them instead of the Mets. I’m speaking primarily of the Dominican contingent that cheered for Chicago Cub Sammy Sosa. That always turned my stomach, just as it made me a little queasy that I saw a few of my landsmen going nuts for Green when he visited as a Dodger on Jewish Heritage Day in 2004.

This is America. My people are Americans. When I’m at Shea, I choose to identify with Metropolitan-Americans. Over the years, I’ve seen Brad Ausmus, Mike Lieberthal and Jason Marquis, to name three Jewish players, come and go from Shea and never noticed a swelling of religious or ethnic pride at their appearances. Nor did it even occur to me that they were fully or partly Jewish. They were opponents.

Shawn Green, however, was a little different. As it says on the back of his card — from the set American Jews in America’s Game: 1871-2003, produced by the American Jewish Historical Society — “Shawn is the outstanding, as well as the most Jewishly identified, major leaguer of this generation.” Because he was the most talented, most accomplished, most celebrated Jewish player since Koufax, I did applaud him before his first at-bats when he faced the Mets. Because he faced the Mets, I rooted for him to strike out.

For the record, there have been six Jewish Mets to date. Joe Ginsberg was the first. Art Shamsky was the best. Dave Roberts, ’til now, was the last. They are joined by Norm Sherry, Greg Goossen and Elliott Maddox. None of them made the AJHS’s all-time Jewish team.

Shawn Green did.

I missed Ginsberg, Sherry and Goossen. I don’t think I knew about Shamsky’s faith when he was in Flushing; he left when I was 8 and I didn’t learn that there was such a thing as a Jewish baseball player until I read it in Baseball Digest when I was 9. I didn’t know about Roberts or Maddox until I got their cards. The lack of Jewish Mets (even the mildly disappointing word in 1987 that Cone wasn’t derived from Cohen) didn’t exactly create a void in my life as a fan. My Judaism is pretty much limited to fuzzy anecdotes from my youth [1] and my intermittent sprinkling of Yiddish phrases into my blog.

It’s seeped into my fandom now and again, I suppose. The first Mets game I ever attended [2] was under the auspices of kosher Camp Avnet. In a fit of Israeli solidarity after 9/11, I bought a Mets cap with the NY translated into Hebrew, though if it weren’t blue and orange, I wouldn’t be able to tell you what it says. When I think of it, except on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons, I’ll go for a hot dog from the Hebrew National stand…they’re just better. But unlike Shawn Green, I don’t let the High Holy Days get in the way of my baseball games. For me, baseball games are the High Holy Days.

AJHS’s Jewish Major Leaguers set proved so popular, they put out a sequel this year. On Shawn Green’s update card, it is noted that during Yom Kippur 2004, in the middle of the Dodgers’ race in the West versus the Giants, “He decided that he owed it to his team to play one of the two games in that 24-hour period, while observing the Day of Awe during the other game.”

What it doesn’t say is that a couple of weeks later, in the NLDS against the Cardinals, Shawn Green smacked three homers.

Can he pull that kind of performance out of his yarmulke the month after next? Might he restore the pop the lower half of the order has been missing since the dismissal of Nady and the disabling of Floyd? Will we regret taking on his hefty $9 million contract and $2 million buyout when 2007 rolls around?

All good questions. I have no answers. But Shawn Green, the outstanding, as well as most Jewishly identified, major leaguer of his generation, can now say, today I am a Met. Will it help us?

Couldn’t hurt.