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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Isaac Bashevis Swinger?

Violinist Issac Stern played great music. Writer Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote great fiction. First baseman Issac Benjamin Davis made a helluva catch on a foul popup in the first inning of Wednesday’s otherwise desultory Met loss.

All these Isaacs were blessed with a talent for doing something most people can’t. Stern was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom; Singer was a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature; Davis — better known as Ike — is our unanimous choice for best Met called up from the minor leagues in the last week, no offense to Manny Acosta or Tobi Stoner. He is also, by Alex Belth’s reckoning, the first major league ballplayer to share a name with a Woody Allen character. In Manhattan, Ike Davis is a middle-aged comedy writer dating a high school girl.

In Queens, Ike Davis is barely five years out of high school and en route, we pray, to becoming — apologies to Mr. Singer (Isaac Bashevis that is, not Annie Hall‘s Alvy) — the Magician of Flushing.

Also, each of these Isaacs, it turns out, is Jewish. Issac Stern and Isaac Bashevis Singer are members of the Jewish-American Hall of Fame. Isaac Benjamin Davis, early signs of a beautiful swing notwithstanding, probably needs a few more plate appearances to merit Hall of Fame consideration of any kind. The similarities among our trio of Issacs end there for now.

When I say “it turns out” Ike Davis is Jewish, that’s because I had only the barest inkling that was his background. I don’t generally give any thought to Mets’ backgrounds. Tom Seaver was in the booth for a half-inning last night. It occurs to me I’ve never known or wondered about Tom Seaver’s religion. Seaver religiously threw strikes like nobody else, which meant I was a practicing Seaverite from the time I was old enough to know right from wrong and left from right. If Seaver advertised his faith when I was seven, I probably would have petitioned my parents to convert to whatever that was.

The bare inkling I had about Davis came because our blog (like most blogs, I suspect) comes equipped with an internal information page that tells us, among other things, what kinds of searches people do that lead them to click on a link to us. On and off for a couple of months, apparently, a few people per day were going on Google and typing in “Ike Davis Jewish?” and finding FAFIF. We had never written anything about it, but we had mentioned him, and deep within our sidebar, under the heading “Extreme Baseball,” is a link to a site called Jewish Major Leaguers. That’s search engine alchemy for ya.

I noticed this, but I never much wondered. We get those searches from time to time for David Cone (not Jewish), Mike Jacobs (not Jewish, despite the best efforts of the 2006 Marlins’ promotions department) and Sean Green (wrong Green), among others. Not having seen Manhattan lately, the name “Ike Davis” didn’t necessarily resonate as Jewish or not Jewish. It never occurred to me before learning otherwise that “Shawn Green” was a Jewish name. Or, come to think of it, “Dave Roberts,” the last Jewish Met, from 1981, to predate Green, who arrived in 2006.

There’s an intensely interested audience for this information, however. Jewish baseball fans are almost always interested in knowing if a baseball player is also a Jewish baseball player. We’re not gonna not root for a guy because he isn’t Jewish — and we’re not necessarily gonna root for a guy because he is Jewish (did you hear any discernible vocal support from any demographic for Scott Schoeneweis during his two-year stay at Shea?), but it’s just somehow nice to know. It doesn’t make any of us who aren’t particularly athletic any more handy with a bat, but it gives us the idea, somehow, that it’s not so odd that someone who is Jewish can be a very sweet swinger.

Nobody told me I couldn’t be a professional baseball player because I was Jewish. My complete lack of skills told me that. But you grow up, you’re aware of who you are from a religious or cultural (or both) standpoint, you become aware there are very few who share that segment of who you are in the big leagues and you begin to accept that it’s very unusual to almost unheard of to find Jewish ballplayers.

Jewish violinists? There’s Isaac Stern. Jewish writers? There’s Isaac Bashevis Singer. Jewish ballplayers coming through the Met system?

There was nobody for decades until Isaac Benjamin Davis.

It didn’t matter, because Shea Stadium was your temple and Metropolitan-American was your true ethnicity, but, like I said, it’s nice to know. I only found out the other day about Davis when that stream of searches began to pick up. It was supplemented by cautiously joyous e-mails: “Did you hear…?” “Is it true…?” Thanks to Google, it didn’t take much detective work to track down this February tidbit from Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle columnist Jonathan Mayo, delivered via New Jersey’s own Kaplan’s Korner:

I asked him in an email if there are any promising Jewish prospects to keep an eye on. His reply: “Ike Davis, the Mets’ first-round pick from 2008. [Former Yankees pitcher] Ron’s kid (mom is Jewish). He told me he’s not religious at all, but that’s ok. He’s not running from it, either.”

“He’s not running from it, either.” Why he would in 2010 I don’t know. If Ike Davis doesn’t deny being related to a Yankee, why would he eschew any of his heritage?

But seriously, this is nice to know. Going with the most generous delineations possible, the Mets have had nine Jewish players through the years — Green, Roberts, Schoeneweis, Joe Ginsberg, Norm Sherry, Greg Goossen, World Champion Art Shamsky,  Elliott Maddox and David Newhan — but save for Goossen, never one who commenced his career as a Met (who, ten years after he broke in was indeed, per Casey Stengel’s projection, ten years older than he had been). So now, with Ike Davis, not only do we have enough for a minyan, we have one who is homegrown.

That’s only important in the sense that it’s always better to have a player who holds the promise of getting better, whatever his background. Shawn Green may have been a great Jewish ballplayer, but he peaked as a Blue Jay and Dodger. When it came to his Met days, he was a member of a vast and nonsectarian group of late-career acquisitions whose congregation was clearly situated Over The Hill (their rabbi: George Foster; their cantor: Carlos Baerga; the president of their men’s club: Jim Fregosi). The reason we’re liking Ike is he’s a Met who we can still rightly hope will become a great ballplayer. A great Met ballplayer. And if he’s Jewish while doing it, that’s nice, too.

Maybe more than a little nice for some of us.

19 comments to Isaac Bashevis Swinger?

  • Ron Davis

    Is it me or is Ike’s Mother looks like Bruce Springsteens wife Patty? before you ask . He is like the son i never had..lol oy vey ….My friend who lives in Chicago is a 2nd or 3rd cousin from Issac B Singer. small world. Yes my real name is Ron Davis

  • Ron Davis

    Tom i believe once said he was Irish and part German and dutch.

  • Small world!

    For the record, Ron’s wife Kendall — she who was interviewed along with Ron the other night — is Ron’s second wife and Ike’s stepmom…and, like Patti, in a band. Ike’s parents (which would, yes, include his Jewish mother) are divorced.

  • Joe D.

    Hi Greg,

    Am embarrased to admit this but having actually never seen Ike Davis play in spring training, never seeing his photo and reading up only on his stats, I thought he was African-American. It wasn’y until Monday night that I shocked to find that not only was he Caucasian but also another of my Jewish bretheren (never realizing the former major league father being referred to was Ron Davis).

  • At the rate the Mets are going, Greg, you’re going to need that minyan to say Kaddish for yet another dead season. Woe unto thee, O Flushing!

    In 1969, plagues were visited upon the pharoahs from Chicago. (Cats, blind umpires, the mocking Chicago media, Leo Durocher.) In 1973, the prophet Tug parted the Cincinnati Red Sea. And October 25, 1986, that night was different from all the others. But now you’re in the 24th year in the wilderness. 2026, perhaps?

  • Inside Pitcher

    I liked Ike already, but this is just gives me an extra reason to pull for the kid to do well.

  • Marc R

    Well, well, well.

    This certainly puts the messiah post from a few days ago into a new perspective.

  • Jude B

    Imagine how nice it would be for gay baseball fans to get the idea, somehow, that it’s not so odd that someone who is gay can be a very sweet swinger of the bat too. Sorry, I know that’s somewhat off topic, but it just occurred to me as I read the piece.

  • Think the Mets are going to make some hay with David when it comes to their annual Jewish Heritage game? Sniff-sniff: what’s that I smell? An Ike Davis bobblehead?

    • That would not be bad at all, though as long as the Mets are using their heads and not bobbling as much as last year, that’s a pretty effective promotion, too.

  • […] History of the New York Mets and co-host of one of the better team-centric blogs, IMHO, posted this in-depth piece on Ike Davis, JML, and the need for Jewish fans to have some players to call their […]

  • Jodie

    Is it possible that I am the only one who got your sly “It’s nice to know” references? Very slick.

  • […] accumulated more than 57 R.B.I.(s). We have one player  with more than 15 homers. The guy who’s second on the team hasn’t hit one out in over a month. The guy who’s third on the team has been a Dodger for a […]