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Isaac Bashevis Swinger?

Posted By Greg Prince On April 22, 2010 @ 1:18 pm In 1 | Comments Disabled

Violinist Issac Stern played great music. Writer Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote great fiction. First baseman Issac Benjamin Davis made a helluva catch [1] on a foul popup in the first inning of Wednesday’s otherwise desultory Met loss [2].

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 [3], 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 [4] (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 [5]. 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 [6]. 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 [7]) and Sean Green (wrong Green [8]), 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 [9], to predate Green, who arrived in 2006 [10].

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 [11] 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 [12], delivered via New Jersey’s own Kaplan’s Korner [13]:

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 [14],  Elliott Maddox and David Newhan [15] — 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 [16] than he had been). So now, with Ike Davis, not only do we have enough for a minyan [17], 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 [18], 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].


Article printed from Faith and Fear in Flushing: http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com

URL to article: http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com/2010/04/22/isaac-bashevis-swinger/

URLs in this post:

[1] a helluva catch: http://www.pedrossoulglo.com/2010/04/ike-davis-foul-catch.html

[2] Wednesday’s otherwise desultory Met loss: http://scores.espn.go.com/mlb/recap?gameId=300421121

[3] Alex Belth’s reckoning: http://www.bronxbanterblog.com/2010/04/19/nailbiters-vs-bedwetters/

[4] Mr. Singer: http://www.amazon.com/Magician-Lublin-Isaac-Bashevis-Singer/dp/0374532540/ref=tmm_pap_title_0

[5] Jewish-American Hall of Fame: http://amuseum.org/jahf/virtour/index.html

[6] Jewish Major Leaguers: http://jewishmajorleaguers.org/

[7] the best efforts of the 2006 Marlins’ promotions department: http://diamondsareforhumor.mlblogs.com/archives/2006/05/mike_jacobs_isn.html

[8] wrong Green: http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com/2010/01/18/the-shonn-heard-round-the-world/

[9] from 1981: http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com/2008/03/07/fools-for-the-mets/

[10] arrived in 2006: http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com/2006/08/23/the-chosen-player/

[11] Metropolitan-American: http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com/2006/01/30/our-teams-ethnic-makeup/

[12] columnist Jonathan Mayo: http://pittchron.com/view/full_story/5477044/article-Jewish-ballplayers-are-less-than-2-percent-of-Hall-—-oy-?instance=lead_story_left_column

[13] Kaplan’s Korner: http://njjewishnews.com/kaplanskorner/

[14] Art Shamsky: http://www.artshamsky.com/

[15] David Newhan: http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com/2008/08/24/christ-almighty-its-david-newhan/

[16] ten years older: http://www.dailynews.com/sports/ci_12912098

[17] minyan: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/practices/Ritual/Prayer/Prayer_Music_and_Liturgy/Minyan.shtml

[18] his Met days: http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com/2008/02/28/shalom-shawn/

[19] some of us: http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com/2006/01/24/it-was-no-bar-metsvah/

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