The date is October 6, 1965. It’s Yom Kippur; the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. It’s also the day of game one for baseball’s World Series. The Los Angeles Dodgers vs the Minnesota Twins. Jim “Mudcat” Grant was the starting pitcher for the Twins. You would have expected that Sandy Koufax would be the pitcher for the Dodgers.
In 1965, these were Koufax’s stats: Won-loss record of 26-8, earned run average of 2.04, innings pitched 335, strikeouts 382. He won the Cy Young Award for best pitcher and was second in the voting for the National League’s Most Valuable Player. You’d think with stats like this, it would be a no-brainer to have Koufax start the opener. However, Sandy Koufax is Jewish. He made the decision that he could not play on Yom Kippur.
Don Drysdale got the opener assignment. While he’s was a Hall of Fame pitcher in his own right and was coming off a twenty-three win season, he’s not Koufax. Not many were.
Final score of game one was Minnesota 8 – Los Angeles 2.
Although the Dodgers lost the game, Sandy Koufax became a legendary figure to the Jewish community. Jewish parents could always point to him as an example to their children who wouldn’t want to go to Temple on the high holidays.
Yesterday was Yom Kippur. The American League played a game on Tuesday night after sundown. The National League had two series that went to their fifth and deciding game. Three teams have a Jewish player on their roster. Alex Bregman is an infielder for the Houston Astros. He played a major role on their championship team in 2017. Max Fried is a pitcher for the Atlanta Braves. Joc Pederson is an outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers. All three athletes played for their respective teams.
Pederson wasn’t raised in a religious family. His decision to play came easily. Bregman is a proud Jew. At his Bar Mitzvah, he talked about how he planned to make the world better through baseball. I’m sure the decision to play wasn’t easy for him, but he never said anything about it…at least not publicly. Fried was different. He was Bar Mitzvah at age thirteen and regularly attended high holiday services. Sandy Koufax was one of his hero’s growing up. Fried wore his uniform number thirty-two in high school. His decision took more thought. In 2017, Max Fried was asked about playing on Yom Kippur by the Atlanta Jewish Times:
“It would definitely be a very tough decision. I’d have to consult my family and everyone else to see what the best decision would be.”
It’s tough to be judgmental about the decision these players made. They have responsibilities to twenty-four teammates and dozens of others in the organization. Plus, it’s not fair to compare them to Koufax. Sandy had a lot more standing with his team at this stage of his career than these three younger players. He also sat out game one and not the deciding contest. I wonder what he would have done if it was the series seventh game?
However, there are always consequences to the decisions that you make. Houston, Atlanta and Los Angeles all lost their Yom Kippur games. The Braves and Dodgers were eliminated from the playoffs.
Sandy Koufax, after skipping the first game, went on to pitch shutouts in games five and the deciding game seven.
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