Religion ghosts in the religion sports story

Shawn GreenThe New York Times Saturday used the New York Mets' acquisition of Major League Baseball star slugger Shawn Green to write about Jews in sports. To better phrase it, the 1,200-word article was about how Jews are not involved in sports. According to the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in Commack, N.Y., there are only 18 baseball players qualified for induction into the illustrious group that includes Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg.

It's almost needless to say that within the professional sports world, Jews have been pegged as lacking in numbers and that those few exceptions have been heralded by the Jewish community as celebrities of the highest order.

This brings us to Green. Here are the NYT's Andy Newman and Michael Schmidt:

Mr. Green, acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks this week to give the Mets an offensive lift as they look toward the playoffs, is the real deal. He is arguably the best Jewish baseball player since Koufax. He may be the most accomplished Jew to wear a New York uniform since Harry "the Horse" Danning, a four-time All-Star for the Giants in the 1930's.

And his people are clamoring to embrace him. "I must have gotten 20 calls yesterday and today," said Alan Freedman, the director of the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in Suffolk County, who recalled bringing a transistor radio into Hebrew school in 1963 to listen to Mr. Koufax's World Series exploits. "Everyone is asking me: 'How can I get in touch with Shawn Green? How can I get him to come to our temple?'"

On the streets of Borough Park, Brooklyn, where Orthodox Jews predominate, Alan Moskowitz, a 33-year-old schoolteacher, said he was thrilled to welcome Mr. Green, whose baseball cards he has sought out since his rookie season in 1993.

The article is all fine and good from a sports angle, but it failed to thoroughly explore the religious angle of the story. As tmatt notes here in an April 2001 column, the number of practicing American Jews is dwindling and all practicing Jews in the U.S. are considered "Jews by choice."

There are hints within the article that Green is one of those "Jews by choice," such as this snippet:

Which brings up Mr. Green, a strapping six-footer with a dimpled chin, born near Chicago 34 years ago and raised near Los Angeles without so much as a bar mitzvah. In Toronto, where he became a star for the Blue Jays, he was taken into the arms of the Jewish community and became observant enough to end a 415-game playing streak by sitting out Yom Kippur in 2001.

Sitting out a game because of Yom Kippur is a pretty good sign that Green is a devout Jew, but does he observe Shabbat? Would he classify himself as an Orthodox Jew or a Reform Jew?

And I'm confused about what to make of his past. Was he even raised a practicing Jew? The article hints that he was not, but there must be more. A couple of fast facts from his Wikipedia file show that his grandfather shortened the family name from Greenberg to Green for "business reasons" and that his favorite book is Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. These are somewhat random but also somewhat insightful facts that deserve further exploration.

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