Brian Horwitz becomes the newest Jewish Major Leaguer.
Photo by Damon Tarver/San Jose Giants
June 26, 2008
Baseball has always had great nicknames: the “Splendid Splinter,” “Charlie Hustle,” “The Sultan of Swat.”
Now there’s a new name on the list: “the Rabbi,” aka 25-year-old San Francisco Giants rookie Brian Horwitz, who was called up from the minors May 30. In only his sixth at-bat, he launched a home run against the New York Mets. After that game, it took him just six more at-bats to hit his second homer, that one against the Colorado Rockies.
Although he called hitting the first home run “an out-of-body experience,” Horwitz said he wasn’t surprised by his eye-opening start, which included four hits in his first eight at-bats.
“It’s been very exciting, but I’m just doing what I normally do,” he said. “I’ve kind of defied some of the odds just getting here in the first place.”
More on his amazing path to the major leagues in a bit. But first, what about being known as “the Rabbi,” as his teammates have taken to calling him?
“I’m kind of used to it, always being the only Jewish guy on my team and getting noticed for that,” he said. “So if that’s what makes them happy, I’m not going to be a buzzkill. It’s all in good fun. I enjoy my teammates and being in their company. I don’t think it’s being rude to the religion of Judaism.”
Horwitz is the first Jewish player on the Giants since the 1995-96 tenure of Dominican pitcher Jose Bautista and the eighth since they moved to San Francisco 50 years ago.
Horwitz is the second player in major league history to be tabbed with a “Rabbi” nickname; the other one was a Giant, too.
Back in 1923, when the Giants played in New York City, they wanted to offset the publicity being generated by Yankees slugger Babe Ruth, known as “the Sultan of Swat.” So they called up big-hitting Moses Solomon and publicized him as “the Rabbi of Swat.” But swat he did not, and his major-league career ended after two games.
“Hopefully I can force them to have to keep me,” said Horwitz, who was batting .292 with two homers and four RBIs through 15 games as of June 22.
Horwitz was born in Santa Monica in 1982. While he was raised Reform, he credited one set of grandparents, who were Conservative, for “instilling a lot of Jewish traits in our family.”
“I still love my religion and I’m 100 percent Jewish blood,” said the six-foot, one-inch 185-pounder. “It’s just that I had to focus on other things.”
Horwitz attended religious school and had his bar mitzva at Temple Judea in Tarzana, Calif. He also played in the JCC Maccabi Games when he was 15 and 16, leading his LA-area team to national titles in 1996 and 1997.
Since then, his attention has been on school and baseball. At University of California at Berkeley, Horwitz earned a bachelor’s degree in American history and was a star on the school’s baseball team, hitting .347 with a team-leading 47 runs batted in as a junior in 2003.
The Oakland A’s drafted him in the 26th round, but he didn’t sign, and when his stats dipped in his senior year, he went undrafted. Considering that 1,498 players were selected in 2004, this was quite a blow. In fact, Horwitz was on the verge of enrolling in a chiropractic college.
But the Giants offered him $1,000 and a chance to play pro ball in Oregon, so he signed as a free agent.
“I was pretty close to hanging it up, but not because I don’t love the game,” he said. “It’s just not the easiest thing financially to be playing in the minor leagues.”
All he’s done since then is hit: .347 for the team in Oregon, .349 in Georgia, .324 for Single-A San Jose, and this year, .309 in Double-A and then .326 after being promoted to Triple-A Fresno. He collected two batting titles and other honors along the way. During that time, an MLB.com columnist wrote about the best Jewish players in the minors, giving big kudos to Horwitz. After that, Horwitz said, much of the mail he started receiving was from Jewish fans.
“I’d say now, of my fan mail, about one-third to one-half of it is from Jewish fans,” said Horwitz, who lives in the Phoenix area with his wife, Krysti. “They’ve been following my career, and they’re really proud to see me up in the big leagues, or just to see the success I’m having.”
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