October 9, 2008
On the last day of the regular season, two Jewish Major Leaguers figured prominently in their team’s playoff fortunes — with opposite results.
Going into Sept. 28, the NY Mets and Milwaukee Brewers were tied for the National League Wild Card. Scott Schoeneweis (NY Mets) gave up the game-winning home run to Wes Helms in the Mets’ 4-2 loss to the Florida Marlins at the last game at Shea Stadium. It was the team’s second consecutive disappointing finish, having led the division for much of the second half. Meanwhile, in Milwaukee, Ryan Braun launched a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning to beat the Chicago Cubs 3-1, allowing the Brewers to reach the post-season for the first time since 1982.
Braun, the 2007 NL Rookie of the Year, posted potential MVP numbers in 2008, finishing his sophomore season in the top 10 in several offensive categories, including extra base hits (first with 83), total bases (second, 338), home runs (fourth, 37), and runs batted in (ninth, 106). A late season slump, exacerbated by injuries, dropped his batting average under .300.
Schoeneweis was part of a disappointing bullpen that gave away too many Mets victories. He appeared in 73 games and lost six of eight decisions. His relatively low ERA of 3.34 was a poor indication of his ineffectiveness in crucial spots.
Kevin Youkilis (Boston Red Sox) should get serious consideration as American League MVP. He finished sixth in batting (.312) and fourth in RBI (115), doubles (tied with 43), and extra base hits (76). He also had 29 home runs and scored 91 runs.
Ian Kinsler (Texas Rangers) saw his season come to a premature end due to a sports hernia. Despite missing the last month and a half, Kinsler still finished fourth in the AL with a .319 batting average, 102 runs scored (eighth), doubles (41, tied for seventh), 26 stolen bases (10th), and 18 homers and 71 RBIs.
If Brad Ausmus (Houston Astros) has played his final game, at least he went out in style. In his final at-bat in the final game of the season, the veteran catcher hit a two-run homer to give his team the 3-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves. Ausmus, who began his career with the San Diego Padres in 1993 — he also played for the Detroit Tigers — has not announced plans to retire, but ended his 10-year tenure with the Astros.
Gabe Kapler (Milwaukee Brewers) made a successful comeback after a year off to manage in the minors. Signed as a bench player, he filled in capably when injuries felled the team’s regular outfielders. In 96 games, Kapler batted .301 with eight home runs and 38 RBIs, as well as providing veteran leadership in the dugout.
Jason Marquis (Chicago Cubs) also made it to the post-season. In his last start of the season against the Mets, he drove in more runs (five) than he allowed (four), thanks in large part to a grand-slam home run. It was the first four-run four-bagger by a Jewish pitcher since Saul Rogovin of the Detroit Tigers hit one in 1950 off Eddie Lopat of the NY Yankees.
Scott Feldman (Texas Rangers) had an up-and-down mixed season that was interrupted briefly by injury and a stint in the minors. In 28 games (25 as a starter), Feldman compiled a 6-8 record with a 5.29 ERA in 151 1/3 innings.
John Grabow (Pittsburgh Pirates) was a mainstay in the Bucs’ bullpen, appearing in 74 games, mostly middle relief. He finished his sixth season with the team with a 6-3 record, with four saves.
Craig Breslow (Cleveland Indians/ Minnesota Twins) also pitched well this year, tossing 47 innings in 49 games for the two teams. He lost his only two decisions and saved one game, finishing with an excellent 1.91 earned run average.
Two players made their Major League debuts in 2008. Brian Horwitz arrived and left early, making his first appearance for the San Francisco Giants on May 20. He started off hot, with four hits in his first seven at-bats, including his first home run. But he made only four more hits for a total of eight in 36 at-bats in 21 games and was returned to the minors at the end of June.
Josh Whitesell, on the other hand, was a late-season call-up, making his debut on Sept. 2. Serving mostly as a pinch hitter, Whitesell had seven at-bats in seven games and stroked two hits, including his first Major League home run.
Jason Hirsch (Colorado Rockies) returned to action late in the season after rehabbing from leg injuries since 2007. In four games, including one start, he pitched 8 2/3 innings. The rust was apparent: Hirsh allowed eight earned runs, including three homers, for an 8.31 ERA.
Among the other JML highlights of 2008:
- Youkilis, Kinsler, and Braun appeared in the 2008 All-Star Game, the final one played at Yankee Stadium. The trio managed only one hit (by Kinsler) in 10 at-bats.
- Braun had 71 homers in his first two seasons, good for fourth-best all-time in Major League history. He is already in the JML top 10 in that category.
- Kinsler hit the 2,500th Jewish Major Leaguer home run on May 26 against the Tampa Bay Rays. A day earlier, he hit number 2,499; Braun hit 2,501 on May 30.
- Kinsler also knocked the 28,000th JML hit.
- Schoeneweis moved to the top of all Jewish pitchers in career appearances with 517.
- Kapler hit the first walk-off home run of his career, beating the Washington Nationals in 13 innings on Aug. 10.
All told, the 13 Jewish Major Leaguers accounted for 350 hits, 151 doubles, 100 homers, 369 total bases, and a commendable .291 batting average, 27 points above the major league average. The pitchers didn’t fare so well as a group, winning 25, losing 28, and saving six in 257 games, but their collective 4.19 ERA was still better than the ML average of 4.40.
Martin Abramowitz, president of Jewish Major Leaguers, Inc., (jewishmajorleaguers.org), contributed to this story.