The 25 Greatest Jewish Athletes of All-Time

Alan Rubenstein@@uarubyAnalyst IIIAugust 15, 2010

The 25 Greatest Jewish Athletes of All-Time

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    The recent discovery that Amare Stoudamire might be part Jewish has many members of the tribe excited to claim him as their own.  Although Stoudamire had proudly proclaimed his hebrew side, it remains to be seen just how Jewish he is.

    In the movie Airplane when one of the passengers asks for light reading, they are given a panflet about Jewish sports stars.  The truth is that Jews have been involved in sports as long as sports have been a popular pastime.

    Here is a list of athletes that have proven that being Jewish is not an obstacle to succeding on the field, in the arena, ring or the pool.

25) Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers 2007-Present

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    When the discussion for the best active Jewish athlete comes up, Ryan Braun should definitely be included.  Ironically, Sandy Koufax’s birth surname was Koufax.  

    Braun is three-time national league all-star starter.  He won the 2007 National League rookie of the year and finished third in the 2008 National League MVP voting.  

    He led the NL in hits in 2009 after playing on the United States team in the World Baseball classic. In 2008 he became the third fastest major league to hit 50 career home runs.

24) Sue Bird Seattle Storm 2002-Present

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    Bird concluded a stellar collegiate career at UConn by winning the 2002 Women’s National Player of the year. She made an immediate impact in the WNBA, earning first team WNBA All-Star her first four seasons as a pro.

    She was a part of the 2004 and 2008 United States Gold Medal winning Women’s Olympic Basketball team.  She also helped lead the Seattle Storm to its first WNBA title in 2004.

23) Shawn Green Toronto 1993-99, LA 2000-05, Arizona 2006, NYM '06-'07

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    Green was the biggest American Jewish sport star in the 1990’s. Jewish mothers (and maybe more-so fathers) were scrambling for a chance for their daughters to meet the Jewish Slugger.

    Green had four seasons with 35 or more home runs, four seasons of more than 100 rbi’s and hit above .280 in ten of his 15 major league seasons.  He appeared in two all-star games and hit .292 with three home runs and seven rbi’s in two post season appearances with the Dodgers and Mets.

    He finished his career with 328 home runs, 1,070 rbis and a .283 career batting average. 

22) Dick Savitt- Tennis Player

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    Savitt was the second player to win the Australian Open and Wimbledon in the same season. He won the singles and doubles at the 1961 Maccabiah Games. Savitt finished four seasons in the top ten. He competed for the United States in the Davis Cup.

21) Ken Holtzman (Cubs 65-71, 78-79, A's 72-75, Balt. 76, NYY 76-78)

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    Holtzman was a two-time All-Star and three time world champions that is the only pitcher in the modern era to pitch two no-hitters for the Cubs.  

    He won 77 games during his four seasons in Oakland.  The A’s won three World Series and lost in the ALCS during his four seasons in the East Bay. His 174 career victories still stand as the most ever by a Jewish pitcher.

20) Jason Lezak- Olympic Swimmer, 2000, 2004 and 2008

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    Jason Lezak will be remembered for swimming a legendary split in the 4x100 meter freestyle relay to save Michael Phelps quest for eight Golds in Beijing in 2008.  He actually had a much more decorated career than that.

    Lezak has captured four gold, one silver and three bronze over three Olympics.

19) Marshall Goldberg 1939-43, ‘46-48 Chicago Cardinals

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    Goldberg was a part of back-to-back national championship football teams at the University of Pittsburgh in 1936 and ‘38.  He finished third in the 1938 Heisman Trophy voting. Goldberg was a second team All-Pro once with the Chicago Cardinals. He helped lead them to the 1947 NFL Championship, the franchise’s last title. 

18) Tal Brody- Maccabi Tel Aviv 1966-80

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    Brody led the United States to the Gold Medal in the 1965 Maccabiah games following a stellar career at the University of Illinois. After his outstanding performance, Brody was approached by Maccabi Tel-Aviv to stay in Israel and play for them.  Moshe Dayan was among the recruiters for Brody.

    After completing his master degree at Illinois, Brody joined Maccabi in the fall of 1966. He helped elevate Israeli basketball to a new level. Brody proclaimed Israel and Maccabi as on the map after defeating CSKA Moskow in a European Cup FInal Group play in 1977.  That game had to be played in Belgium after the Soviet based team refused to play in Israel or allow Maccabi to play in Moskow. 

17) Kenny Bernstein- Drag Racer

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    Bernstein is the Pre-eminent name in drag racing.  His career has spanned more than 30 years and he was the first driver in motor sports to exceed 300 Miles Per Hour. Bernstein is the only owner in motorsports to win in NHRA, Nascar and IRL/Cart.

16) Max Baer-Boxer

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    Max Baer- Baer was listed as the 22nd best puncher and the number 20 heavyweight of all-time by ring magazine. He became a Jewish folk hero when he defeated German Max Schmeling for the Heavyweight championship. Baer held the title for one day shy of a year. He was the father of Max Baer, Jr, Aka Jethro from the Beverly Hillbillies.

15) Amy Alcott- LPGA

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    Amy Alcott captured 29 tournament titles and five majors during a 35 year career. Alcott’s won her 29th and last title at the 1991 Nabisco Dinah Shore. At the time, 30 wins were required for entry into the LPGA Hall of Fame.  Eventually the standard was changed to a points system and she was admitted in 1999. She was the first player to with the Nabisco three times.

14) Marty Hogan- Racquetball 1976-90

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    Hogan is widely considered the best Racquetball player ever. He dominated his sports like few ever have.  Hogan was ranked either number one or number two between 1976-90. He captured more than 100 titles during his 14 year career. He was Racquetball’s first millionaire.

13) Ron Mix Chargers 1960-69, Oakland 1971

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    Ron Mix was one of the AFL’s first stars.  He was voted all-league in nine of the AFL’s ten seasons.  He helped the Chargers to become a dominant team in the AFL.  He is a member of the international Jewish Sports Hall of fame and in 1980 became the second AFL Player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after former teammate Lance Alworth.

12) Barney Ross- Boxer

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    Ross became one of boxing’s first multiple champions. He captured the lightweight, junior welterweight and welterweight championships. He was the third boxer to ever accomplish the triple.

    He rose to prominence from the mean streets of Chicago. Ross was inspired to go into boxing after the murder of his father.  Ross’ father worked in the Maxwell street district selling vegetables.  After the murder of his father, his mother suffered a nervous breakdown and his two younger siblings went into foster care and/or stayed with siblings.  

    Ross finished with a career record of 72-4-3 with 22 knockouts.  He was listed as the 21st best fighter ever by Ring Magazine.

11) Lenny Krayzelburg 2000/2004 Summer Olympics

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    Lenny Krayzelburg’s family emigrated to the United States from Odessa, Ukraine in 1989 when he was 14. He competed in the 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Summer Olympics.  Krayzelburg won four Gold Medals in the backstroke, setting two olympic records in the process.  

    In 2001 he skipped the Swimming World Championships to compete in the Maccabiah games in Israel.  He completed a childhood dream by visiting the homeland.  He carried the American flag in the opening ceremonies.

10) Dolph Schayes Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers 1949-64

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    Schayes was one of the NBA’s first stars.  He was named to the NBA first team six times and second six times.  When he retired in 1964 he held the NBA records for games played and points.  

    He led the NBA in rebounding in 1951 and was a part of the 1955 NBA Champion Syracuse Nationals. Schayes would go on to coach in Philadelphia after the National moved their from Syracuse.

9) Benny Friedman 1927-34

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    Friedman was one of the NFL’s original stars after staring at the University of Michigan.  Friedman is considered the NFL’s first great passer.

    He was first team All-Pro his first four years in the league, his first three with three different teams.  Friedman led the NFL in passing touchdowns, rushing touchdowns and extra points in 1928. New York Giants owner Tim Mara was so impressed that he bought the entire Detroit Wolverines team just for the rights to Friedman.

    In his first season with the Giants in 1929, Friedman again led the NFL with 20 touchdown passes, more than any other team.  No one would reach 20 again until the Redskins Sammy Baugh did it in 1947.

8) Al Rosen Cleveland Indians 1957-56

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    Rosen is one of the greatest Jewish hitters of all-time.  In 1953, Rosen won the American League MVP Award and missed the triple crown by .001 percentage points.

    He was a four time All-Star that helped lead the Indians to the 1954 Pennant.  Rosen finished his career with 192 Home Runs.  After his career, Rosen became a successful executive with the Yankees, Astros and Giants.

7) Mariya Gorochovskaya 1952 Helsinki Olympics

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    Mariya Gorochovskaya was the dominant athlete at the 1952 Helsinki Summer Olympics.  She captured two golds and five silver medals.  Her seven medals in those games is still a woman’s Olympic record.

    What makes her feat even more amazing is that she never won an individual gold medal at another international event.  She had never made her Judaism public, but emigrated to Israel in 1990.

6) Agnes Keleti- 1952 Helsinki and 1956 Melbourne Olympics

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    After having to wait until the age of 31 because of injury and the war, Agnes Keleti won a gold and two silvers and a bronze at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki.  Even more amazing, Keleti dominated the 1956 games in Melbourne at the elderly for Gymnastics age of 35. She won three gold and two silvers down under.

    Keleti’s journey to become an international star gymnast is amazing.  Her father was killed in the holocaust in Auschwitz and the rest of her family had to be hidden by Raoul Wallenbourg to survive.  

    Her ten medals all-time place her among the most ever by a woman.

5) Dara Torres, 1984, 88, 92, 2000 and 2008 Olympics

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    Dara Torres is the most decorated Jewish Olympian ever.  She competed in five Olympic games over a 24 year period.  She skipped only the 1996 games in Atlanta and the 2004 games in Athens.  

    During her five Olympics, Torres won each of the three medals four times for a total of four.  Her 12 medals place her in a tie for fifth all-time.

    Torres was the first athlete to pose for Sports Illustrated.  Although her father was Jewish, Torres converted to Judaism after marrying her second husband, an Israeli doctor.

4) Sid Luckman- Chicago Bears 1939-1950

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    Luckman was the star behind the Chicago Bears becoming the Monsters of the Midway.  In his 12 seasons in Chicago, the Bears won four NFL Championships. He led the NFL is Yards three times, touchdowns three times and Quarterback rating twice.  

    He originally turned down George Halas’ overtures to join the Bears, preferring to stay with his father-in-law’s trucking company instead.  After being offered a contract worth $5,500 per year, Luckman joined the Bears for the 1939 season. He was inducted in the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame in 1965.

3) Mark Spitz 1968/1972 Olympics

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    During his era, Marc Spitz was proclaimed to be the greatest Olympic Swimmer ever.  On the heels of five gold medals at the Pan-American Games in 1967, much was expected from Spitz at the Mexico City Games.  

    He won Two Golds, a Silver and Bronze.  He failed to win an individual Gold and some were left wondering what happened?

    After the disappointment in Mexico City, Spitz competed in his second Maccabiah games in the summer of 1969.  He won six gold medals, topping the four he won in 1965.  For the second consecutive Maccabiah games, Spitz was named the outstanding athlete.  The 1965 games were his first international competition.

    After winning the 1971 Sullivan Award as the best amateur athlete, the expectations were high for Spitz in Munich.  His personal goal was six gold medals.  He exceeded his own expectations by winning seven.  He set a World Record in each of the seven events.  

    Spitz was a bright light in an otherwise tragic games.  Eleven Israel athletes were murdered by the Palestinian Terrorist group Black September.

    His seven gold medals were the record for men until Michael Phelps captured eight in 2008 in Beijing.

2) Hank Greenberg Detroit Tigers 1930, 1933-1941, 1945-46, Pittsburgh 47

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    Greenberg was the first Jewish superstar in American team sports. Greenberg was originally drafted by the New York Yankees, but refused to play there, with Lou Gehrig at first base.

    Greenberg led the American League in Home Runs and Rbi’s four times each, including topping the league in both in 1940 on the way to his second MVP award and accomplished that feat again in 1946.

    Greenberg preceded Sandy Koufax in deciding to sit out crucial games to observe Yom Kippur.

    Greenberg was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1954 as the first Jewish inductee.  He became a successful owner and general manager post-career. He was at the helm of the Cleveland Indians AL Pennant winning team that won 111 games in 1954. He was a part owner of the 1959 Chicago White Sox team that captured their first pennant in 40 years. 

1) Sandy Koufax Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers 1955-66

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    Koufax is undeniably the greatest Jewish athlete of all-time.  He proudly proclaimed his Judaism. Koufax endeared himself to Jews everywhere and for all-time deciding to sit out game one of the World Series because it occurred on Yom Kippur.

    At the time of his retirement, Koufax held the record with five no-hitters. Koufax won three NL MVP’s, three pitching triple crown awards and the 1963 National League MVP.  In his 12 years tenure with the Dodgers, they won four World Series and six pennants.

    He led the National League in earned run average the last five seasons of his career.  He also led the NL in wins in three of his last four seasons. He retired as the two time defending Cy Young winner and the runner-up for the MVP. He was inducted into the baseball hall of fame in 1972 at age 36, the youngest ever.