Greatest Jewish Athletes of All Time

Eddie KrakauerContributor ISeptember 28, 2011

Greatest Jewish Athletes of All Time

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    In one of the opening scenes of the film "Airplane," an elderly woman asks a flight attendant for some light reading. In turn, the stewardess hands her a leaflet of "famous Jewish sports legends."

    While the number of Jewish athletes in professional sports is relatively small in comparison to the number of total athletes, Jewish athletes have accomplished a lot over the history of sports. There is no denying the legend of Sandy Koufax, the pioneering of Dolph Schayes, the stardom of current athletes such as Ian Kinsler and Ryan Braun, or the bright futures that lay ahead of Omri Casspi and Gabe Carimi.

    In honor of the upcoming Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah, I have prepared a slideshow counting down the greatest past and present Jewish athletes.

Honorable Mention: Amare Stoudemire

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    Amare' Stoudemire's accolades as an athlete are not what is up for debate in this slideshow. Since winning Rookie of the Year in 2003 with the Suns, Stoudemire has gone on to play in six All-Star Games, including this past season. Furthermore, he has been named to the All-NBA Second Team four times and even made the All-NBA First Team for the 2006-07 season.

    What is at question with Stoudemire is his qualifications as a Jewish athlete. Stoudemire recently discovered he has Jewish roots, and traveled to Israel in the summer of 2010 to explore his Hebrew roots.

    Since then, Stoudemire has learned some Hebrew dialect, adopted some Jewish culture and has even gotten a tattoo of the Star of David. Stoudemire's stature as a Jewish celebrity will be monitored.

30. Gal Fridman, Olympic Windsurfer

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    Gal Fridman narrowly makes this list as the first athlete to win a gold medal at the Olympics while representing Israel.

    Fridman did so by winning at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. Previously, Fridman had won a bronze medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

    In honor of his accomplishments, he was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.

29. Kerri Strug, Olympic Gymnast

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    Kerri Strug makes this list partially as an Olympic gold medalist and partially as one of the most inspiring sports stories of all time. After winning a bronze medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, Strug represented the U.S. at the 1996 Atlanta games.

    Strug was the final performer of the U.S. women's gymnastics team at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. The U.S. team was assured of near victory, but Strug had fallen and severely injured her ankle on her first attempt.

    Strug calmly collected herself, and smoothly landed her second and final vault. The attempt landed the U.S. women's gymnastics team its first-ever team gold medal.

    To honor Strug's Olympics accomplishments, Strug was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2000. 

28. Ron Blomberg, Former MLB DH

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    Ron Blomberg makes this list as an accidental pioneer of baseball. Blomberg was drafted first overall by the Yankees in 1967 after refusing approximately 125 basketball scholarships. 

    While his career did not pan out to the expectations of a first overall pick, Blomberg did play for the Yankees in 1969 and again from 1971-1976 before spending one season with the White Sox in 1978. He finished his career with a .293 batting average, 52 home runs and 224 RBI.

    Blomberg's place in baseball history was secured on April 6, 1973, at Fenway Park, when he was placed in the lineup as the first designated hitter in the history of the American League.

    For his accomplishments, Blomberg was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2004. 

27. Gabe Carimi, Offensive Tackle

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    Gabe Carimi enters the list on pure potential and collegiate accolades. 

    Carimi was drafted 29th overall by the Bears in 2011 after a successful college career that included 49 starts at left tackle for the Wisconsin Badgers. In 2010, Carimi won the Outland Trophy as the nation's top collegiate interior lineman and was named a consensus All-American.

    After a great collegiate career, Carimi started the 2011 season as the Chicago Bears' starting right tackle prior to spraining his knee.

26. Jon Scheyer, Guard

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    Jon Scheyer earned his accolades as a guard on the Duke Blue Devils from 2006-2010. Prior to enrolling at Duke, Scheyer earned the title as Illinois' Mr. Basketball at Glenbrook North High School. 

    While at Duke, Scheyer established himself as one of the greatest guards in the school's storied history. A two-time captain, Scheyer led the Blue Devils to the 2010 national championship. Scheyer was named a 2010 consensus All-American and a finalist for the Robertson, Wooden, Cousy and Lowe's Senior CLASS awards. 

    Scheyer currently plays for defending Israeli champions Electra Maccabi Tel Aviv. 

25. Sage Rosenfels, Quarterback

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    Sage Rosenfels has enjoyed a rather long career as a quarterback as a member of the Redskins, Dolphins, Texans, Vikings and Giants. Rosenfels was a fourth-round pick out of Iowa State by the Redskins in 2001.

    Rosenfels has stepped in nicely as a replacement on several occasions, most notably for the Dolphins and Texans. His current career stats include a 81.2 QB rating in 44 games, including 12 starts. 

    In 2007, Rosenfels started five games for the Texans, leading them to a 4-1 record while passing for 15 touchdowns.

24. Jay Fiedler, Retired Quarterback

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    Jay Fiedler was an undrafted free agent out of Dartmouth after leading the Big Green to two Ivy League titles in 1991 and 1992. After several unspectacular seasons with the Vikings, Eagles and Jaguars, Fiedler signed with the Dolphins prior to the 2000 season, when he start for the majority of four seasons.

    In 2000, Fiedler led the Dolphins to a 11-5 record while starting 15 games and passing for 14 touchdowns. The Dolphins advanced to the divisional round in his first season. In 2001, Fiedler would pass for over 3,000 yards en route to leading the Dolphins to the playoffs again.

    Fielder would retire with just under 12,000 passing yards and a 77.1 rating. He was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.

23. Lenny Krayzelburg, Olympic Swimmer

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    Born in the Soviet Union in 1975, Lenny Krayzelburg moved to the Los Angeles area where he would go on to compete in the Olympics as a member of the U.S. swimming team.

    In 1999, Krayzelburg set the world records in the 50-, 100-, and 200-meter backstroke events by registering times of 24.99, 53.60 and 1:55.87, respectfully.

    Competing in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Krayzelburg won three gold medals in the 100-meter backstroke, 200-meter backstroke, and 4x100-meter medley. In Sydney, Krayzelburg setting an Olympic record in the 200 back, while helping the relay team set a world record with a 3:33.73 time. 

    Krayzelburg won one more gold medal in the 4x100 medley at the 2004 Athens games. 

    For his accomplishments, Krayzelburg was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.

22. Dara Torres, Olympic Swimmer

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    Dara Torres has enjoyed one of the longest and most successful swimming careers for the U.S. Olympic team. 

    First appearing in the 1984 Los Angeles games, Torres helped the U.S. earn gold in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay. In the following Summer Games in Seoul, Torres earned a silver as a member of the 4x100 medley team and a bronze medal as a member of the 4x100 free relay team.

    After not participating in the 1996 Summer Olympics, Torres won a whopping five medals in the 2000 Sydney games, including two gold medals in the 4x100 freestyle and 4x100 medley events.

    At the age of 41, she returned to the pool for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where she won three silver medals. In total, the talented Torres won four gold medals, four silver medals and four bronze medals for a sum of 12 Olympic medals.

    Torres was inducted into the International Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.

21. Omri Casspi, Small Forward

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    Omri Casspi, much like Gabe Carimi, is placed on this list on talent and potential. However, Casspi has already played two seasons after being drafted in the first round of the 2009 NBA Draft by the Kings. Casspi became the first Israeli-born player to be drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft.

    Casspi currently boasts career averages of 9.5 ppg and 4.4 rpg while shooting .371 from three-point land. On June 30, Casspi was traded to the Cavaliers with a first-round pick for J.J. Hickson; he is expected to compete for the starting position at small forward.

20. Sue Bird, WNBA Superstar

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    Since entering the WNBA as the first overall pick in 2002, Sue Bird has served as one of the ambassadors for the league. 

    While in college, Bird led UConn to a 114-4 career record while winning the Nancy Lieberman Award as the nation's top point guard from 2000-2002. As a senior in 2002, she led the Huskies to a 39-0 record while winning the Naismith Award as the nation's top player.

    In her 10 years in the league, Bird has averaged 12.7 ppg to go with a 2-1 assists-to-turnover ratio. She has been named to seven All-Star teams, while being named to the All-WNBA First Team from 2002-2005.

    Bird has also won two championships as a member of the Seattle Storm and two gold medals as a member of the U.S. women's basketball team.

19. Larry Brown, ABA All-Star

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    Before Larry Brown embarked on one of the most successful coaching careers, he was one of the greatest point guards in the history of basketball. 

    After playing four seasons in Chapel Hill as a member of the Tar Heels, Brown was drafted by the Bullets in 1963, although he would not make his professional debut until 1967. In 1964, he would help guide the American team to a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

    During a three-year stretch from 1968-1970, Brown garnered All-Star honors every season and was named the All-Star MVP in 1968. In 1969, Brown won his only championship as a player.

18. Joe Alexander, College Football Hall of Fame

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    Joe Alexander was a three-time All-American lineman while at Syracuse University, garnering the honors in the 1917-1919 seasons, but his impact on the game went further. He also functioned as the team's signal-caller from his lineman position.

    While earning All-Pro honors in 1921 and 1922, Alexander finished his career after being a member of six professional teams. Perhaps the most famous moment of his professional career came when he became the first player signed to a contract by the New York Giants in 1925.

    Alexander was voted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954. He was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1985. 

17. Mathieu Schneider, Retired Defensman

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    Mathieu Schneider is a two-time NHL All-Star and Stanley Cup champion who last played in the league for the Canucks and Coyotes in 2009-2010. 

    Schneider broke into the league in 1987-88 with the Canadiens, with whom he won the Stanley Cup in 1993. Three years later, Schneider would help lead the U.S. team to a World Cup championship. 

    The defenseman would make his two appearances in the All-Star Game as a member of the Maple Leafs in 1996 and Red Wings in 2003. 

    Schneider's career lasted parts of three different decades for 10 different NHL teams. His career totals include appearances in 1,289 games, 223 goals and 520 assists for a total of 743 points.

16. Lennie Rosenbluth, 1957 NCAA Player of the Year

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    Lennie Rosenbluth may best be known for one season, but it was one of the most memorable seasons in the history of college basketball.

    Rosenbluth, a star small forward at the University of North Carolina, still holds several records for his 1957 season for the Tar Heels. While guiding the Heels to an NCAA championship, Rosenbluth was named the ACC Player of the Year while garnering the Helms Foundation Player of the Year.

    His single-season records of 895 points and a 28.0 ppg average are still Tar Heel records. 

    Rosenbluth's professional career was brief, playing three seasons for the Warriors after being drafted sixth overall in 1957.

15. Shawn Green, Retired Outfielder/Record Holder

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    Shawn Green, for the better part of his 14-year career, was one of the most feared hitters in baseball. Green finished fifth in American League Rookie of the Year voting while playing for the Blue Jays. As soon as 1998, Green joined the elite 30-30 club.

    In 1999, Green won both a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger award while earning his first trip to an All-Star Game. 

    The slugging outfielder put himself in baseball history on May 23, 2002, while playing for the Dodgers. That day, Green hit four home runs, tying a major league record, while setting the record for total bases in a single game with 19. He is also the only player to hit seven home runs in a three-game span. 

    In total, Green finished with four seasons with at least 100 RBI and 100 runs (1998, 1999, 2001, 2002). He retired as a member of the 2,000-hit club and with 328 home runs. His career included stops in Toronto, Los Angeles, Arizona and New York as a member of the Mets.

14. Ron Mix, Hall of Fame Tackle

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    Ron Mix's remarkable professional career began with the Los Angeles Chargers in 1960, passing up the offer to be the Colts' No. 1 pick in the NFL. Mix was named to the All-AFL team eight times as a tackle, as well as one season as a guard. 

    Mix helped guide the Chargers to an AFL championship in 1963 over the Boston Patriots. He spent the better part of his career for the Chargers organization, playing his final season in 1971 for the Raiders.

    Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of Mix's career was the fact that he was called for only two holding penalties in 10 seasons. For his accomplishments, Mix was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979 and the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1980.

12. Ian Kinsler, Second Baseman

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    Ian Kinsler is currently one of the most feared second baseman in Major League Baseball for the Rangers.

    After breaking into the league in 2006, Kinsler made his first All-Star appearance in 2008, the first of two with the other coming in 2010. He is a three-time member of the 20-20 club, accomplishing the feat in 2007, 2009 and 2011, including one season of being a member of the 30-30 club (2009). Kinsler hit for the cycle in 2009.

    Kinsler made his way onto the Sporting News' list of the 50 greatest players currently in the game in 2009, where he ranked 24th. The season before, Kinsler hit for an MLB-best 25-game hitting streak.

12. Benny Friedman, Hall of Fame Quarterback

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    Considered by the Pro Football Hall of Fame as the game's first great passer, Benny Friedman's relatively brief career spanned from 1927-1934.

    After being named an All-American twice in his career at Michigan, Friedman set a single-season record with 11 touchdown passes in 1927 as a member of the Canton Bulldogs. It was a record he broke two years later with 20. From 1927-1930, Friedman led the league in passing touchdowns every single season. 

    Friedman was considered a true triple threat to the game, with the abilities to run, pass and kick the ball. For his role as a pioneer at the quarterback position, Friedman was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005. Friedman's name is etched in Jewish lore as a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, which inducted him in 1979.

11. Ken Holtzman, Three Time World Series Champion

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    Ken Holtzman is the all-time leader in wins by a Jewish pitcher, ranking directly ahead of Sandy Koufax. 

    Holtzman's career spanned 1965-1979, finishing with 174 victories, a 3.49 ERA and over 1,600 strikeouts. As a member of the Cubs, he tossed two no-hitters, becoming the first to accomplish the feat for the Cubbies since the 1880s. 

    His time for the Athletics was equally as dominant. Holtzman's 1972 season marked his first All-Star appearance en route to winning 19 games. That same season, the A's won the World Series behind Holtzman as their Game 1 starter.

    In 1973, Holtzman was named to his second consecutive All-Star Game while finishing with a 2.97 ERA and 20 wins. The A's would win the World Series again that season and the following season behind a pitching staff that featured Holtzman, Vida Blue, and Catfish Hunter.

    For his accomplishments, Holtzman was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1995.

10. Kevin Youkilis, Third Baseman

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    Kevin Youkilis has been an integral member of the Red Sox lineup since breaking into the Majors in 2004. Youkilis has been a member of the World Series-winning teams in 2004 and 2007, but his individual accomplishments go even further.

    A three-time All-Star, Youkilis was the recipient of the 2008 Hank Aaron Award, given annually to the best hitter in each league. Youkilis has appeared on the Sporting News' list of the 50 greatest current baseball players, highlighted by a ranking of 35 in 2011.

    Youkillis, along with Ian Kinsler and Ryan Braun, among others, help ensure the state of Jewish baseball players in the league today.

9. Al Rosen, American League MVP

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    Al Rosen broke into the majors in 1947 after spending a stint in the Navy and a brief stop in the Canadian-American League, where he led all players in home runs and RBI.

    After spending most of 1948 in the minors, Rosen was a September call-up for the Indians, playing the role of backup third baseman while winning the World Series. 

    In 1950, Rosen took over as the everyday third baseman for Cleveland, setting the record for 37 home runs as a rookie in the American League that stood until Mark McGwire debuted. 

    By 1951, the third baseman would lead the league in games played, RBI, extra base hits and walks. The following season, Rosen would be named to the first of four consecutive All-Star teams.

    Rosen's finest season by far came in 1953, when he was named the American League Most Valuable Player for leading the league in home runs, RBI, runs and slugging percentage. Rosen finished second in batting average, losing the title on the final day of the season and, with it, the Triple Crown.

    Back problems forced the former MVP to retire by 1956. He is currently a member of both the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, and was inducted to the Indians Hall of Fame in 2006.

8. Andre Tippett, Hall of Fame Linebacker

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    A monstrous linebacker, Andre Tippett was vital to the Patriots' success during the 1980s, leading the team in sacks en route to winning an AFC Defensive Player of the Year award.

    After attending the University of Iowa, Tippett was selected in the second round of the 1982 NFL Draft by the Patriots. The following season, Tippett led the team with 8.5 sacks in the strike-shortened season. In 1984, Tippett would set a franchise record with 18.5 sacks while earning his first of five consecutive Pro Bowl invitations. 

    Tippett's 1985 season could perhaps be regarded at his finest. That year, he would lead the AFC with 16.5 sacks while earning AFC Defensive Player of the Year honors. At the time of retirement, Tippett held franchise records for career sacks, sacks in a season and opponent fumbles recovered.

    For his accomplishments, Tippett was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008. The National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame inducted Tippett the following year.

7. Ryan Braun, All-Star Outfielder

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    Ryan Braun's career may be young, but he has already established himself as one of the best hitters in the game.

    After breaking into the Majors for the Brewers in 2007, Braun would win National League Rookie of the Year Honors while leading the league in slugging percentage. 

    2008 would mark the first of four (and counting) consecutive All-Star appearances for the University of Miami product. It would also be the first of three (and counting) consecutive Silver Slugger Awards for the player nicknamed "The Hebrew Hammer." 

    Entering the 2011 season, Braun was ranked 16th on the Sporting News' list of the 50 greatest current players in baseball. Braun also helped lead the Brewers to their first National League division title in the history of their franchise.

6. Mark Spitz, Olympic Gold Medalist

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    Prior to Michael Phelps winning eight gold medals at the 2008 Olympics, there was Mark Spitz in the epitome of Olympic domination. 

    Spitz had what is considered by most to be the greatest single Olympics for an individual competitor at the 1972 Munich games, winning seven gold medals: four as an individual competitor and three as a member of the U.S. relay teams. 

    Prior to Munich, Spitz had won two gold medals in the freestyle relays at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, along with a silver and a bronze medal in individual events. 

    From 1968-1972, Spitz set 33 world records. He was named World Swimmer of the Year three times (1969, 1971, 1972).

    For his accomplishments, Spitz was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1977 and the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1979. 

5. Lou Boudreau, Hall of Fame Player-Manager

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    Lou Boudreau was an outstanding addition to the game of baseball, both on and off the field.

    Combining his skill and baseball intelligence, Boudreau successfully established himself as one of the greatest player-managers of all-time while leading the Cleveland Indians to a World Series title.

    An outstanding fielder at shortstop, Boudreau was named to eight All-Star Games, while maintaining a .295 career average. A four-time .300 hitter, Boudreau won the 1948 American League MVP while batting a league-high .355 and leading the Indians to their last World Series title.

    Among his contributions to the field, Boudreau was responsible for devising the Ted Williams shift and converting Hall of Famer Bob Lemon from infielder to pitcher. 

    Lou Boudreau was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1970, and his No. 5 was retired by the Indians. Currently, the Lou Boudreau Award is handed down to the Indians' Minor League Player of the Year.

4. Dolph Schayes, Hall of Fame Power Forward

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    For a stretch of 12 years spanning 1951-1962, no player was as dominant in their sport as Dolph Schayes was in the game of basketball.

    After an All-American collegiate career at New York University, Schayes starred for the Syracuse Nationals (later the Philadelphia 76ers) from 1948 to 1964. After winning Rookie of the Year in 1949, Schayes made 12 consecutive All-Star appearances from 1951-1962. During that span, Schayes helped lead the Nationals to a championship in 1955. 

    By the time Schayes retired, he owned several major records, including most consecutive games played (764), most minutes played (29,800), most field goals (6,135), most free throws made (6,979) and most points (19,249), while also finishing fourth all-time in rebounds.

    After retiring, Schayes led the 76ers to another championship as coach in 1966. For his contributions to the game, Schayes was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1972. In 1996, he was chosen as one of the 50 Greatest NBA Players of All-Time. 

    Dolph Schayes is also a member of both the International and National Jewish Sports halls of fame.

3. Sid Luckman, Hall of Fame Quarterback

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    Considered the first true T-formation quarterback, Sid Luckman led the Chicago Bears to the most lopsided title game victory in NFL history.

    During his 12-year career, Luckman was named to five All-NFL teams and won his lone MVP award in 1943. That same season, Luckman set a singe-game record with seven passing touchdowns, a record that stands to this day.

    Luckman guided the Bears to five title games, winning four of them. The most memorable results included a 73-0 thrashing of the Redskins in 1940 and a five-touchdown performance in a 41-21 victory in 1943. 

    Sid Luckman was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965, and is currently a member of both the International and National Jewish Sports halls of fame.

2. Hank Greenberg, Hall of Fame Baseball Slugger

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    Nicknamed "Hammerin' Hank," Hank Greenberg was one of the most inspirational and dominant baseball players of his era.

    Despite losing four seasons in his prime to serve in World War II, Hank Greenberg managed to make a name for himself as one of the most revered hitters of his time. During his career, Greenberg managed to his over 40 home runs in four seasons, including 58 in 1938 to establish the record for right-handed batters.

    Greenberg led the American League in RBI on four occasions and home runs on three occasions. He also helped lead the Tigers to four World Series appearances, including one World Series championship. "Hammerin' Hank" won the American League MVP twice during his career.

    One of his most infamous moments came in 1934 as an up-and-coming ballplayer who was establishing a name for Jewish-Americans all over. After helping lead the Tigers to a division lead, the high holidays approached, leading to a debate whether Greenberg should play. Greenberg compromised that he would play on Rosh Hashanah, but sat out the Tigers' game on Yom Kippur. 

    Hank Greenberg retired with a .313 career average and 331 home runs in a mere 1,394 games. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1956, becoming the first Jewish player to accomplish the feat.

1. Sandy Koufax, Hall of Fame Pitcher

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    Sandy Koufax has, bar none, done more for Jewish athletes than any other player that has both preceded and followed him. 

    Koufax's career accolades alone rank him atop of athletic accomplishments by Jewish players. Koufax was selected to participate in seven All-Star Games, won four World Series titles, including two World Series MVP titles, the Cy Young Award three times, pitched four no-hitters, including one perfect game on September 9, 1965, and won his lone MVP award in 1963. For his accomplishments, the Dodgers organization retired his jersey number.

    Koufax retired following the 1966 season due to arthritis. He retired with a staggering 2,396 strikeouts in only 2,325 innings, to go along with a 3.76 ERA.

    Even through all these accolades and accomplishments, Koufax may best be remembered for standing up for his Jewish beliefs.

    In 1965, Game 1 of the World Series coincided with Yom Kippur, the highest Jewish holy day of the year. Koufax came back to pitch in Games 2, 5 and 7, earning the World Series MVP award. What Koufax accomplished in that World Series goes beyond any statistical accomplishment a Jewish athlete earned; it established a Jewish athlete's rightful place in major league sports.

    Sandy Koufax was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972 on his first ballot. Additionally, he was invited to the White House on May 27, 2010, as part of a group of prominent Jewish-Americans at the first White House reception in honor of Jewish-American heritage month.