Ryan Braun and a Look at Other Jewish MVPs in MLB History

Saul WisniaGuest ColumnistNovember 23, 2011

Ryan Braun and a Look at Other Jewish MVPs in MLB History

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    When Ryan "The Hebrew Hammer" Braun of the Brewers was named National League MVP today, Jewish baseball fans everywhere were bursting with pride.

    Although Jews have a long and rich history in baseball as players, coaches, managers and executives, Braun is one of a select number of his faith to achieve this high honor.

    Here's a look at the select list of Jewish MVPs, which includes a few names that might surprise even those readers (like this one) who skipped out on Yom Kippur services to watch playoff games. 

1935: Hank Greenberg

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    The first Jewish MVP was the greatest Jewish power hitter of all-time and endured the type of abuse most people only associate with African-American ballplayers.

    "Hammerin' Hank" was taunted by Anti-Semitic rants from fans, opposing players and even some teammates. He wasn't afraid to fight back and was a model to other athletes of all races and religions.

    The 6'4" slugger mostly took his anger out on the ball, helping the 1935 Tigers to the World Series with a league-leading 36 homers and 170 RBI.   

1940: Hank Greenberg

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    Greenberg was known for his class as much as his clout, and when asked in 1940 to move from first base to left field to make room for Rudy York in the Tigers lineup, he made the switch without missing a beat in the batter's box.

    Hank's 1940 totals of 41 homers and 150 RBI again led the AL, and his 50 doubles and eight triples added up to a cool 100 total extra base hits. Again, Hank led Detroit to the World Series, and the next May, he became one of the first big leaguers to join the military for World War II service, eventually missing most of five seasons as an Army Air Corps officer who saw considerable action overseas.

    In 1956, Greenberg was the first Jew inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a player.

1948: Lou Boudreau

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    Lou Boudreau is known to Indians fans as the great player-manager of the last Cleveland team to win the World Series in 1948. The Hall-of-Fame shortstop hit .355 with 106 RBI that season and blasted four hits to help topple the Red Sox in a one-game playoff for the AL pennant.

    What is less known to most is that although Boudreau was raised Catholic, in his autobiography, he shared that his mother was in fact Jewish. That's good enough for us.

1953: Al Rosen

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    Boudreau's longtime teammate and infield partner Al Rosen was one of baseball's top sluggers and third basemen for nearly a decade, but in 1953, this former war hero took his game to a new level.

    Rosen's MVP year included an AL-best 43 homers and 145 RBI, and his .336 average was second to only Mickey Vernon of the Senators (.337), as Rosen just missed the Triple Crown. It was the best season of Al's career, and like Braun, he wore the nickname "Hebrew Hammer" proudly. 

1963: Sandy Koufax

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    The most famous of all Jewish players post-Greenberg, Brooklyn native Koufax debuted with his hometown Dodgers in 1955 and moved with the club to Los Angeles three years later.

    Koufax's five-year stretch of dominance from 1962-66 included three Cy Young Awards (when it was only given to one player in all of baseball) and the '63 National League MVP Award, when he went 25-5 with a 1.88 ERA and 306 strikeouts. He capped off the year with two World Series victories in LA's sweep of the Yankees.

    In 1972, the author of five no-hitters was the youngest player ever elected to the Hall of Fame six years after arm woes forced his retirement at age 31.

1977: Rod Carew (Honorable Mention)

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    Rod Carew? Jewish? Well, not really, but we've always counted Rod as one of our own. His wife was Jewish, and he raised his kids in the faith, but he never converted.

    Still, when you hit .388 like Carew did in 1977—the highest average since Ted Williams' .406 in '41--we're willing to take you into the club. 

2011: Ryan Braun

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    Like Greenberg and Koufax before him, Braun admits to not being very religious. However, as he told The Jewish Daily Forward: "I do consider myself definitely Jewish. And I’m extremely proud to be a role model for young Jewish kids.”

    And in his case, kids of every other faith and race too.

    Saul Wisnia passed up having a big Bar Mitzvah party in 1980 and instead took a few buddies to Fenway Park. He has authored, co-authored or contributed to numerous books on Boston baseball history, including his latest, Fenway Park: The Centennial.

    He shares Fenway reflections in cyberspace at http://saulwisnia.blogspot.com/ and can be reached at saulwizz@gmail.com or @saulwizz.