Adam Greenberg Gets Another Chance in Majors

Hank Greenberg certainly remains the most famous and accomplished professional Jewish baseball player with that last name. However, this week Adam Greenberg was the “Greenberg” everyone was talking about.

I first learned about Adam Greenberg in an article that Ralph Woronoff sent me. An usher at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, Michigan, Ralph knows I’m a baseball fan and thought I’d be interested in learning about the small club of former major leaguers who only appeared in one at-bat in the big leagues.

The article featured the story of Adam Greenberg, a Jewish ballplayer who not only appeared in just one at-bat in a professional game, but only lasted for one pitch. Greenberg was hit in the head by Marlins pitcher Valerio De Los Santos. He’s the only player to have his career end on one pitch. Called in as a pinch hitter for the Chicago Cubs on July 9, 2005, the rookie was hit in the head by a 92 MPH fastball. The hit to the head resulted in Greenberg dealing with post-concussion syndrome, dizziness, severe headaches, double vision and nausea.

After reading the article I thought about blogging about Adam Greenberg’s ordeal, but I just never got around to it. Now, Greenberg is making news because he’s getting another chance in the big leagues. Now 31, Greenberg has had some plate appearances with several minor league teams and played for the Israeli team in qualifying competition for the World Baseball Classic where he drew a walk in his only appearance, but also scored a run.

Adam Greenberg slides safely into home for Israel in the World Baseball Classic.

What makes this story so great is that Greenberg recently signed a one-day contract with the Miami Marlins and is guaranteed one at-bat in this coming Tuesday’s game against the New York Mets. An online petition drive called “One At-Bat” encouraged the Marlins to agree to give Greenberg another chance. Greenberg explained, “Life is going to throw you curve balls or [a] fastball in the back of your head. I got hit by one of them. It knocked me down. I could have stayed there. I had a choice. I could have said, ‘Poor me, and this is horrible.’ But I chose to get up and get back in the box.”

Technically speaking, Greenberg’s hit by pitch seven years ago is not considered an official “at-bat”, but rather a “plate appearance.” Greenberg hopes to change that on Tuesday with a genuine at-bat. He’ll donate his one-day salary to the Marlins Foundation, which will make a donation to the Sports Legacy Institute, an organization that advances the study, treatment and prevention of the effects of brain trauma in athletes and other at-risk groups.

Here’s the official video that started the movement to give Adam Greenberg one more chance at the plate in Major League Baseball. Of course, Hank Greenberg will always be the Greenberg we talk about when the topic is Jewish baseball legends, but Adam Greenberg’s story is legendary too.


Update: Adam Greenberg struck out swinging tonight after pinch hitting for Bryan Petersen in the bottom of the sixth inning.
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

White Sox Move Yom Kippur Game for Fans, Youkilis

As an avid Detroit Tigers fan it’s difficult to root for Kevin Youkilis and the Chicago White Sox. However, the team’s recent decision to reschedule an upcoming night game to earlier that afternoon out of respect for Yom Kippur is worthy of praise.

I’ve written numerous times on this blog about Jewish Major League Baseball players whose decisions of whether or not to play on Yom Kippur (known as “the Sandy Koufax question”) become fodder for debate and discussion. Kevin Youkilis explained his feelings on playing on the Jewish day of atonement in a recent article in Yahoo! Sports after his team rearranged its schedule to accommodate Jewish fans as well as their star third baseman.

“You have to stick with your beliefs,” Youkilis said. “You can’t worry about people who aren’t influential in your life who say things or tell you you’re wrong. I know Shawn Green had a tough time with it. It just depends upon the community. In Boston they probably don’t even care. They’d want you to play.”

The White Sox did something earlier this week that many baseball teams had previously claimed was impossible based on the rigidity of Major League Baseball over its schedule. (The Yankees and Red Sox moved a game from evening to afternoon to accommodate the Jewish fans of both teams in 2009.) The White Sox changed the start time for its game on Tuesday, September 25 game against the Cleveland Indians from 7:10 to 1:10, citing courtesy for the team’s Jewish fans who will observe Yom Kippur beginning at nightfall. Even if the stated reason was for the fans, the team’s decision was a relief to Youkilis who no longer had to make the difficult decision on whether he would play that night. Last year, Youkilis responded to “the Sandy Koufax question” in the Jewish Journal by saying that there are “plenty of people with strong feelings on each side. It wouldn’t be an easy choice.”

It seems like Jewish baseball players face the Yom Kippur dilemma each year, but it’s only the more popular players in predominantly Jewish cities who are discussed. In recent years in addition to Youkilis, Ryan Braun (who’s father is Jewish and is known as the “Hebrew Hammer”), Gabe Kapler and Shawn Green have responded to the Yom Kippur question by sitting out games in some years and playing in other years. Yom Kippur doesn’t pose the same dilemma to Jewish pitchers like Scott Feldman of the Texas Rangers or Jason Marquis of the San Diego Padres who can be rescheduled in the starting rotation or simply not used in relief during that particular game.

Interestingly, this dilemma for baseball players has been named “The Sandy Koufax question” after Koufax sat the first game of the World Series in 1965. However, Koufax pitched in the second game instead so it wasn’t the same sacrifice as Hank Greenberg who refused to play baseball on Yom Kippur in 1934, even though the Detroit Tigers were in the middle of a pennant race.

A funny story is often told about that Dodgers World Series game which had Don Drysdale pitching in Game 1 in place of Koufax. Drysdale gave up seven runs in 2 2/3 innings and when the manager came to pull him from the game, Drysdale deadpanned, “I bet right now you wish I was Jewish, too!” Koufax went on to lose Game 2.

Some baseball players view the decision to play or not on Yom Kippur to be a personal choice, but not everyone agrees. In an article in the Forward a couple years ago Hank Greenberg’s granddaughter Melanie (Former MLB Deputy Commissioner Steve Greenberg’s daughter) wrote, “Heavy though the burden may be, I believe that Jewish players share the same obligation as my grandfather — to serve as representatives for their people. Admittedly, he lived in different times. Jewish athletes, however, still have the ability to affect their communities.”

At least this year the White Sox helped their star out and he didn’t have to make a decision. Youkilis has said that he will fast and attend synagogue this Yom Kippur.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller