The First Ever Jewish Baseball Draft

Photo from the Israel Association of Baseball

For the past seven years, I have drafted fantasy baseball and football teams. My fellow drafters and I would get together, order burgers, open a bottle of bourbon, and draft our teams.  However, the draft last Monday was no doubt, the best draft I have ever observed!

This past Monday night was the first-ever Jewish Baseball Draft hosted by Rabbi Jeremy Fine, also known as The Great Rabbino. This event served as a fundraiser to raise money to help the Israeli Baseball Team attend the 2020 Summer Tokyo Olympics (in 2021).

All of the Jewish baseball players, past, present, and future were able to be drafted in a thirteen-round draft by one of the five teams “coached” by Ian Kinsler (MLB Great) and Rabbi Ari Sunshine (fan winner), Danny Valencia (former Minnesota Twin) and Cory Provus (voice of the Minnesota Twins), Ty Kelly (former NY Met) and Gabrielle Starr (creator of Girl at the Game), Ryan Lavarnway (Miami Marlins catcher) and Jaxon Stone (Jewish pro-wrestler), and lastly, Jon Mascot (former Cincinnati Reds pitcher) and Justine Siegel (first female MLB coach and founder of Baseball for All). 

To no one’s surprise, Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg were the first two draftees. At the end of the night, 65 Jewish baseball players were drafted to one of the five different Jewish fantasy baseball dream teams. 

Maybe the most surprising player not drafted was The Mensch on the Bench. Rabbi Fine smartly responded to the request to draft The Mensch on the Bench, “he’s a liability if he’ll have to shift right or left.”

Throughout the draft, there were interviews with current and past Jewish baseball players as well as others in and around the game. Among the over 20 guests, we heard from Rachel Luba, who recently started Luba Sports LLC, her own player agent firm which represents Trever Bower. Shawn Green was honored to have been drafted in the third round and spoke about his special relationship with Sandy Koufax and with Hank Greenberg’s sons who he feels so lucky to know “because I always idolized those guys as Jewish players.” 

We also heard from up-and-coming Jewish baseball stars, Josh Wolf and Evan Kravetz, who was drafted in the 2019 draft in the second and fifth rounds, respectively. 

Alan Dershowitz, who surprised me with his extensive baseball knowledge, as he is known for his Israel advocacy, made an appearance. Dershowitz appeared in full Red Sox garb with his 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers National League championship ring. 

Once the teams were drafted, the panel of expert judges, Alyson Footer (MLB reporter), Jonathan Mayo (MLB draft expert), Sam Brief (voice of the Chicago Dogs), and Daniel Passner (fan winner), ranked each of the teams and put them in head-to-head battles to determine which of the five teams was the best. The winning team was the number one ranked team coached by Ryan Lavarnway and Jaxon Stone.

There was an interesting discussion of whether players, including Steve Yeager and Paul Goldschmidt, were considered to be Jewish baseball players. The verdicts were made by Jeff Aeder (Jewish Baseball Museum) and Scott Barancik (Jewish Baseball News) who determined Yeager and Goldschmidt to be ineligible.

The night was filled with enjoyable surprises. Ryan Lavarnway lost out on two Team Israel teammate picks, Ty Kelly and Blake Gailen, as they were drafted by other teams before Lavarnway was able to draft them. Peter Kurz (Team Israel General Manager) asked Kevin Pillar to join Israel’s Olympic and WBC baseball teams. Pillar expressed interest in playing on both teams!

Ty Kelly kept everyone laughing all night. Commenting on his round eight drafting by listing the many things he brings to a team and adding, “obviously the team who drafted me knows all this but to the other teams it will be your loss.” Kelly suggested that a draft pick be taken away from Danny Valencia as he clearly did not prepare enough for this draft. Kelly even explained that his reason for drafting Blake Gailen was “a sympathy pick because I know this guy.”

For me, without a doubt, the highlight of the night was when Sam Fuld, who is a favorite Jewish baseball player of mine as he and I are both outfielders, had labrum surgery, and are type one diabetics, was referred to as “old” by Ty Kelly. Fuld double-checked that Kelly knew he was able to be drafted and if so, why he was only drafted in round five. In jest, Kelly answered, in addition to knowing that Fuld has a shoulder injury so he would not be helpful to the team, ”it really came down to really just not wanting you [Sam] on the team.”

In the movie Airplane, there is a scene where a flight attendant offers a woman who requests light reading a “leaflet of famous Jewish sports legends.” If that movie was being scripted today, the list of famous Jewish sports legends would not be considered light reading. Today, Jewish sports fans, young and old, thankfully have numerous deserving Jewish athletes, to look up to across all major sports,  

If I was able to draft my Jewish fantasy baseball team, after drafting Sandy Koufax who was my childhood hero, I would draft my friends and favorites from Israel’s National Baseball Team. Not only are they top-notch baseball players, but they are proud to be Jewish baseball players and proud to represent Israel. They understand the importance of being role models to young Jewish baseball players and they take their responsibility very seriously.  Who knows, maybe in a few years, these guys will be the Sandy Koufax to the next generation of Jewish baseball players and fans?

To support Israel’s Olympic Baseball team, go to www.jewcer.org/project/team-israel-baseball/

You can find a video of the full draft on thegreatrabbino.com,  https://thegreatrabbino.com/2020/06/21/all-time-jewish-baseball-draft-video/

About the Author
Danielle grew up in Teaneck, NJ, and moved to Israel when she graduated from Rutgers University. Danielle is an English teacher In Jerusalem, has been involved in both formal and informal education for over 12 years, and a baseball coach. Danielle believes that the most important life skills and lessons are usually not ones learned in the classroom, but can be learned from team sports.
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