The book: “The Baseball Talmud: The Definitive Position-by-Position Ranking of Baseball’s Chosen Players”
The author: Howard Megdal
How to find it: Harper, Collins, 307 pages with index, $22.99
The scoop: Megdal, who covers baseball for the New York Observer, has such a keen observation about the game — and his Jewish roots — that makes this a blast to go through front to back without much effort and plenty of enjoyment. When he speaks of those who played for “The Tribe,” it has nothing to do with the Cleveland Indians. Although there is a little crossover.
To have the gall to argue who’s not only the greatest Jewish baseball player of all time, but then create the all-time best Jewish team — and predict how that list will change in 2019 — almost seems like the creation of an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
“If there’s one thing Jews like to do, it’s argue,” Megdal says in the intro. “Many of you reading this book are nodding sagely in argreement. Some of you, however, rose to your feet indignantly to dispute my blatant generalization. Either way, my point is proven.”
This, the book came from Megdal and his friends one day at a batting cage with his college intramural softball friends when one declared that Hank Greenberg, not Sandy Koufax, was the most valuable Jewish player in major league history.
(We’ll pause for Dodger fans to try to contain themselves.)
“Our center fielder, a Jewish sociology professor, reacted as if my friend had defended supermarket challah,” Megdal continues.
With modern advances in research and a sabermetric rule to help with some rankings, Megdal decided he’d make his own case for the all-time Jewish team, knowing that there were 16,696 players in Major League History as of July, 2008,and fewer than 160 were Jewish — less than 1 percent.
Taking anyone who is self-identified as Jewish — including David Newhan, the Pepperdine grad who attended a Jesuit school yet considers himself a Messianic Jew and celebrates Passover and Hanukkah.
Megdal’s list of the Greatest Jewish Baseball Player:
1. Hank Greenberg (based on Baseball Prospectus’ WARP3 metric)
2. Sandy Koufax (“his dominance is unquestioned and whose strikeouts are completely verifiable).
3. Lou Boudreau (the former “Tribe” Hall of Fame shortstop who could statistically be better than Koufax)
4. Shawn Green (yup, the former Dodger, but “religion goes only so far when your defense has deteriorated as much as Green’s has,” Megdal writes)
5. Buddy Myer
6. Al Rosen
7. Sid Gordon
8. Ken Holtzman (who has more wins as a left-handed pitcher in his career than Koufax, 174-165)
9. Harry Danning
10. Mike Lieberthal.
Megdal’s projected list for 2019:
3. Ryan Braun
6. Kevin Youkilis
7. Ian Kinsler
Some of Megdal’s arguments further arguments:
== On why Danning, who played for the N.Y. Giants from 1933-42, is his highest rated Jewish catcher of all time ahead of Lieberthal, the Westlake High grad who ended his career last year with the Dodgers: “Lieberthal played in a far richer offensive era, when extra-base hits were as plentiful as the corned beef at the Second Avenue Deli.” For the record, current Dodgers backup catcher Brad Ausmus is No. 3 on the catcher list, and former Dodger star Steve Yeager is No. 4, and another former Dodger, Norm Sherry, is No. 8.
== Even though Esquire magazine did an all-Jewish team in 1976 and named Rod Carew its second baseman, Megdal won’t include him on his list. Because he’s not Jewish. Even though he has a place in Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah Song.” “He married a Jewish woman, but he did not convert,” Megdal writes. “He doesn’t qualify any more than my childhood friend David Lopez qualified for complaining to his mother about being servied ‘goyische corned beef’ in eighth grade.” Besides, Megdal could probably make a better case for Buddy Myer (1925-’41 with Washington and Boston) as the No. 1 keystone sacker.
== Other names you may recognize: Mike Epstein (No. 2 best at first base, former Fairfax High standout who played for the Angels in ’73-’74); Greg Goossen (No. 7 best at first base, who became a stunt man/actor after his career and still lives in Hollywood); Jimmy Reese (No. 6 best second baseman, known better as a long-time Angels coach); Ryan Braun (No. 2 best left fielder, the Granada Hills High grad whose season as a 23-year-old was similiar to that of Hank Greenberg’s); Gabe Kapler (No. 4 best center fielder, the former Taft High standout); Al Silvera (No. 8 left-fielder, the former Fairfax High star who went to USC and played for Cincinnati in 1955-56); Richard Conger (No. 9 right-handed starter, a one-and-done player at UCLA in the late ’30s before signing with Detroit and ending his career with the Los Angeles Angels of the PCL before he served in WWII); Scott Radinsky (No. 2 left-handed reliever and former Simi Valley High standout); Scott Schoeneweis (No. 3 left-handed reliever who came up in the Angels’ organization in the late ’90s); Larry Sherry (No. 1 right-handed reliever who pitched for the Dodgers from ’58-’63 and the Angels in ’68); Al Levine (No. 2 right-handed reliever, who played for the Angels from ’99-’02); Lloyd Allen (No. 6 right-handed reliever, 12th overall choice in the 1968 draft by the California Angels, ahead of Gary Matthews, Bill Buckner and Cecil Cooper).
How it goes down in the scorebook: With the advance praise for the book provided by ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap, author John Eisenberg and senior Sports Illustrated writer L. Jon Wertheim, we’ll let Megdal get the save here with his last paragraph: “Let this … book ring out in response to the well-known “Airplane!” gag about Jewish athletes. In baseball alone, there are more than just a pamphlet. I encourage you, should anyone make that joke to you — throw this book at them. And I don’t mean rhetorically. Actually throw this book at them and say, ‘Does this feel like a pamphlet? Well? Does it?”