One of our favorite books last spring was “The Baseball Talmud: The Definitive Position-By-Position Ranking of Baseball’s Chosen Players,” by Howard Megdal, a Kosher-tongue-in-cheek celebration of the Jewish influence of baseball over the years.
Megdal concludes that Hank Greenberg, not Sanford Koufax, was the greatest of all Jewish players in major-league history. That’s enough to start an argument, but one he can defend.
Defining a Jewish player can be a bit tricky. To Megdal, “any player who self-identified as Jewish qualified. … I am a baseball expert, not a Judaism expert. … I leave that to religious scholars.”
It is, then, kind of quirky that Greg Goossen, who played at the Catholic boys’ school Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks, is considered a Jewish candidate for mention in this book. Goossen’s dad, Al, was born Jewish (and later converted to Catholicism); his mom was Catholic. When it came to education, she was the decision maker.
In the book’s rankings, Goossen is No. 7 all-time under first basemen. but Megdal seems most impressed by Goossen’s post-career linked to Gene Hackman, who hired him as sort of a bodyguard and stand-in for about 25 years of his film career.
“While it is hard to fashion an argument that Goossen made a huge difference for his oft-losing major league teams, is it possible that his presence was the difference in Hackman’s finest films?” asks Megdal.
He lists the five best Hackman movies with Goossen:
1. “The Royal Tenenbaums”
3. “The Birdcage”
4. “Get Shorty”
5. The Firm”
The five best Hackman films without Goossen:
1. “The French Connection”
5. “Crimson Tide”
Oh, the other first basemen ranked ahead of Goossen:
1. Hank Greenberg (of course)
2. Mike Epstein (who Goossen played with on the Washington Senators in 1971)
3. Kevin Youkilis
4. Ron Bloomberg
5. Phil Weintraub
6. Lou Limmer (who, according to his obit, was the first Jewish baseball player ever to hold the office of president in his synagogue, in the Bronx.)
Jake Goodman, who played for the Milwaukee Grays in 1878 and the Pittsburgh Alleghenys in 1882, is ranked No. 8. Hey, he was fifth in the NL in homers in ’78. With a total of one.