Jacob Gurvis (JTA)
The World Series is upon us, and there are likely more Jewish players in this year’s edition than there have been in decades.
The American League champion Houston Astros, who ousted Chaim Bloom’s Boston Red Sox last week, feature star slugger Alex Bregman. The National League champion Atlanta Braves boast an impressive duo of Jewish players: pitcher Max Fried and outfielder Joc Pederson. (The Astros did not include Jewish backup catcher Garrett Stubbs on their roster. Had Stubbs been added, this would probably be the most Jewish World Series ever.)
For Bregman and Pederson, it is a rematch of the infamous 2017 World Series, when Bregman’s Astros beat Pederson’s former team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, while using illegal sign-stealing techniques that led to high-profile suspensions. Pederson hit three home runs during the series, and Bregman added two of his own.
Hardcore Jewish baseball fans may recall the 1959 World Series, a matchup between the Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox, which also included three Jewish players: L.A.’s pitching roster boasted the legendary Sandy Koufax and the series’ Most Valuable Player, Larry Sherry, while Chicago had pitcher Barry Latman, although he did not appear in the series (just three years later, however, he would be named an All-Star).
But thanks to its Jewish talent, this year’s Series promises to feature just as many memorable Jewish moments. Here’s a Jewish guide to the 2021 Fall Classic.
Alex Bregman, Astros Bregman is arguably the most prominent Jewish player in Major League Baseball today. The 27-year-old is a two-time All-Star, and in 2019 finished as runner-up for American League MVP, with 41 home runs and 112 runs batted in.
Bregman had a bit of a down year in 2021, missing more than two months with an injury. His father, Sam, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 2018 that he is “so proud” of his son representing the Jewish community in the big leagues. Bregman grew up attending a Reform synagogue in Albuquerque and had a bar mitzvah.
The Astros are playing in their third World Series in five years, meaning the third baseman has already played in 67 postseason games in his career. He has a .237 batting average in the postseason, with 59 hits and 12 home runs. He is hitting .282 so far this October.
Max Fried, Braves
Fried may well be the best Jewish pitcher since Sandy Koufax — his childhood idol. This season, the 27-year-old — who became the first Jewish lefty to start an Opening Day game in half a century, since Ken Holtzman did in 1971 — won 14 games while posting a 3.04 earned run average and led the MLB with two shutouts. In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Fried went 7-0 with a 2.25 earned run average, finishing fifth in NL Cy Young voting.
Fried told the Atlanta Jewish Times in 2017 that he grew up “fairly observant,” attending synagogue on the High Holidays and having a bar mitzvah. A Los Angeles native, Fried idolized Koufax as a child and wore his #32 in high school.
Fried was also a member of the gold medal-winning USA juniors team at the 2009 Maccabiah Juniors competition, an international tournament for Jewish teenage athletes.
Despite taking the loss in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, Fried has performed well in the postseason. In 15 career appearances (seven starts), he has a 3.86 ERA. He will start Game 2 of the Series for Atlanta on Wednesday.
Joc Pederson, Braves
Last but not least, there’s Pederson — or the man who is turning October into “Joctober.”
This will be Pederson’s fourth World Series, and the 29-year-old outfielder has made a name for himself with clutch hitting for years in the postseason. In a total of 74 career playoff games, Pederson is a .272 career postseason hitter with 12 home runs and 49 hits.
In that 2017 Series in particular, he broke the record for most World Series home runs by a Jewish player.
And Pederson is still earning his nickname this year. In 10 postseason games, he has 8 hits, including three home runs, and nine runs batted in. (Plus, he’s been sporting a pretty stylish pearl necklace that has the baseball world buzzing.)
But he’s no chump in the regular season, either. Besides winning the 2020 World Series as a member of the Dodgers, Pederson is a former All-Star and Home Run Derby participant. He clubbed 36 home runs in 2019.
Pederson played for the Dodgers for seven years before signing with the Chicago Cubs prior to the 2021 season. He was then traded to Atlanta in July.
Pederson also played for Team Israel in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. It wasn’t easy — his mother, who is Jewish, had to jump through hoops to prove her son’s eligibility, with the help of the archivist at her father’s synagogue. Now he’s a member of multiple California Jewish sports halls of fame.
Game 1 of the 2021 World Series begins Tuesday, Oct. 26 at 8:09pm ET in Houston on Fox.
Image Credit: Alex Bregman slides into the third base in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Oct. 22, 2021. (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)