Possible Postseason Conflict For Some Religious Baseball Players

sandy-koufaxLast week, MLB announced the 2014 postseason schedule, and it turns out that both Games 1 and 2 of the National  League Division Series and both Games 2 of the American League Division Series fall on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. The holiday begins at sundown on Friday, October 3, and ends at sundown on Saturday, October 4.

Yom Kippur is the most important Jewish holiday.  It is the day of repentance where Jewish people fast to ask for foregiveness for the wrongs they have caused.

There have been other times when the baseball post-season took place over Yom Kippur.  Most  baseball fans will instantly know that in the 1965 World Series, Dodgers star pitcher Sandy Koufax took that day off to observe that holiday.  Also, in 1934, Tigers superstar Hank Greenberg refused to play on Yom Kippur even though the Tigers were in the middle of a pennant race.  Neither Koufax or Greenberg were ever very religious, but Koufax explained why he didn’t pitch on Yom Kippur 1965: “There was never any decision to make … because there was never any possibility that I would pitch. Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish religion. The club knows that I don’t work that day.”

As the 2014 season winds down, some Jewish major league ballplayers will have to think about whether they are going to play on Yom Kippur. Some playoff-contending teams have Jewish players who may want to take a day off to observe the holiday. Some notable Jewish players on likely playoff-bound teams are Ryan Braun (Milwaukee Brewers, 1.5 back in the NL Wild Card), Ike Davis (Pittsburgh Pirates, 2nd NL Wild Card Spot), Sam Fuld and Nate Freiman (Oakland A’s, 1st AL Wild Card Spot ), Ian Kinsler (Detroit Tigers, 1st in AL Central), Joc Pederson (Los Angeles Dodgers, 1st in NL West), and Danny Valencia and Kevin Pillar (Toronto Blue Jays, 4 games back in the AL Wild Card). Also, Brad Ausmus, the manager of the Tigers, and MLB commissioner Bud Selig  are probably also going to observe the holiday.  Teams owners, Ted Lerner and family, owners of the first-place Nationals, and Lewis Wolff, owner of the A’s, are Jewish too.

MLB probably didn’t make the post-season schedule conflict with the holiday on purpose.  They need to get the games in, and that’s just the way the calendar happened.  However, given the importance of the holiday for the people who observe the religion, many Jewish fans may choose not to go to the games and many Jewish players or coaches may not play in the games.  The players and coaches face a hard decision, because it could also be some of the most important games of their career.  Just like Sandy Koufax in 1965, it is possible that Ryan Braun or Ian Kinsler may be remembered  for the next 50 years by putting their religious beliefs first and not playing.  We will see what happens.

2 Comments

Thanks for writing this Matt, I will be missing the first two games of the NLDS this year because of Yom Kippur

Matt, this can be even more challenging than you think. Yom Kippur is in the middle of a month of Jewish holidays. This year, the list is:

Th-Fr Sep. 25-26 Rosh Hashana
Sat. Oct. 04 Yom Kippur
Th-Fr Oct. 09-10 Sukkot
Th-Fr Oct. 16-17 Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah

While Yom Kippur is the most universally observed, even by less religious Jews, the others are still there. MLB cannot avoid them, with so many packed so close together. It is an issue every year for religious Jewish fans like my wife and me. We bought the playoff strips from the Nationals with full knowledge that there will be some — if not most — games we will not be able to attend.

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