Move over Andre Agassi! My tennis hero is ... Manny Hershkowitz – the oldest ball boy in a major tennis tournament. In September, 1999, Manny worked the court at the U.S. Open -- at age 82!
Okay, true. In my research, I generally found that while Jewish parents may be machers in Little League a future career choice, these games aren’t. Listen to Melanie Strug, mother of Olympic hero and gold medalist Kerry Strug: “To me school was most important. I thought you can’t make a career out of athletics.” (Kerry has a Masters Degree from Stanford.)
My tennis hero is Manny Hershkowitz – the oldest ball boy in tennis at age 82!
Ah, but when we did choose sports, we tended to make a splash (in Olympic water, home runs, touchdowns, knock outs .... whatever). Think Sandy Koufax, Hank Greenberg, Mark Spitz, Howard Cosell, and of course, Kerri Strug. Ah, but have you heard of these lesser known athletes!
From This, We Can Make a Living? Lipman “Lip” Pike
The very fist pro baseball player, was an MOT! Lipman “Lip” Pike accepted $20 a week to play third base for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1866. Not only was Pike the first paid player, but for his $20, he became baseball’s first home run champion! When at his “peak,” Pike made management pay, Gentile colleagues followed suit. Within three years, Cincinnati became the first all pro baseball team. Meanwhile, “Lip,” a southpaw, shlepped from position to position, and managed many teams during his 20-year career, including the original New York Mets.
The Clown Prince of Baseball! Al Schacht
The title goes to Al Schacht, born in 1892. By 1914, as a pitcher for the Newark Bears, he spent so much time joking rather than throwing, that he was tossed out of games — then teams. So, he quit with the stick and stuck to the shtick. (He brought down the house at the 1922 World Series with a take-off on Valentino.) Shacht, the Clown Prince of Baseball, performed in virtually every ball park until 1968.
Are We the Best in World? Yes! Barney Dreyfuss,
In 1903, a lover of competition, Barney Dreyfuss, Jewish owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates (1900-1932) challenged the AL champions, the Boston Pilgrims (later the Red Sox), to a post-season tournament. Ok, true, Pittsburgh lost in a 5-3 upset, but on October 1, this Jewish creation called “The World Series” was born! Never one to give up, Dreyfuss led his team to victory in 1902 and 1925 during his 32-year reign as Prez and GM. To showcase his team, Dreyfuss also built the first steel-frame triple-tier stadium, Forbes Field, in 1909.
Major League Baseball’s first unanimous selection as Most Valuable Player (1953) was a Jew, Al “Flip” Rosen, third baseman for the Cleveland Indians.
The Greatest Hoop Skirt? Senda Berenson
Her name? Senda Berenson. Her game? Basketball! Not to be outdone, only month after basketball had been invented by James Naismith in 1891, Senda, a 23-year-old, Lithuanian-born, Jewish PE instructor, got the gals involved. She organized the first women's collegiate basketball game at Smith College, edited A. G. Spalding's first Women's Basketball Guide, and, in 1899, adapted and published new women’s rules. The legendary Berenson, who, long before “women’s lib” got women “their day in ‘court,’” was one of the first two women (with Margaret Wade) elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984.
In 1918, Eddie Gottlieb started the first All-Jewish basketball team: The South Philadelphia Hebrew Association (American Basketball League). “SPHAS” was written in Hebrew on their uniforms. But alas, the team bit the dust in 1949.
The world-famous Harlem Globetrotters were founded in Chicago by London-born Jew, Abe Saperstein, in 1927.
A Reverent Game?
We Jews don’t eat ... or usually throw pro pigskin. Alan Veingrad is a notable exception as not only a player, but a Jewish player! One became even more committed to Judaism with the years. During his NFL days (Green Bay Packers from 1986 to 1990, the Dallas Cowboys from1991 to 1992 where he won a Super Bowl ring), Veingrad, was a “lite” Jew. But, after a fateful meeting with a rabbi at his cousin’s Torah class, he studied and became observant. He’s said that his years with the NFL provided a great forum to encourage others, especially children, to learn their Torah and Judaism.
Ice Breakers! Louis Rubenstein &Alain Calmat
Where would a Scott Hamilton be if it weren’t for Canadian Jew Louis Rubenstein who introduced figure skating to North America in the late 1870s? Among his titles, he won the world championship in Russia (1890). Since, there have been many pro Jewish skaters, such as France’s Alain Calmat, who was awarded the Legion d'Honneur by Charles de Gaulle in 1965!
She Left Her Stamp!
By day, Russian-born Canadian Fanny "Bobbie" Rosenfeld worked in an Ontario chocolate factory. By night (and weekends), she was the world’s finest female athlete, breaking track records or leading an ice hockey or basketball team to victory. At the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, Rosenfeld scored more points than any other athlete, leading the team to gold and silver. Inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1950, Rosenfeld was voted Canada’s Female Athlete of the Half-Century. But more -- during rain, sleet or snow, she speeds up the mail, as a Canadian postage stamp bears her likeness.
Bar None: Agnes Keleti
While there have been a number of Jewish gymnasts (like Kerri Strug), perhaps the greatest was Hungarian-born Agnes Keleti. Despite an early lung problem, she won 11 Olympic medals, including five Gold during the 1940s and 1950s. Her father, murdered at Auschwitz, never got to see his daughter’s victories, but her mother and sister survived thanks to Raoul Wallenberg. In 1957, Keleti emigrated to Israel, and, like her husband, became a P.E. teacher, and coach. She’s been inducted into both the Hungarian and Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
A cantor-weigh-lifter? You bet!
Even His Voice Was Uplifting! Isaac "Ike" Berger
A cantor-weigh-lifter? You bet! The first featherweight to lift over 800 pounds and press double his body weight was a cantor, and rabbi’s son! Jerusalem-born (1936) Isaac "Ike" Berger, came to America in 1955, and took Olympic Gold in 1956, the silver in 1960 and 1964. In 1964, he set a nine-year record of 336 pounds in the jerk at a body weight of 130 making him the strongest man in the world!
Heroic Mother and Daughter! Eva Szekely and Andrea Gyarmati
Sixteen years before Mark Spitz, who not only put Jews out front in the Olympics, but challenged the Jewish male stereotype, a heroic Jewish female made a huge splash – at great personal sacrifice. Hungarian swimmer Eva Szekely arriving at the Melbourne Games in 1956, the start of the Hungarian revolt against Communism, said: “We had no word of our two-year old daughter. I didn't get any real sleep and lost over 12 pounds.” The gold and silver medalist passed on the swim-gene. Twelve years later, her daughter, Andrea Gyarmati, became an Olympic swimmer at age 14 (at the 1968 Mexico City games), and took the silver and bronze in the 1972 Munich games.
Proud to Be a Jewish Mama: Irena Kirszenstein-Szewinska
With seven Olympic medals, three of them gold, Irena Kirszenstein-Szewinska, born in 1945 in Russia, then moved to Poland, was the first woman to hold world records in the 100, 200 and 400-meter at the same time. At 19, she was Poland's Athlete of the Year. Ten years later, at almost 30, she was the first woman to break 50 seconds in the 400-meter and was named Woman Athlete of the Year by “Track and Field News.” But ... despite her gold, her most treasured moment was the birth of her son, saying, “No medals gave me as much pleasure!”
In 1984, Doug Beal and Israel's Arie Selinger coached the U.S. Olympic men's and women's volleyball teams – and “netted” gold and silver medals. They were the first medals ever won by American teams in Olympic competition.
1,000 And Still Counting --Larry Brown
It was a fairy tale for the coach of the underdog Detroit Pistons --Larry Brown – when his team won the championship in 2004. Brown, whose father died young, leaving his widow to support her sons, went on to be an All-American basketball player, an Olympic Gold medal winner, the coach of the 1988 University of Kansas NCAA championship team, and coach of the U.S. team in the Maccabiah games. He was also head coach for the US men's basketball team, when, at the 2004 Summer Olympics, they took home the bronze. On January 13, 2006, The New York Knicks beat the Atlanta Hawks to give Brown his 1,000th NBA win! He went on to be head coach of the National Basketball Association's Charlotte Bobcats. Larry’s older brother, Herb Brown also made his career in basketball – proving that We Jews needn’t “jump through hoops.”