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From Fastballs to Fasts: Sandy Koufax Inspired Me

Why Koufax opted not to pitch Game One of the World Series

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Sandy Koufax

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I know it’s a little early for a story about Yom Kippur but with June almost upon us, it sparked an important memory for me. Sandy Koufax began his legendary baseball career 65 years ago, on June 24, 1955, for the Brooklyn Dodgers. But what would happen ten years later would make him legendary among the Jewish people. 

In 1965, Koufax, now a Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher, opted not to pitch Game One of the World Series, because it fell on Yom Kippur. For Koufax, it was simple. He wanted to honour his faith. As well, he could always pitch the next day.  And he was the best pitcher in all of baseball, so he had some clout.

When I found out that Koufax wasn’t pitching, I was shocked, and proud. Koufax was now a hero to this nine year old; someone to admire for reasons other than a blazing fastball and a wicked curve.

For most of us, it’s a personal decision whether or not we work (or play) on Yom Kippur. For athletes and others in the public eye, it depends on your upbringing, how observant you are, and whether or not those around you expect you to honour your religion on the most solemn day of the year.  

Back in the early 1990s, I was a well-established TV sportscaster, and told my bosses at Global TV that I would not be available to host the Toronto Maple Leafs home opener because of Yom Kippur.  Other Jews in my field did work that night, which led one of my bosses to question my beliefs.  If these other Jews were working on Yom Kippur, he wondered, why couldn’t I? That’s a question I could not answer. Several of those gentlemen had tough decisions to make. Back then, many were just getting into the business, and perhaps didn’t have the status that would’ve allowed them to take the day off. Maybe they worried that if they took the day off, they wouldn’t get their jobs back. Who knows? They had to do what was right for them. For me, there was never any question. I don’t work on Yom Kippur.

A few years back, the Israeli Tennis Federation was fined $13,000 because they refused to play a Davis Cup match on Yom Kippur. The Israelis had asked their opponents, Belgium, if they could reschedule the match. The Belgians said “no”, and then the ITF slapped the fine on Israel to cover the cost of adding a day to the tournament.  

Recently, Israeli tennis star Dudi Sela quit in the middle of a quarterfinals match in China, due to the onset of Kol Nidre. His decision cost him $34,000 and 90 points in the ATP rankings. A year ago last August, Israeli equestrian Dan Kramer said he wouldn’t compete at the International Equestrian Federation World Championships, because it took place on Yom Kippur. His decision could’ve cost the Israel national team a spot at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, but they qualified without him, and will compete in the 2021 competition.

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For the past number of years, the Chicago White Sox have listened to their season ticket holders when it comes to playing home games on Yom Kippur. In 2013, the White Sox played an afternoon game ahead of Kol Nidre. In previous seasons, they played a traditional midweek evening game, one which thousands of observant Jews could not and would not attend.  

And, while Koufax, Hank Greenberg and other baseball stars refused to play on the Day of Atonement, many other Jewish players have played. (Greenberg once sought the advice of a rabbi as to whether he should play on Rosh Hashana during a pennant race. The rabbi gave him the OK.) Of course, that’s up to them. They may be judged harshly by others, or they may not be judged at all.  Just because Koufax chose to pray on that day, doesn’t mean that every other Jew must follow suit. Koufax wasn’t even an observant Jew; he just felt that sitting out Yom Kippur was the right thing to do.

The other interesting part of Yom Kippur and sports has to do with Yom Kippur fasting. Gabe Carimi, a 6 foot 8 inch 300 pound offensive lineman who played for three NFL teams, recalled the time, at the University of Wisconsin, when he fasted all day, and then played a night game against Iowa.  

The Badgers won. Carimi said he was inspired by a teammate, Matt Bernstein, who broke his fast with an IV bag prior to the game, and then ate turkey slices on the bench. During the game he feasted on the Penn State defense. Wisconsin won that game too.

And just to show you that Yom Kippur and sports are serious business, a Birmingham Alabama synagogue (yes, they have Jews in Alabama) once warned its congregation that there would be no uttering of football scores when ‘Bama took on Texas A&M, and Auburn battled Mississippi State. There would be no discussion and no insinuation of the scores, said a newspaper ad, because “it is a violation of the Holy Day and ruins the Post-Break-The-Fast experience some of us hope to have when the day ends.” It goes on to say “No scores, No high-fives, No ‘Roll Tide’ or ‘War Eagles’ chants.”

 It reminds me of the story of the Jewish man who approaches his rabbi and says, “I’m a huge Yankees fan, but I don’t know if I should watch the game on Yom Kippur.” The rabbi replies: “That’s what the PvR on the TV is for.”

“Really?” says the man, “You mean I can record Yom Kippur?”

(Note: I can hear the kvetching as I write this “why is he talking Yom Kippur when it’s only june!”. I know its very early to talk Yom Kippur but as my mother always told me I’m ahead of the times!)

Mark Hebscher is a broadcast icon, best known for his eleven years co-hosting Global TV’s “Sportsline” alongside Jim Tatti. He anchored at Sportsnet for two years, and also hosted the current affairs program “Square Off” for 13 years. Hebscher has interviewed thousands of subjects during his career: Muhammad Ali, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, and Tom Brady, to name a few. As a sports reporter, he covered the Olympics, Super Bowl, World Series, Stanley Cup, World Cup, NBA Finals, U.S Open tennis and golf, Indy 500, Canadian Grand Prix and many more. He currently hosts “Hebsy On Sports”, a weekly podcast that deals with Toronto teams and the big stories from the world of sports.  

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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