3 Jewish baseball players are key figures in the 2021 World Series
JTA — The World Series is upon us, and there are probably more Jewish players in this year’s edition than there have been in decades.
The American League champion Houston Astros, who ousted the Boston Red Sox of Chaim Bloom last week, feature star hitter Alex Bregman. The National League champion Atlanta Braves have an impressive pair of Jewish players: pitcher Max Fried and outfielder Joc Pederson.
(The Astros did not include Jewish receiver Garrett Stubbs on their roster. If Stubbs had been added, it would likely be the most Jewish World Series ever.)
For Bregman and Pederson, it’s a rematch of the infamous 2017 World Series, when Bregman’s Astros beat Pederson’s former team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, while using illegal stealing techniques. placards that led to high-profile suspensions. Pederson hit three homers during the series and Bregman added two.
Die-hard Jewish baseball fans may remember the 1959 World Series, a game between the Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox, which also featured three Jewish players: Los Angeles’ pitching roster included the legendary Sandy Koufax and the series most valuable player, Larry Sherry, while Chicago had pitcher Barry Latman, although he did not appear on the series (only three years later, however, would he be named an All-Star).
But thanks to its Jewish flair, this year’s series promises to feature just as many memorable Jewish moments. Here is 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 second in American League MVP, with 41 homers and 112 RBIs.
Bregman has had a slightly worse year in 2021, missing more than two months through injury.
His father, Sam, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 2018 that he was “so proud” that his son was representing the Jewish community in the big leagues. Bregman grew up attending a Reform synagogue in Albuquerque and did a bar mitzvah.
The Astros are playing in their third World Series in five years, which means the third baseman has already appeared in 67 postseason games in his career. He has a .237 batting average in the playoffs, with 59 hits and 12 home runs. He’s hitting .282 so far in October.
Max Fried, Braves
Fried might just be the best Jewish pitcher since Sandy Koufax, his childhood idol. This season, the 27-year-old – who became the first Jewish southpaw to start an Opening Day game in half a century, since Ken Holtzman in 1971 – has won 14 games while posting an ERA 3.04 and led MLB with two shutouts.
In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Fried went 7-0 with a 2.25 ERA, finishing fifth in NL Cy Young voting.
Fried told the Atlanta Jewish Times in 2017 that he grew up “quite observant,” attending synagogue on major holidays and doing a bar mitzvah. A native of Los Angeles, Fried idolized Koufax as a child and wore his No. 32 in high school.
Fried was also a member of the gold medal-winning American junior team at the 2009 Maccabiah Juniors competition, an international tournament for Jewish teenagers.
Despite the loss in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, Fried performed well in the playoffs. 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 turns 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 shots for years in the playoffs. In a total of 74 career playoff games, Pederson is a .272 postseason hitter with 12 homers and 49 hits.
In this particular 2017 series, he broke the record for most World Series homers by a Jewish player.
And Pederson still deserves his nickname this year. In 10 playoff games, he had 8 hits, including three homers and nine RBIs. (Plus, he wears a pretty stylish pearl necklace that’s got the baseball world buzzing.)
But he’s not stupid in the regular season either. In addition to winning the 2020 World Series as a member of the Dodgers, Pederson is a former All-Star and Home Run Derby entrant. He clubbed 36 homers in 2019.
Pederson played for the Dodgers for seven years before signing with the Chicago Cubs ahead of 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 of his father’s synagogue. He is now a member of several California Jewish Sports Halls of Fame.
Game 1 of the 2021 World Series begins Tuesday, October 26 at 8:09 p.m. ET in Houston on Fox.