Given the state of Professional Sports in this Country today, there are not too too many Pro Athletes that a kid can look up to. Many are grossly overly-paid, over-hyped by the media, expecting to be worshipped by the Fans and completely absorbed in themselves. Such incidents as bullying teammates, fighting, DUIs, bigotry and using performance-enhancing drugs only tend to show how bad things really are.
It seems that more of the players of years past–the Old-Timers–are the ones who can be considered truly Great–and generally “Nice Guys”. Sandy Koufax and Moe Berg are two of the Greatest–Koufax for being the predominant Baseball Pitcher of his era (1955 to 1966, before he resigned due to arthritis) and Morris “Moe” Berg (1923-to-1939), more for what he did off the Field, rather than on. Both are honored as true Jewish Legends.
In the days that Sandy Koufax played, TV and its Money, did not control Professional Sports in America, as they do today. Mr. Koufax was scheduled to pitch Game One of the 1965 World Series. Now, Sandy was not particularly religious; however, he refused to pitch because it fell on Yom Kippur, the Holiest Day in the Jewish Calendar.
In Sandy Koufax stead, the (then) Los Angeles Dodgers, started Ace Don Drysdale, who had to be removed after only 2 2/3 Innings. Koufax still came back and won two games in that Series against the Minnesota Twins, both on Complete-Game Shut-Outs, had a 0.95 ERA for the Series, and also won the Series MVP. Oh, by the way, L.A. won the Series!
Alan Siegel, in an article in The Atlantic, http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/print/2010/09/god-vs-the-world-series-sandy-koufaxs-yom-kippur-sacrifice/63094/, phrased it best: “There are three things any self-respecting Jewish boy should want to grow up to be: a doctor, a lawyer, or Sandy Koufax.” And author Jane Leavy wrote in her book, Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy. “He was the New Patriarch: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Sandy. A moral exemplar, and single too! (Such a catch!)”. Jewish newspapers, around-the-World, picked-up on the significance of Koufax’ to pitch Game One.
Moe Berg, on-the-other-hand, was a “Utility” Catcher, who was used sparingly, for a number of American League Teams. His strength was his ability to handle certain pitchers. Now, it is important to know that Mr. Berg was also a graduate of Princeton University (Languages), studied Philosophy at the Sorbonne, in Paris, and graduated second in his class at the Columbia Law School. Also, he took time out from Baseball to serve in the Office of Strategic Services, which was a forerunner of the CIA, during World War II.
Moe was a covert spy in Nazi Germany, which was extremely dangerous for a Jew–apparently, to fight back on behalf of His People. His linguistic skills inspired a teammate to quip: “He can speak seven languages, but he can’t hit in any of them.” Whatever his baseball skills were, Moe Berg was the only utility fielder to be the subject of three biographies. At his Funeral, a reporter asked his brother why, with all of his academic and legal abilities, he chose to play baseball. His brother responded, “Baseball made him happy.”