The news that the Yankees had signed Kevin Youkilis was big news in New York in December. In fact, in the Washington edition of The New York Times, a full page was devoted to stories about the Yankees’ new acquisition.
But it wasn’t big news simply for the fact that the Yankees had signed a third baseman to fill in for Alex Rodriguez until A-Rod returned from hip surgery in mid-season. It was big news as well that another Jewish ball player — yes, Youkilis, whose father says the family’s name originally was Weiner (for the full story of how “Weiner” became “Youkilis,” see Richard Sandomir’s article in The Times on Dec. 12) — was joining Ike Davis of the Mets (when he returns from a minor league stint in Las Vegas), along with the memories of Sandy Koufax, Sid Gordon, Cal Abrams, Art Shamsky and Ron Blomberg, as well as Mose Solomon (the “Rabbi of Swat”) as Jewish ball players who played in New York. Not only that, but The Times did a sidebar on a Sept. 21, 1941, game in which the Giants started four Jewish players in beating the Boston Braves, 4-0.
All of which led one Washington baseball fan with too much time on his hands to research how many Jewish ballplayers had played for the Senators or Nationals during their careers. Of the 121 Jews who have played major league baseball, 17 played here. They ran the gamut of skills and accomplishments, from Al Schacht, a baseball-playing comic who later became a New York restaurateur, to Moe Berg, graduate of Princeton and the Sorbonne (of whom it was said, “He spoke seven languages but couldn’t hit a curve ball in any of them”), to Buddy Myer, 1935 A.L. batting champion (ah, but see below), to Elliott Maddox, likely the only black Jew in major league history, to Mike Epstein, who hit 30 home runs for the ’69 Senators, to Jason Marquis, whose family name is actually Marcus. Strangely enough, of the 17, four of them were on the 1932 and 1934 Senators.
The question then arose, if the Giants started four Jewish ballplayers in that 1941 game, was it possible that the Senators had done likewise during ’32 or ’34? Scouring the box scores for every game in those two seasons, the answer was no. However, the Senators did start three Jewish ballplayers in a game with greater significance in the opener of a Sept. 29, 1934, doubleheader.
On the Senators roster that year were four Jewish players: Moe Berg, who was released in mid-season; Buddy Myer (ah, but, again, see below); outfielder Fred Sington, an All-American lineman for the University of Alabama, who decided on baseball rather than football; and pitcher Syd Cohen, who had gone to Alabama before Sington and was the younger brother of Andy Cohen, a Giant infielder in the ‘20s. Myer, Sington, and Cohen started that game.
Cohen was pitching only his second game of the year and got off to a good start when the Senators scored eight runs to take an 8-2 lead after the sixth. In the seventh inning, Babe Ruth came up with two men on base and hit his 22nd home run of the year — his 708th and last as an American Leaguer. That ended the Yankee scoring as Cohen pitched a complete game. Sington went 2 for 5, with an RBI, and Myer was 1-3. Cohen himself went 2 for 4, with one RBI. (To say this game was the highlight of Cohen’s undistinguished three-year major league career would be an understatement. He went on to have a lifetime pitching record of 3-7. His hitting was worse, 5 for 33. And his run batted in against the Yankees was 1 of 2 in his career.)
All in all, however, a pretty good day for Washington’s Jewish contingent.
But, were there only two Jewish players for the Senators that day?
Buddy Myer is in the International Jewish Hall of Fame (and also in the local Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington Sports Hall of Fame). He’s included as Card No. 6 in the Jewish Major Leaguers Baseball cards, published by the American Jewish Historical Society. In 1935, as a result of anti-Semitic slurs and a spiking, he got into a brawl with notorious anti-Semite Ben Chapman (of “42” fame) of the Yankees. The BioProject of the Society for American Baseball Research concludes “Charles Solomon ‘Buddy’ Myer has a spot in Jewish sports history as one of the best Jewish baseball players behind such men as Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax.”
On the other hand, noted baseball historian Bill James in a 2001 book said Myer “told a hometown newspaperman shortly before his death in 1974 that he was not Jewish, he was German” and “had never set the record straight.”
I guess we’re left with the conclusion of a website on Jewish celebrities on Buddy Myer: “Verdict: Borderline Jewish.” Therefore, “Borderline Three on Sept. 29, 1934.”
Phil Hochberg, a local attorney and a member of the Washington, D.C. Sports Hall of Fame and the Washington Redskins Ring of Fame, was the stadium announcer for the Washington Senators from 1962-1968 and the press box and then stadium announcer for the Washington Redskins from 1962-2000.