Milwaukee — There are two things that every Jewish baseball fan knows about Ryan Braun.
First, the Milwaukee Brewer leftfielder is the best Jewish ballplayer in the majors today. Second, as a result of his self-inflicted tsoris, Braun faces the gargantuan challenge of winning back his fans when he returns to baseball next spring, following his 65-game suspension this past season for using banned performance-enhancing drugs.
“It’s hard to forgive someone who out and out lies and then gets caught,” said Ari Fleischer, who served as the White House press secretary for George W. Bush. He now heads Ari Fleischer Sports Communications.
Still, if there is any group that can forgive the new Hebrew Hammer, it’s the Jewish community, said Jason Miller, a Detroit rabbi and blogger who comments frequently on Jewish issues.
“We do value repentance so highly,” said Miller who is a member of the board of directors of the Michigan Jewish Sports Foundation. “We will be willing to give him a second chance.”
The Jewish community and fans of all backgrounds quickly embraced Braun in 2007, when he came to the major leagues as a soft-spoken third baseman. Braun, who was later moved to left field, got tagged soon as the “Hebrew Hammer,” the same nickname given to Hank Greenberg, the revered Detroit Tigers Hall of Famer.
Braun’s father is Jewish, and the five-time all-star has said he considers himself Jewish, although he did not have a bar mitzvah and has played on Yom Kippur.
Being Jewish is “not something he wears on his sleeve,” Miller acknowledged about Braun. In 2007, Miller related, he found himself staying at the same Arizona hotel as Braun, who was then a rookie. The ballplayer told him then, “I don’t think anybody on this team knows I’m Jewish.”
There are about a dozen Jewish major leaguers today, though many Jews may put asterisks next to some of their names because they have just one Jewish parent, play on Yom Kippur or have married a non-Jew.
But Irwin Cohen, a former Detroit Tigers front-office executive and the author of recent book, “Jewish History in the Time of Baseball’s Jews: Life on Both Sides of the Ocean,” said that there is still a connection: “You identify with them. You kvell.”
In Braun’s case, the kvelling has morphed into a kvetch.
“The biggest disappointment for many of us was that he was not truthful the first time around,” Miller said. “That was very disappointing to me.”