The ghosts of Sandy Koufax’s Yom Kippur day of rest are haunting baseball again, as Jewish players and fans are confronted with the annual question of how to deal with playoff games on the High Holy Days.
This year, championship games for both the National League and American League are scheduled for the same time as Wednesday night’s Kol Nidre service. As of press time, it appeared that neither of the two Jewish players on surviving playoff teams intends to sit out his game, as Koufax famously did in 1965 when he was scheduled to pitch a World Series game.
A spokesman for the Houston Astros said that catcher Brad Ausmus was scheduled to play both Wednesday and Thursday. The St. Louis Cardinals have a bar mitzvah boy in starting pitcher Jason Marquis. While Marquis is not scheduled to pitch Wednesday, he has not hesitated to play on Yom Kippurs past. In 2002, when he was a member of the Atlanta Braves, Marquis told the Forward that he would observe the holiday but still suit up for the game.
“I feel like I am observing the holiday by fasting and going to synagogue,” Marquis said. He grew up in Staten Island, where he became a bar mitzvah at a Conservative synagogue. “I just happen to be throwing a little white ball for the first few hours of the holiday.”
In Chicago, the Yom Kippur dilemma is being played out not on the ball field but in the front office. White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf told the Chicago Tribune that he planned to attend the White Sox playoff game on Rosh Hashanah and to absent himself on Yom Kippur.
“No way will I be here,” said Reinsdorf of the Wednesday night game. “My mother would kill me. My mother’s not alive, but she’d still kill me.”
A more stringent schedule is being followed by Steven Nasatir, president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, who is a longtime White Sox season ticket holder. He said he gave away his tickets to the games on both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (“I would not give them to a Jewish person,” he assured.)
For the White Sox, who have not won the World Series since 1917, Nasatir said these playoffs are consistent with Yom Kippur’s message of redemption and forgiveness. It was two years after that 1917 World Series victory that the Sox were accused of losing the series purposely. “They committed a terrible sin, and they’ve been punished,” Nasatir said. “Maybe it’s time for the punishment to end.”