Ike Davis: A Jewish Baseball Hero for Our Times?

I’m pretty sure that my grandmother watched a few baseball games while reading the Forward over the years – likely the Yiddish version. So, I’m sure that she would get a kick out of me writing this piece.
For those who know me and for those who read my Sandy Koufax piece a few weeks back, it’s pretty clear how much I love baseball. It’s also pretty clear how completely ga-ga I would get if there was a legitimately Koufax-ian baseball superstar in the major leagues. As an extreme minority in this country (hovering around 2.2% of the general population), we Jews hold an uncanny sense of pride when one of our own is successful. From Nobel Prize winners and Supreme Court Justices to pop singers and movie stars, Jews love to point out fellow members of the tribe.
Adam Sandler mentioned dozens of famous Jews in his three versions of The Hanukkah Song. Not many athletes in there. My favorite comedy of all-time, Airplane, made famous a “pamphlet of Jewish Sports Legends.”
This is why Jews go crazy when someone like Ike Davis comes along.
The Forward 50 is a list of fifty Jewish-Americans who have made a significant impact on the Jewish story in the past year. As with most lists of its kind, there is great debate to be had.
Don’t get me wrong – when the Mets called up Ike Davis, I was excited at the prospect of another Jewish baseball player. Typically, there aren’t many – a dozen at most out of several hundred. Over the years, most have not been stars, but I root for them regardless of team. Even Youkilis.
The problem is that there are some budding stars right now (Kinsler, Braun, etc), but none of them seem to care much about being Jewish. They might be Jewish by birth or Jewish by name – but none of them are going to be the next Koufax. Ike Davis is Jewish by birth – his mother is Jewish, his father is not. By all accounts, he didn’t grow up as a practicing Jew. My Filipino childhood best friend is more Jewish than Ike Davis. If Ike Davis was called up by the Cincinnati Reds instead of the New York Mets, we wouldn’t even be talking about him. He had a fairly good rookie season, but barely received any consideration in the Rookie-of-the-Year voting.
The Ike Davis story is about New Yorkers dreaming of their own Jewish superstar. Remember that Koufax played mostly for LA and Hank Greenberg played in Detroit. I was more enthralled with the fact that Ike was born and grew up in Edina – after his dad, Ron, pitched for the Twins.
Throughout the 2010 season, I heard from my mother and brother – over and over – Ike Davis this and Ike Davis that. I guess he was the highlight of a miserable team. Then, late in the season, right around the High Holidays, I learned that there was another Jewish rookie. And this one played for the Twins. So I called my mother and told her about Danny Valencia (I think he was hitting around .340 at the time). She was unimpressed.
Then the big moment came for all Jewish baseball players – Yom Kippur. When it falls during the season, we all wonder who will play and who won’t. In typical Jewish fashion, Ike Davis blamed his mother. He played – even though the Mets were eliminated around May 1st. Danny Valencia also played – but after only hitting 2 home runs all season, he blasted two home runs on Yom Kippur. That’s what you call Jewish guilt. To their credit, both Davis and Valencia don’t pretend to be the Jewish heroes we want them to be. Apparently, neither has much of a Jewish identity.
Ike Davis’ impact on the Jewish community is minimal at best because he has no real ties to it. As long as he plays for the Mets, the offers will pour in and every Jewish organization will want a piece of him. Including him in the Forward 50, however, borders on desperation.