November 11, 2011
Three thousand years of beautiful tradition from Moses to Sandy Koufax to ... the 2013 World Baseball Classic?
If Shawn Green, Brad Ausmus(notes) and Gabe Kapler(notes) achieve their goal, another proud highlight could be added to Israel's long history. All three Jewish ex-ballplayers have just joined a group that aims to field a team for the next edition of Bud Selig's international tournament.
Selig has to like that news, seeing as how he's both Jewish and seeking to make the WBC as global an event as possible. But can it actually happen? Israel isn't exactly a hotbed for baseball talent and all three players mentioned above might not even be able to play. (Kapler would be 37 in 2013 while Green and Ausmus would be 40 and 44, respectively.)
But given that Major League Baseball now features a talented core of players with Jewish lineage, the trio is banking on the possibility of heritage and pride being a strong calling card. Citizenship is not a requirement when it comes to joining a WBC roster.
In Israel, a small, devoted group of American ex-pats make up the majority of the local leagues and the country has had moderate success in international youth competitions. A professional league was launched in 2007 but was dominated by foreign players and lasted just one season.
But thanks to WBC tournament rules that allow countries to field players who are eligible for citizenship—even if they are not actual citizens—Israel can tap into the formidable pool of Jewish-American baseball talent that includes 13 major leaguers.
Indeed, if the league's current Jewish players want to create a super-team with a nod to the great House of David squads, they'd certainly have a good start. Milwaukee's Ryan Braun(notes), Texas' Ian Kinsler(notes) and Boston's Kevin Youkilis(notes) are all Jewish, as are free agent Jason Marquis(notes), New York's Ike Davis(notes) and Tampa Bay's Sam Fuld(notes). The only problem is that none of them would be around for the qualifying rounds, so Green and Co. might not have the opportunity to ask them to be ringers.
This wouldn't exactly be new ground for the WBC. Back in 2009, the Italian team made the tournament and filled its roster with guys like Francisco Cervelli(notes), Mark DiFelice(notes) and Frank Catalanotto(notes). The squad was able to knock Canada out of the tournament, but failed to advance to the second round when it lost to Venezuela.
One other big challenge in creating a roster is that not everyone is guaranteed to play for Israel. Youkilis and Braun were on the United States roster in 2009 and — with Kinsler — are likely to be extended invites again in two years. Just because they're Jewish doesn't mean they'll automatically be up for playing on this theoretical WBC team.