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July 25, 2003 - Image 16

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-07-25

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

TONE'S
~JE WELF=iY

SPORTS STARS THEN AND NOW - I
History recounts two Jewish sports heroes separated by 2,000 or more
years: Ben Hur, the charioteer of ancient Rome reputed to be a Hebrew,
and Daniel Mendoza, England's 1791 heavyweight champion hailed as the
father of modern boxing. No Jewish sports figures of their stature emerged
during the years before or between--although Hellenistic Jews had
participated and even prevailed in classic Greek events: discus throwing,
marathon races and as gladiators.
But modern times, especially in the U.S., called forth Jewish
athletes of reigning prowess. Henry "Hank" Greenberg, the Detroit
Tigers' all-star outfielder, only two home runs under Babe Ruth's season
record, was ranked with the game's best right-hand batters. Benny
Leonard, considered one of the greatest lightweights ever, has been
acclaimed as the all-time champion Jewish pugilist, with Barney Ross a
close second. Much can also be said about Sid Luckman of the 1939
Chicago Bears, the first pro quarterback to consistently run and win with
the dynamic new T-formation. And Englishman Harold Abrahams, the
first European to take an Olympic gold for the 100-meter dash, was also a
subject of the Academy Award winning Chariots of Fire. Others marked
the way as well:

SANDY KOUFAX
(1935-) b. Brooklyn, NY Were it not for a career-
ending arthritic elbow, he might have entered the
record books as the most dominant pitcher in
baseball history. Before his premature retirement
in 1966, the Dodger organization's left-hander
won an unprecedented three Cy Young awards
and tossed four no-hitters, one of which was a
perfect game. He netted more than 300 strikeouts
in each of three seasons, and fanned almost one batter for every inning
pitched in twelve years on the major league mound. During his best period,
from 1961 to 1966, Koufax's record stood at 129 wins and only 47 losses,
and his last year's salary was the highest then paid to a player: $135,000.
Koufax became the youngest elected member of the Baseball Hall
of Fame, and was famous for refusing to take the field during the High
Holy Days no matter how crucial the game. The legendary manager, Casey
Stengel, once said of him: "Forget Johnson, Wadelle and Matthewson, the
Jewish kid was the best." After leaving baseball, Koufax took on positions
as a TV sports commentator followed by electrical appliance sales--quitting
both soon after. The lure of baseball drew him back to the Los Angeles
Dodgers as a pitching coach in which role he served until 1990. Also a
member of the Israel's Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, Koufax has been
married to the daughter of actor Richard Widmark.

7/25

2003

16

MARK SPITZ
(1950-) b. Modesto, CA The most outstanding all-
around swimmer the world has ever known showed
little of his greatness when winning lesser prizes in
the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City: a silver in the
butterfly and bronze in the freestyle races--far
below his expectations and talent. The Hebrew
school student who once planned a career in
dentistry recalled, "When I was ten years old, I had
no idea where I was going when I starting swimming. It was more or less
like a social activity with my boyfriends and I had goals to be somebody like
Johnny Unitas [a superstar quarterback]. I was introduced to a program that
enabled me to see what swimming was really about when I went to the Santa
Clara Swim Club in 1964." A year later Spitz set four new records and won
four gold medals at Israel's Maccabiah G@mes.
While discouraged by his first Olympic showing (he had just broken
five American and seven world records in the butterfly and freestyle) his
return to the 1972 games in Munich was electrifying. The fiercely com-
petitive Spitz brought home an unsurpassed seven gold medals, set world
records in all four of his individual events, and earned his third World
Swimmer of the Year title. He left aquatics that year to become a sports
commentator; an Olympic trial comeback attempt in 1992 failed for reasons
he described as "old age."
- Saul Stadtmauer
Visit many more notable Jews at our website: www.dorledor.org
COMMISSION FOR THE DISSEMINATION OF JEWISH HISTORY
Walter & Lea Field, Founders/Sponsors
Irwin S. Field, Chairperson
Harriet F. Siden, Chairperson












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