|Wednesday, September 5
Updated: July 17, 3:28 PM ET
Green to sit out on Yom Kippur
By Alan Schwarz
Special to ESPN.com
DENVER -- With a decision that could make him his generation's Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax, Shawn Green, the star right fielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, said Tuesday night that he will sit out his team's Sept. 26 game against San Francisco in observance of Yom Kippur.
"It's something I feel is an important thing to do," Green said, "partly as a representative of the Jewish community, and as far as my being a role model in sports for Jewish kids, to basically say that baseball, or anything, isn't bigger than your religion and your roots."
Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, lasts from sundown on the 26th until sundown on the 27th. The Dodgers do not play on the 27th but face the Giants at 7:10 p.m. in Los Angeles on the 26th.
"I totally support (the decision), as I think anyone would," Dodgers manager Jim Tracy said. "This is about family and religion and I'm not one to stand in the way of that." The Dodgers' cleanup hitter and best all-around player, Green is hitting .294 with 42 home runs and 109 RBI.
Green's decision comes 36 years after Koufax, then a star pitcher for the Dodgers, chose not to pitch the opening game of the 1965 World Series in observance of Yom Kippur. Greenberg, raised Orthodox in the Bronx and later a slugger for the Detroit Tigers, sat out Yom Kippur after Detroit had all but clinched the 1934 American League pennant. Those two players' placement of faith before baseball helped make them heroes to generations of Jews.
Green said that he would not have played the past several years on Yom Kippur, either, but the holiday always fell after the season had ended. He acknowledged that sitting out what could be a pivotal game the last week of the season against his team's arch rival -- the Giants are in second place in the NL West, 1½ games ahead of Los Angeles -- could bring some negative public reaction, particularly considering he makes a $12,166,667 salary this season, or slightly more than $75,000 for each of the Dodgers' 162 games.
"I wouldn't say I'm concerned about it. It's just something that people are going to have to understand," Green said. Should a Los Angeles loss wind up costing his team a chance at the postseason, he added, "I guess I'll have to look back at the couple of games that I didn't get hits and be upset about those."
In an interesting twist, assuming Green doesn't get injured before Sept. 26, his streak of playing what is currently 401 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the major leagues, will end voluntarily.
Green said he has not yet decided whether to attend Yom Kippur services, in part because of the attention his presence would draw. (Greenberg, for example, was met by his congregation with a mid-prayer standing ovation.) Green claims not to be particularly religious -- he rarely went to services while growing up in Tustin, Calif., outside Los Angeles, though he didn't go to school on Yom Kippur. He was not Bar Mitzvahed.
While blossoming as a young star with the Blue Jays in the mid-1990s, Green's success became a source of pride among Jews nationwide, with Jewish organizations in many visiting cities inviting him to speak at various functions. (Complete strangers also sent him several marriage proposals and countless Bar Mitzvah invitations.) He described his appreciation for his Jewish heritage as a "slow awakening," and after the 1999 season he encouraged his trade to Los Angeles in part because of its large Jewish population.
While Green considered his decision personal, he has come to embrace what his actions could mean to the Jewish community. He is by far the most prominent of the approximately half-dozen Jewish players currently in Major League Baseball.
"I'm not really into making statements. That's not the purpose," Green said. "I just feel it's the right thing to do. I just feel that the position I'm in, it's important to set a good example."
Alan Schwarz is the Senior Writer for Baseball America and writes a weekly column for ESPN.com.