Top 10 Jewish MLB players of all time
In honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, we celebrate the greatest Jewish baseball players in MLB history.
In 1965, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax was on top of the world. He had just led the National League in ERA for a fourth straight season, was about to win the Cy Young Award for the second time in his career, and was playing for the Dodgers in the World Series.
Koufax, however, did not start Game 1 of the World Series against the Minnesota Twins because it fell on the same night as Yom Kippur.
So, while Koufax was at a local synagogue in Minneapolis, the Dodgers’ No. 2 pitcher, Don Drysdale took the mound. Although he was a Hall of Famer in his own right, Drysdale gave up seven runs in less than three innings. As he was being pulled from the game, he whimsically told Dodgers manager Walter Alston that “I bet right now you wish I was Jewish too.”
In honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, we are ranking the top 10 greatest Jewish baseball players in MLB history. Expect to see Koufax among the mix of historic greats and more recent stars on our list.
How many Jewish MLB Players are there?
Current Jewish MLB Players
Several of the 17 active Jewish baseball players have played in recent All-Star Games, including Atlanta Braves pitcher Max Fried, Giants outfielder Joc Pederson, and Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman.
Many active Jewish MLB players also played for Team Israel at the 2023 World Baseball Classic, including Pederson, Orioles pitcher Dean Kramer, and Rockies pitcher Jake Bird.
Ranking the 10 Best Jewish MLB players of all time
- Max Fried
Position: Starting pitcher
Years Active: 2017 to present
Team: Atlanta Braves
Awards: World Series Championship (2021), All-Star Game (2022), All-MLB First Team (2020), Gold Glove Award (2020, 2021, 2022), Silver Slugger Award (2021)
Career bWAR: 17.7
Fried, a Los Angeles native, starred at high-school baseball factory Harvard Westlake alongside future MLB All-Stars Jack Flaherty and Lucas Giolito. Originally a first-round pick by the San Diego Padres, Fried was dealt to the Braves in 2014 as part of the Justin Upton trade and hasn’t looked back since.
In the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Fried finished fifth in NL Cy Young Award voting. He went on to post a combined 10.1 bWAR (Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement) over the following two seasons.
A true five-pitch pitcher, Fried is only 29 and should be a consistent All-Star for years to come. Check back on this list in a few years and you will likely find him ranked higher.
- Shawn Green
Positions: Outfield, First base
Years Active: 1993 to 2007
Teams: Toronto Blue Jays, Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Mets
Awards: All-Star Game (1999, 2002), Gold Glove Award (1999), Silver Slugger Award (1999), 4-Home-Run Game (2002)
Career bWAR: 34.7
Upon retiring in 2008, Green ranked second all-time among Jewish MLB players in home runs and RBIs, trailing Hank Greenberg in both categories (more on Greenberg later). Playing 15 seasons and notching 2,003 hits and 328 HRs, the former Dodger cracked the elusive 6 WAR single-season barrier three times (1999, 2001, 2002).
The 2001 and 2002 seasons marked the best stretch of Green’s career. Starring for the Dodgers, he finished fifth and sixth in back-to-back NL MVP voting and slugged 49 and 42 home runs, respectively. Green etched his name in baseball lore by homering FOUR times in a single game on May 23, 2002, becoming only the 14th man at the time to accomplish the feat.
On Sept. 26, 2001, Green broke his 415 consecutive-games streak to observe Yom Kippur, explaining: “I felt like it was the right thing to do… I didn’t do this to gain approval. I thought it was the right example to set for Jewish kids, a lot of whom don’t like to go to synagogue.”
- Moe Berg
Years Active: 1923 to 1939
Teams: Brooklyn Robins, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Washington Senators, Boston Red Sox
Awards: World War II Medal of Freedom
Career bWAR: -4.6
With a career negative WAR, it might seem unclear why Berg is on this list. In 1934, he traveled to Japan with a group of MLB All-Stars that included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Jimmie Foxx, but he wasn’t there to play. Instead, the weak-hitting catcher was taking photos and videos on top of a Tokyo hospital for the American government, which anticipated a possible war against the Japanese.
The New York-born Berg was a Princeton undergrad who studied law at Columbia. He famously read 10 newspapers a day and spoke seven languages. Upon retirement, he worked as a spy for the U.S. government and was awarded the Medal of Freedom for his efforts during the Second World War.
- Kevin Youkilis
Positions: Third base, First base
Years Active: 2004 to 2013
Teams: Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees
Awards: All-Star Game (2008, 2009, 2011), World Series Championship (2007), Gold Glove Award (2007), AL Hank Aaron Award (2008)
Career bWAR: 32.4
Born in Cincinnati to Jewish parents (his mother had converted), Youkilis broke through with the Red Sox during their famed “curse-breaking” 2004 season but did not appear in that year’s World Series against the Cardinals. He became the team’s starting third baseman by 2006 and never looked back with an.OPS of .893 over a six-year window from 2006 to 2011.
Youkilis won a World Series with the Sox in 2007 and followed that up by finishing third in the 2008 AL MVP voting. He moved from the Red Sox to the White Sox at the 2012 trade deadline, and after the brief stint with Chicago, he suffered an injury-riddled 2013 season with the Yankees before playing in Japan and subsequently retiring.
- Ian Kinsler
Position: Second base
Years Active: 2006 to 2019
Teams: Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels, Boston Red Sox, San Diego Padres
Awards: All-Star Game (2008, 2010, 2012, 2014), World Series Championship (2018), Gold Glove Award (2016, 2018)
Career bWAR: 54.1
The slick-fielding Kinsler grew up in Arizona with a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. A stalwart on the Ron Washington-led Rangers teams of the late 2000s and early 2010s, Kinsler racked up 1,999 hits and 257 home runs over the course of his career.
Kinsler impressively averaged nearly 5 bWAR per season from 2007 to 2016 while with the Rangers and Tigers. He won only two Gold Glove Awards, but had he played in an era with analytics slightly more advanced in the fielding area, he likely would have won more.
Kinsler played for Team USA at the 2017 World Baseball Classic and later managed Team Israel at the 2023 edition. In a tough group featuring Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, Israel was eliminated in the first round, beating only Nicaragua.
- Al Rosen
Position: Third base
Years Active: 1947 to 1956
Team: Cleveland Indians
Awards: All-Star Game (1952, 1953, 1954, 1955), AL MVP (1953), AL Home Run Leader (1950, 1953), World Series Championship (1948)
Career bWAR: 32.3
The late Rosen was born in South Carolina to Jewish parents and played in an era when few Jews were in the major leagues, thus making the third basemen a target of antisemitism from both crowds and opposing teams.
Ed Sullivan of TV fame once wrote this about Rosen: “Of Jewish parentage, he is Catholic. At the plate, you’ll notice he makes the sign of the cross with his bat.” An upset Rosen made sure to highlight he was actually drawing an “x.”
Rosen’s 1953 season was one of the greatest in the history of MLB. He finished with a 10.1 bWAR after slugging 43 home runs and 145 RBIs to go along with an astounding 1.034 OPS. Unfortunately, chronic leg injuries forced him to retire after the 1956 season when he was only 32.
- Alex Bregman
Position: Third baseman
Years Active: 2016 to present
Teams: Houston Astros
Awards: All-Star Game (2018, 2019), World Series Championship (2017, 2022), Silver Slugger Award (2019)
Career bWAR: 31.2
The highest-ranked active Jewish player on this list, Bregman grew up in New Mexico as a highly-touted prospect, becoming the first player to win the USA Baseball Player of the Year Award while in high school. Bregman starred at LSU and was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 MLB draft by the Houston Astros. Originally a shortstop, he shifted to third base in the minor leagues.
Bregman finished second in the 2019 AL MVP voting, leading the league with 119 walks while smashing 41 HRs with an OPS of 1.015. He's already won two World Series championships with the Astros, although he might have participated in the infamous trash can-banging (and potentially hidden buzzers) scandal during the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
Bregman’s ranking on this list is a reflection of where he’s likely to finish his career given his current pace.
- Ryan Braun
Position: Outfield, Third base
Years Active: 2007 to 2020
Team: Milwaukee Brewers
Awards: All-Star Game (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015), NL MVP (2011), NL Rookie of the Year (2007), Silver Slugger Award (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012)
Career bWAR: 47.1
A one-team man, Braun was born in Mission Hills, Calif., to an Israeli father and Catholic mother. He exploded onto the scene as rookie third baseman in 2007 for the Milwaukee Brewers, producing a 1.004 OPS and 34 homers in just 113 games. That same fall, he was invited by then President George W. Bush to the White House Hanukkah dinner.
In 2011, Braun posted a monster 7.7 bWar campaign and joined the 30-30 club (30 HRs, 30 SBs) for the first time in his career. He followed that up in 2012 by joining the 40-30 club.
In 2011, a confidential positive test for performance-enhancing drugs became public, although Braun would appeal the test result and adamantly deny any use of PEDs. While he was originally absolved, the case resurfaced in 2013 and he was suspended 65 games without pay for his involvement in the Biogenesis Scandal.
- Hank Greenberg
Position: First base
Years Active: 1930, 1933 to 1941, and 1945 to 1947 (career interrupted by World War II)
Teams: Detroit Tigers, Pittsburgh Pirates
Awards: All-Star Game (1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1945), World Series Championship (1935, 1945), AL MVP (1935, 1940), AL Home Run Leader (1935, 1938, 1940, 1946), Baseball Hall of Fame (1956)
Career bWAR: 55.4
Born in New York City, “Hammerin’ Hank” Greenberg famously turned down the New York Yankees as a teenager. He debuted as a Detroit Tiger a few years later and cemented himself as one of the premier sluggers of the 1930s, breaking through and winning the AL MVP Award and World Series championship in 1935.
In 1938, Greenberg famously challenged Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record. He had hit 58 homers heading into a dramatic final day of the season where he couldn’t quite get to the target of 60.
His career was interrupted by World War II, as he became the first AL player to sign up for the nation’s pre-war peacetime draft. He served in the Air Force from 1942 to 1945 before briefly returning to baseball.
- Sandy Koufax
Position: Starting pitcher
Years Active: 1955 to 1966
Team: Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers
Awards: All-Star Game (1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966), World Series Championship (1955, 1959, 1963, 1965), NL MVP (1963), Cy Young Award (1963, 1965, 1966), Baseball Hall of Fame (1972)
Career bWAR: 53.1
Famously from Brooklyn, N.Y., Koufax grew up focusing on basketball and attended the University of Cincinnati, where he managed to walk on to the freshman hoops team before joining the baseball program.
Famously erratic in his early years with the Dodgers, Koufax turned the corner by 1961, when he was 25, and proceeded to reel off an astonishing five straight NL ERA titles from 1962 to 1966 -- averaging over 8 bWAR per season. He was buoyed by a devastating fastball and curveball combination.
Chronic arm injuries forced Koufax to cut his Hall of Fame career short after the 1966 season when he was just 30. “I’ve got a lot of years to live after baseball and I would like to live them with the complete use of my body,” he said in his retirement speech.
Koufax was an easy No. 1 choice for this list. Current Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw cites the former L.A. ace as a major influence on his career.Parameters of Rankings
These rankings are primarily based on a combination of each player’s career achievements/WAR totals and the impact he had in inspiring other Jewish baseball players.
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