Home Run for the Peace Process
Baseball Comes to Israel
Pierre Tristam/Candide’s Notebooks, February 28, 2007
Now this, I like: an Israeli professional baseball league. No joke. Six teams, among which the Tel Aviv Lightning and the Bet Shemesh Blue Sox, are going to share three stadiums, and so far possibly share three managers—the only three who’ve signed on, all three of them former mid-level stars in the original Major League Baseball version: Ken Holtzman, Art Shamsky, and Ron Blomberg. Holtzman, the Jerusalem Post tells us, “spent 15 seasons playing for the Cubs, Athletics, Orioles and Yankees, compiling a lifetime 174-150 record and 3.49 ERA to become the winningest Jewish pitcher in major league history. Aside from throwing two no-hitters during his run with the Cubs, Holtzman’s greatest years came in 1972-1974 when he won at least 19 games each season and played a key role in Oakland ’s three consecutive World Series championships.” It all seems so pre-ordained. To quote from the IBL’s web site, “ While baseball is generally considered a ‘modern’ sport, there are references in the Bible that could lead one to deduce that, in fact, baseball dates back thousands of years.” There is, for instance, what Abner said to Joab (Samuel II, 2:14), “Let the young men…arise and play before us,” or that give-away in Kings I, 7:39, “..and he set the bases…,” not to mention Genesis 24:45, a clear (if mistaken) reference to Tommy Lasorda making it up to the mound (between two visits) at the whorehouse: “Behold, Rebecca came forth with her pitcher…” (the whole story is actually wonderful here).
The league throws its first pitch on June 24. No word yet where it’s holding spring training. My suspicion now is that part of the reason for the Lebanon war last July was to secure at least one or two venues in South Lebanon for the occasion, kind of like Arizona ’s Cactus League in spring training. Somehow Hezbollah didn’t go along with the concept of a Katyusha League, though it has an authentic ring to it. The Israeli baseball league is to have players from every background and nationality, although I suspect their first Arab to take the field should have something of a Jackie Robinson aura about him. You don’t have to be Jewish to play, or Jewish to argue with the umps, though it helps if winning the argument is what you’re counting on.
But in all fairness it would have been only just to replicate the American system. We have the American and National leagues here. It would have been ideal to have the Israeli and Arab leagues there (the latter not to be confused with the Arab League, the useless one that chatters and blabbers and accomplishes in a year less than The View accomplishes in one sitting), the two never to play except for a few interleague games during the slow summer months (when the Israeli army is too damn hot to uproot trees and destroy Arab homes or murder the occasional Arab child, by mistake naturally) and, of course, the fall classic, a World Series for the Holy Land. Imagine that: The Ramallah Insurgents and Gaza Bombers battling for the Arab League pennant to face Tel Aviv or the Petach Tikva Pioneers, so long as some freaky bat-boy doesn’t replace balls with grenades and umpires in all their glorious gear aren’t the perfect cover for suicide bombers. Also, maybe the designated hitter could be called something less inflammatory. And stolen bases might have to be rephrased, if memories of 1948 and 1967 and the rest of those days aren’t to rub the wrong way. Other than that, play ball! No such thing as a Subway Series in Israel, but hey: it could be called the Wall Series, or the Fallout Classic. Really, after a half century of endless wars and fruitless wrangling over the goddamn “peace process,” what else is left but to give baseball a try? “West Bank Story” shouldn’t have all the fun.