Matt Carpenter, honorary Jew
On the grand scale of historic tribulations faced by the Jews, the 2013 MLB season probably doesn’t rank all that high, but it’s been a tough time nonetheless for those of us who enjoy seeing the occasional Chosen Person succeed on the baseball field. (I include myself on that list, even though I’m technically only half-Jewish, and my Presbyterian mother is the one who makes the challah that’s to die for.) It’s been one test after another: Ike Davis couldn’t hang onto his spot in the Mets’ lineup. Jason Marquis was lost to Tommy John surgery. Max Scherzer has a fantastic Jewish-sounding name to go with his fantastic 18-1 record, but alas, he’s a goy. And Ryan Braun….just feh.
So I think it’s time for us to appoint an honorary Jew, and I’d like to nominate Matt Carpenter for the job. Yes, the very first thing his Twitter profile tells us is that he’s a Christian, and I want to be clear that I completely respect that choice and understand that he’s probably not going to change his mind and get Bar Mitzvahed based on one blog post. Don’t worry, Matt—Judaism isn’t an evangelical faith and I’m not out to convert you. But I can’t help noticing that you’re the Jewish baseball icon we’ve been waiting for. Here’s a half-decalogue of reasons why:
1. Matt’s a mensch. What’s a mensch, you ask? A person of integrity and character, with a strong work ethic, a clear sense of right and wrong, and a deep sense of responsibility—and, usually, someone who doesn’t call attention to those aspects of him- or herself. That’s a perfect description of how Matt does his job. He cheerfully accepted a reassignment to second base, worked doggedly with Jose Oquendo to become an extremely solid fielder at his new position, and scooted back to third when Kolten Wong was called up from Memphis. As a leadoff hitter, he takes patient, scholarly at-bats, working counts and studying a pitcher’s offerings in addition to getting on base at a rate that puts him among the best in the league. He’s so reliably early to the park that Mike Matheny had to threaten him with a fine in order to keep him away and get him some rest during a recent mini-slump. And remember last week, when he came to bat in the 12th inning with a second chance to finish a natural cycle with a walk-off homer? He didn’t swing wildly for the fences—he took a six-pitch walk and came around to score the winning run a few minutes later. That’s the definition of mensch-hood, right there.
2. He looks the part. The dark features, the Milhouse-esque eyebrows, the thick brown hair that I feel confident would blossom into a Jewfro given the chance, even the rugged hands bare of batting gloves: it all fits. (Oh, you didn’t know he didn’t wear batting gloves? Sorry! You must have missed the eight million times the Cardinals’ broadcasters have mentioned it!) (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
3. He appreciates a good meal. By his own admission, he had to ditch a junk-food diet and shed some weight in order to evolve from college prospect to big-league threat, but he still tweets out requests for restaurant recommendations and appreciations of good grub. (I was disappointed when he asked for dining suggestions in New York City and didn’t take me up on my idea of forgoing the restaurants and just eating knishes from the street carts, but maybe next time.)
4. His childhood hero was another faux-Jew. That’s right: Matt’s idol was Lance Berkman, a Christian who has so often been confused for a Jew that a baseball writer once flew a thousand miles to write a feature on the supposedly Semitic slugger, only to discover his misconception when he got to the stadium.
5. I have the T-shirts all ready. You’d buy a “My MVP is a Jewish Carpenter” shirt, wouldn’t you? I’ll make you a good deal on it.
The Hebrew saying “Ad me’ah v’esrim shana” literally means “May you live to be 120″; figuratively, it’s a statement of appreciation and a hearty wish for long and healthy life. I’d like to amend that and apply it to Matt Carpenter, in the hope that he remains a Cardinal and a marvelous mensch till the bitter end…whether or not he actually decides to swap his baseball cap for a yarmulke.
P.S. Check out this great interview with Matt, and this profile from a few months back.
P.P.S. I meant what I said about respecting his Christian faith, but he’s already tweeting about retirees in Florida, so I think maybe I’m onto something here.