ryan Braun- SP - September 2011
Ryan Braun after hitting a game-winning home run in September this year. Photo by AP
Text size

On Wednesday Ryan Braun became the first Jewish ballplayer in 48 years to be named Most Valuable Player when he won the National League award. Braun, a 28-year-old outfielder, recently signed a contact extension with the Milwaukee Brewers through 2020 worth $105 million.

The last Jew to win the MVP was also 28 and named Braun at birth, except that at age 3 he received his mother's maiden name after his parents got divorced and became known as Sandy Koufax. Hank Greenberg won the honor playing for the Detroit Tigers in 1935 and 1940.

Unlike Koufax, who refused to start Game 1 against the Minnesota Twins in the 1965 World Series because it coincided with Yom Kippur, Braun apparently had no such qualms being in last month's decisive ALDS Game 5 against the Arizona Diamondbacks, which ended Yom Kippur Eve. Braun went 2-for-3 with a run in the Brewers' 3-2, 10-inning victory.

Then again, Braun - who has a Jewish father and a Catholic mother - said in a 2010 interview with USA Today that while he is proud to be Jewish, "I don't want to make it into something more than what it is."

He added, "I didn't have a bar mitzvah. I don't want to pretend that I did. I didn't celebrate the holidays."

Several players with Jewish backgrounds are on major league rosters. Among the most prominent are Texas Ranger Ian Kinsler, whose father lives in Tel Aviv, three-time All-Star Kevin Youkilis of the Boston Red Sox and Braun, whose father was born in Tel Aviv before emigrating to the United States.