Astros’ Jewish Stars Are Garrett Stubbs and Alex Bregman

Astros’ Jewish Stars Are Garrett Stubbs and Alex Bregman

The Braves have Pederson and Fried. Now meet the Jewish baseball stars of the Houston Astros.

A consummate teammate and professional, Garrett Stubbs was called on to serve as a defensive replacement in the final inning of Game 6 — a historic moment for the Jewish sporting community.
A consummate teammate and professional, Garrett Stubbs was called on to serve as a defensive replacement in the final inning of Game 6 — a historic moment for the Jewish sporting community.

Garrett Stubbs couldn’t help but chuckle.

It was the late afternoon of Oct. 30 — mere hours before Game 4 of the World Series — and the Houston Astros’ third-string catcher had just been called into manager Dusty Baker’s office. Stubbs knew why he was meeting with his veteran skipper: since the morning, rumors had been floating around that he was getting promoted from the team’s taxi squad while catcher Jason Castro was reportedly headed to MLB’s joint COVID-19 protocols list. Stubbs was expecting to be summoned, but he was caught off guard when Baker told him he was batting cleanup. Cleanup? With a lineup featuring the likes of Yordan Alvarez, Carlos Correa, and Alex Bregman? Whether Baker was trying to lighten the mood or just give his young catcher a hard time, Stubbs, a .176 hitter in 18 games this season, couldn’t take him very seriously.

Speaking on the phone from his off-season home in Arizona, Stubbs recalls the conversation went as follows:

“He [Baker] said, ‘What’s so funny?’ And I just said, ‘Well, I’ve got to assume I’m probably not batting fourth tonight.’ And he said, ‘Well, you’re not batting fourth, but you’re on the World Series roster for the game tonight so be ready to get in there for any situation.’”

For the Jewish community, this turned into quite the unique situation. In what was already only the second World Series ever to feature three Jewish players on the active rosters (the other being the 1959 Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox), Stubbs’s ascension to Houston’s game day roster gave us the first-ever four-Jew Fall Classic.

“When I was activated, my mom actually after the game [Game 4] said, ‘You just made it the most Jewish World Series of all time, being on the roster,’” says Stubbs, hours before he was recently traded by Houston to the Philadelphia Phillies.

While Stubbs’ reputation is that of a defensive-first catcher who flashes above-average speed for his position, the three other Jewish participants in the 2021 Series — Atlanta’s Max Fried and Joc Pederson and Houston’s Alex Bregman — are prominent players. Bregman, in particular, is one of the game’s bright young stars, and finished runner-up for AL MVP in 2019, before injuries derailed his production over the past couple years. Houston’s starting third baseman may very well be the most recognizable Jewish athlete around.

When he has enjoyed stints on Houston’s big-league roster over the past few seasons, Stubbs, at least to some extent, has bonded with his All-Star teammate over their shared background.

“We have brought it up before, not something that we talk about on a daily basis,” says Stubbs. “But we have talked about the fact that we are both Jewish players playing on the same team.”

Bregman had a very quiet World Series, going 2-21, with virtually his lone highlight being an RBI double in the second inning of Game 5. (While it wasn’t a highlight per se, in the bottom of the second inning of Game Six, Bregman was involved in an all-Jewish play when he popped a pitch off Fried into right field, where Pederson made the catch.)

While Bregman started at the hot corner every game, Stubbs had to wait until the very end of the six-game series before seeing the field. It wasn’t until the ninth inning of Game 6, just after starting catcher Martin Maldonado was pinch-hit for, that Stubbs was inserted as a defensive replacement, his team down 7-0 and needing a miracle to force a Game 7.

While he had an uneventful World Series, Alex Bregman is poised to become a perennial All-Star and one of the all-time great Jewish ballplayers.

“That [defensive replacement] was kind of my role throughout the year a lot of the times, usually in closer games,” acknowledges Stubbs who, admittedly did not grow up idolizing any Jewish ballplayers but, coincidentally, has used the bat model sported by former All-Star Shawn Green.

“I was down in the tunnel, getting ready, getting stretched out and trying to prepare for that moment, knowing that I was about to get my first-ever World Series appearance,” he said. “I tried to take in every moment that I could, while knowing that my first priority is getting those three outs.”

The Astros’ battery of Stubbs and Yimi Garcia did retire the side in order, but, of course, Atlanta closer Will Smith slammed the door shut on Houston in the final frame to preserve the club’s 7-0 lead for the title-clinching win.

From a professional standpoint, the final outcome was a letdown. Yet, from a personal standpoint, making a cameo appearance in the World Series in front of his family (they attended the entire World Series) was a blessing, especially after being isolated from everyone for several months last year during the truncated pandemic season.

“During 2020, it was really hard. I didn’t get to see any of them for four months,” says Stubbs. “Basically, I left for summer camp and from then on, between summer camp, the two months of season, and then the one month of playoffs, I didn’t get to share any of those experiences with any family or friends.

“For me, my whole baseball career is about the people that I spend it with. As I was walking off the field, the score was lopsided, so I wasn’t about to point into the stands, but I knew where my family was sitting and I did get to look up at them.

“You work your whole life to get to the big leagues and then to be able to have an experience in the World Series is something that I will hold on to forever. I will always remember being able to share that with my family.”

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