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MLB New Jew Review: Kevin Pillar

The newest Jewish Major Leaguer, according to JewishBaseballNews.com, is Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar.

Selected in the 32nd round of the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft, Pillar quickly rose through the Jays minor league system. He made his big league debut on Wednesday, August 14, after being called up from AAA Buffalo to replace the injured Colby Rasmus.

Kevin Pillar diving catch
Kevin Pillar makes a diving catch in his MLB debut. Photo courtesy of http://toronto.bluejays.mlb.com.
At the time of this posting, Pillar is hitless in seven at-bats over two games, but he's had a couple of big defensive plays, including a diving catch in his first put-out attempt, and a bullet of a throw home to rob the Red Sox of a run.

A child of a mixed marriage, Pillar tells JewishBaseballNews.com that he attended Catholic school and was bar mitzvahed.

Pillar also says he regrets not knowing about Team Israel's tryouts for the World Baseball Classic, as he would have liked to play for the team.

While Jewish baseball collectors may have missed the opportunity to see Pillar in the WBC, the Jays rookie has no shortage of baseball cards available for purchase.

These include 2012 and 2013 Topps, Bowman and Upper Deck issues.

Kevin Pillar 2012 Topps
Kevin Pillar 2012 Topps Pro Debut. Photo courtesy of JSC.

Beckett.com shows 74 different variations, including limited edition and 1-of-1 editions. Prices for Pillar's in the Beckett Marketplace range from $0.25 to $500 for a 2012 Bowman Prospects Orange Refractors limited edition card (#24 of 25).

A search of eBay shows 200+ listings for Pillar memorabilia, mostly cards.Prices range from under a $1 to more than $150, depending on the scacity and condition of the items.

Also available, at the time of this posting, is an autographed Pillar game-used bat, with a Buy It Now pirce of $119. As always, buyer beware.

Assuming Pillar sticks with the Jays, collectors can expect to see additional memorabilia become available, including scorecards, programs, signed baseballs, photos, etc. Look for updates on JSC.com.

In the meantime, Tweet collectors can follow Pillar on Twitter.

I cannot discuss Pillar's in-person signing habits, as I missed seeing the Buffalo Bison when they came through Columbus to play the Clippers in July.

I did, however, receive a reply to my recent through-the-mail request for Pillar's signature. In fact, the signed and inscribed card pictured here arrived in the mailbox that same day as Pillar's Major League debut, less than two weeks after I mailed it.

Have you met Pillar in person or had success in obtaining his autograph via mail? What other Kevin Pillar memorabilia exists? Let JewishSportsCollectibles.com readers know by commenting below.


Ryan Braun Public Signing

Topps Triple Threads Hebrew Hammer
Ryan Braun 2012 Topps Triple Threads Hebrew Hammer card. Photo courtesy of BlowOutCards.com.
Legends of the Field, a Wisconsin-based sports card shop and memorabilia dealer, is scheduled to host a public signing with Jewish Major Leaguer Ryan Braun on Saturday, June 8, 2013 from 11:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. in Mequon, WI.

The event is Braun's first public signing in five years, according to the company's web site (read about some of Braun's previous private signings here).

Collectors can purchase a variety of baseballs, bats, helmets, photos and artwork for signature. Jewish baseball collectors can also submit their own items to be autographed.

Collectors unable to attend the event in person can send in items to be signed, but memorabilia must be delivered to Legends of the Field by no later than Thursday, June 6.

Autographs on baseballs and flat items, less than 16"X20" cost $149.99. Signatures on premium items, including bats, helmets, jerseys, etc., cost $179.99. Inscriptions cost $79.99 each.

Additional information about the signing and items available for purchase is available on Legends of the Field's site, or by calling Legends of the Field at (262) 367-1300. 

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2013-topps-opening-day-baseball-cards-box
Topps 2013 Opening Day cards. Photo courtesy of Topps.com.

Braun is featured on the packaging for Topps' 2013 Opening Day card products, and Jewish baseball collectors have access to thousands of Braun cards. These include minor and major league cards of all form and fashions, with dozens of limited edition, autograph and memorabilia card varieties (Beckett.com shows 2,700+ different cards for Braun).

Among Braun's cards area 2012 Topps Triple Threads autographed memorabilia card bearing Braun's "Hebrew Hammer" nickname (pictured above).

There are thousands of other Braun cards and collectibles listed on eBay, and available for direct purchase in the Beckett.com MarketplaceAmazon.com, the MLB.com Shop and MLB Photo Store.

These include cards; bobble heads and figurines; photos; jerseys; bats; tickets associated with notable games; programs, yearbooks and other ephemera.

Jewish Baseball Players artwork
Jewish Baseball Players artwork. Photo courtesy of JewishBaseballPlayer.com.
Braun is also featured in the Jewish Baseball Players limited edition lithograph by sports artist Ron Lewis and promoter Greg Harris.

The Brewers star is also the subject of several Sports Illustrated covers, as detailed in this JewishSportsCollectibles.com posting. Collectors can purchase back issues of SI from Amazon.com or eBay, and can buy reprinted from SportsIllustrated.com.

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What Braun memorabilia should JewishSportsCollectibles.com readers know about? What Ryan Braun memorabilia do you have in your Jewish baseball collection?

Do you plan to attend or buy anything from the upcoming Braun signing?

Let JSC.com by commenting below.


Welcome Back, Danny Valencia

Danny Valencia
Danny Valencia. Photo courtesy of MLB.com, Orioles.com.
Danny Valencia has been called up from the minors by the Baltimore Orioles, according to JewishBaseballNews.com.

Valencia made his Major League debut in 2010 with the Minnesota Twins. He batted .311, swatted 7 HRs and 40 RBIs over 85 games, and garnered enough votes to finish third in the A.L. Rookie of the Year polling, according to JBallNews. After a significant sophomore slump in 2011, Valencia was sent to the minors by the Twins in 2011 and then traded to the Red Sox, for whom he appeared in just 10 games before being traded to the O's in the off-season.

Valencia had a strong showing with Baltimore in 2013 Spring Training, but started the season with the AAA Norfolk Tides. He performed well in the International League, batting .306 in 40 games with 11 HRs, 14 doubles and 35 RBIs before his call-up.  

Recalled on Sunday, May 19, the newest Jewish Major Leaguer whacked a double in his first at-bat of his first game with the O's.

Jewish baseball collectors have access to numerous of Valencia cards and memorabilia.

Valencia has more than 200 different cards, according to Beckett.com

This includes a wide variety of big league issues from Topps and Bowman. In addition to his standard cards, Valencia's pasteboard includes dozens of limited edition color variations, autographed and memorabilia cards, and serial numbered limited edition printings.

Danny Valencia 2012 Topps Danny Valencia 2011 Topps Triple Threads    Danny Valencia 2010 Topps Update RC  Danny Valencia 2011 Gypsy Queen

Among my favorites are Valencia's 2010 Topps Update Rookie card, 2011 Topps Gypsy Queen, 2011 Topps Triple Threads autographed memorabilia, and 2012 Topps cards, pictured above.

Danny Valencia New Britain Rock Cats
Danny Valencia New Britain Rock Cats card. Photo courtesy of eBay.
Valencia's minor league cards include team issues from the 2005 Glacier Pilots, 2006 Elizabethton Twins, 2007 Beloit Snappers, 2008 Fort Meyers Miracle, 2009 New Britain Rock Cats, 2010 Rochester Red Wings, as well as 2009 AA and 2010 AAA Top Prospects cards.

All of these cards are available on eBay, Amazon.com and in the Beckett.com Marketplace.

Minor league cards collectors can also look on MinorLeagueNetwork.comSTB Sports, and MinorLeagueSingles.com.

Prices vary widely, depending on the seller and the scarcity of the card you seek. 

Danny Valencia Signed Ball
Danny Valencia signed ball. Photo courtesy of eBay.

Among the Valencia memorabilia available on eBay and Amazon.com at the time of this posting were signed bats, baseballs, jerseys, batting gloves and mini helmets, along with a variety of autographed and unsigned photos. Prices range from $30-a few dollars to more than $250, depending on the item.

As always, buyers beware. 

Two photos featuring Valencia in his Twins uniform are available for purchase on the MLB.com Photo Store

Valencia Walkoff
Danny Valencia walk-off hit. Photo courtesy of MLB.com Photo Store. Photo by Hannah Foslien, Getty Images.
This includes an image of his teammates mobbing Valencia after an extra-innings game-winning hit. 

No Valencia memorabilia is available for sale in the MLB.com Shop, as of this posting.

In 2010, following his call up to the Majors during his rookie campaign for the Twins, I obtained a through-the-mail autograph from Valencia. I've subsequently mailed to him during Spring Training on two different occassions, without success. Has anyone else obtained Valencia's signature, either in person or through-the-mail.

What Valencia cards and memorabilia do you have in your Jewish baseball collection? Have you met him? Let JSC readers know by commenting below.


MLB New Jew Review: Nate Freiman

Nate Freiman Topps Debut
Nate Freiman Topps Debut. Photo courtesy of JSC.
Nate Freiman is the newest Jewish Major Leaguer to take to the diamond. 

The 6'8" first baseman made his big league debut April 3. The A's claimed Freiman from the Houston Astros, who placed Freiman on waivers late in Spring Training after he was acquired by the team from the San Diego Padres in December's Rule 5 Draft, according to JewishBaseballNews.com.

An all-star at every level in the minors, Freiman quickly adapted to the majors, crushing his first home run in just his 14th at-bat. The video of the 3-run shot is impressive to watch.

Nate Freiman 2012 Bowman
Nate Freiman 2012 Bowman. Photo courtesy of eBay.

Jewish baseball collectors have access to numerous cards and collectibles associated with the Team Israel and Oakland A's star.

Freiman's baseball cards include both minor and major league pasteboard.

His major league issues include 2010 Topps Pro Debut, 2011 Bowman Prospects, 2012 Bowman Prospects. 

While few in number, Freiman's cards include numerous variations, limited edition, autographed and one-of-a-kind issues (visit Beckett.com for a checklist).

Freiman's major league cards are available for purchase on eBay (also a good source for minor league sets and singles), Amazon.com and the Beckett Marketplace.

A former Duke star (he hold's the team's career record for home runs), Freiman's minor league cards include team issues from the 2009 Eugene Emeralds, 2010 Ft. Wayne TinCaps, 2011 Lake Elsnore Storm and 2012 San Antonio Missions.

Freiman is also featured on 2012 Texas League Top Prospects and 2010 Midwest League All-Star cards. 

Nate Freiman 2006 Delaware Cows
Nate Freiman 2006 Delaware Cows. Photo courtesy
of JSC.
Freiman is also the subject of a limited edition region issue baseball card issued by the 2006 Delaware Cows. The now-defunct team played in the Great Leagues Summer Collegiate League

Jay Sokol, a Columbus, Ohio insurance executive and baseball enthusiast, served as the Cows' general manager from 1997-2010. Sokol contacted JSC in October 2012, following the posting of the article about Nate Ebner, and was kind enough to share one of Freiman's Cows cards with me.

Sokol, who is Jewish, tells JewishSportsCollectibles.com that the Delaware Gazette (a local newspaper) produced only 150 Cows team sets, and that the cards "were strictly a giveaway and distributed at the [team's] last home game of the season."

I have never seen Freiman's Cows card listed on eBay. MinorLeagueNetwork.com, a site specializing in minor league card sales, lists several Delaware Cows team sets for sale, but does not include a price in the listing of the 2006 issue.

Possible sources for Freiman's minor league cards include STB Sports, a seller of minor league sets, and MinorLeague Singles.com, which sells minor league singles. As of this posting, neither seller offered the Cows card or set. Both, however, offer Freiman's affiliated minor league cards and sets.

Nate Freiman Team Israel Photo
Nate Freiman Team Israel autographed photo. Photo courtesy of eBay.

Collectors comfortable with making purchases on eBay can find a variety of Freiman signed balls and autographed photos on the auction giant.

These include images of Freiman playing for Team Israel in the 2012 World Baseball Classic qualifiers. Freiman batted .417 and hit four home runs playing for Israel, according to Wikipedia.

There are also several game-used and signed bats listed for sale on eBay, as of this posting. As always, buyer beware.

Nate Freiman signed ball
Nate Freiman signed ball. Photo courtesy of eBay.
No photos of Freiman are available in the MLB Photo store, and no A's memorabilia (other than customer-customized jerseys) can be found in the A's online store, as of this posting.

Likewise, no Freiman memorabilia is available on the official Duke online store or Duke athletics auction sites.

If the big righty continues to hit in the majors as he has in the past, these will be short lived trends.

Do you know of any other cards or collectibles? What Nate Freiman memorabilia do you have in your Jewish baseball collection? Let JewishSportsCollectibles.com readers know by commenting below.


Jackie and the Jews: Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg

Jackie Robinson 2013 Gypsey Queen
Jackie Robinson
Topps 2013
 Gypsy Queen.
Photo courtesy of JSC.com.

Throughout his career, Jackie Robinson played with and against numerous Jewish Major Leaguers in the late 1940s and 1950s.

Burt and Benita Boxerman's two-volume series Jews And Baseball, Larry Rutman's American Jews and America's Game: Voices of a Growing Legacy in BaseballHoward Megdal's The Baseball TalmudPeter Ephross and Martin Abramowitz's Jewish Major Leaguers in Their Own Words, and The Big Book of Jewish Baseball by Peter and Joachim Horvitz are all excellent resources for learning more about Jewish Major Leaguers on the era.

The most notable, however, of Robinson's Jewish opponents was Hank Greenberg.

Robinson faced Greenberg during Robinson's 1947 rookie season and Greenberg's last season as a player.

42 Pee Wee Reese
Pee Wee Reese puts an arm around Jackie Robinson in 42. Photo courtesy of IMDB.com.
A touching scene in 42 shows Dodger captain Pee Wee Reese placing an arm around Robinson on May 13, 1947 at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, comforting Robinson while fans hurled racial epitaphs. The tear-jerking scene is given the full Hollywood treatment, and is a high point of the movie. According to ESPN.com, however, it may not have happened as depicted in the film.

What happened on May 15, when Brooklyn played against Pittsburgh -- Greenberg's team -- that year is clear.

As described by Stephen Norword and Harold Brackman in their SABR award-winning research paper, "Going to Bat for Jackie Robinson: The Jewish Role in Breaking Baseball's Color Line."

"The most dramatic display of Jewish solidarity with Jackie Robinson came from Hank Greenberg. The legendary Detroit Tiger slugger who hit 58 home runs in 1938, then with the Pittsburgh Pirates in his last season, was the first opposing player to offer Robinson encouragement. Probably no major leaguer before Robinson had been more abused by opposing players and fans than Greenberg, who was continually taunted for being Jewish.

"On May 15, 1947, in a game between the Pirates and the Dodgers, Robinson laid down a perfect bunt and streaked down the line to first. The pitcher’s throw pulled first baseman Greenberg off the bag. Reaching for the throw, he collided with Robinson, who was able to get up and reach second. The next inning Greenberg walked, and asked Robinson, who was playing first base, if he had been hurt in the collision. Assured by Robinson that he hadn’t been, Greenberg said to him, 'Don’t pay any attention to these guys who are trying to make it hard for you. Stick in there ... . I hope you and I can get together for a talk. There are a few things I’ve learned down through the years that might help you and make it easier.'"

Despite wide coverage of the episode at the time it took place -- Robinson old the New York Times, “Class tells. It sticks out all over Mr. Greenberg.” -- the conversation between Robinson and Greenberg is given scant attention by Robinson's biographers.

Hank Greenberg: The Story of My Life.
Hank Greenberg: The Story of My Life. Photo courtesy of Amazon.com.
Both Robinson and Greenberg, however, mention it in their autobiographies; Robinson in Jackie Robinson: My Own Story (co-written by African-American sportswriter Wendell Smith, who chronicled Robinson's rookie season for the Pittsburgh Courier), and Greenberg in Hank Greenberg: The Story of My Life (co-authored by Ira Bekow).

Recalls Greenberg:

"Here were our guys, a bunch of ignorant, stupid Southerners who couldn't speak properly ... and all they could do was make jokes about Jackie. The couldn't recognize that they had a special person in front of them. ... I identified with Jackie Robinson. I had feelings for him because they had treated me the same way. Not as bad, but they made remarks about my being a sheenie and a Jew all the time."

Hank Greenberg Hero of Heroes
Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes. Photo courtesy of Amazon.com.
John Rosengren's new biography of Greenberg, Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes, also recounts the episode (drawing on The Story of My Life as a source).

"The moment held lasting significance for Robinson," writes Rosengren. "It also burnished Hank's reputation as a hero for the way he conducted himself."

The books Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn't Want to Be One, Hammerin' Hank Greenberg, Two Pioneers: How Hank Greenberg and Jackie Robinson Transformed Baseball - and America and When Jackie and Hank Met also touch, to varying extents, on Greenberg and Robinson's interaction.

Life And Times of Hank Greenberg DVD.
The Life And Times of Hank Greenberg. Photo courtesy of Amazon.com.
Aviva Kempner's documentary, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, the more recent Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story and the YouTube documentary, Jewish Activism in Baseball Part 5: Life Long Friendship, one of a series of short documentary vignettes on the topic of Jews in baseball, also detail the encounter.

"My Dad said, many times, that he didn't know what having it bad was until he saw what Jackie Robinson went through in 1947," recounts Steve Greenberg, Hank's son, in Life and Times. 

Two baseball cards also commemorate Robinson and Greenberg's infamous interaction.

2002 Fleer Hank Greenberg Jackie Robinson card.
2002 Fleer Hank Greenberg Jackie Robinson card. Photo courtesy of FindFreeGraphics.com.
These include a 2002 Fleer "Rival Factions" card and a 2008 Jewish Major Leaguers issue.

The Fleer card includes standard and limited edition variations.

The later include cards featuring swatches of Robinson's game used pants, slices of Greenberg's bats, or both.

Beckett.com offers a checklist of the various issues.

As of the time of this posting, no Beckett Marketplace seller is offering the card. Prices, when collectors can find the Fleer cards on eBay or Amazon, range from $10-$100 or more, depending on the scarcity of the particular issue.

While potentitally difficult and costly to obtain, the Robinson pants/Greenberg bat variation (which saw a limited production of just 50 cards) would represent a jewel in the crown of any Jewish baseball card collector, in my opinion.

The only problem with the card is that it depicts Greenberg in his Detroit Tigers uniform. Greenberg, of course, played for the Pirates when he faced Robinson, and for the Tigers for years prior to Robinson's major league debut. As such, Greenberg as a Tiger was never a "rival" of Robinson's.

Even with this historical inaccuracy, I think the card is a terrific addition to any Jewish baseball collection.

Jewish Major Leaguers Hank Greenberg Jackie Robinson card
Hank Greenberg Jackie Robinson JML card. Photo courtesy of JSC.
The Jewish Major Leaguers card is much more accessible to buyers who don't have deep pockets.

Card #50 in the 2008 "Hank Greenberg 75th Anniversary Edition of the JML series, titled "An Encounter," can be found on Amazon for $4.

At the time of this posting, no Beckett Marketplace or eBay sellers were offering the 2008 JML card.

Collectors interested in purchasing the card, however, can follow this link to search for it on eBay and this link to search Beckett.

Do JewishSportsCollectibles.com readers know of other Hank Greenberg and Jackie Robinson memorabilia? Let JSC know by commenting below.

We'll look at the ties between, and collectibles associated with, Robinson and his Brooklyn Dodgers teammate Sandy Koufax in the next posting in this series. Stay tuned.

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