Left-handed world champion will receive award from Mishkan Tefila on Jan. 22
By Susie Davidson
Special to The Advocate
Breslow, 33 (a year older than his Red Sox number, 32, which the same as that of his idol, Sandy Koufax), is the team’s primary setup pitcher. For those not versed in the game, a setup pitcher – often called the “setup man” – pitches after the starting pitcher and before the closing pitcher, sometimes just for the eighth inning.
His path to the mound came by way of an academic trajectory that included a 2002 double-major bachelor’s degree from Yale University in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, and acceptance to the NYU School of Medicine, with a projected specialization in orthopedic surgery or sports medicine.
But his Major League Baseball (MLB) career had also been developing. In 2002, Breslow was named a College Baseball First Team All-American by the Los Angeles-based Jewish Sports Review, along with Sam Fuld and Adam Greenberg, who both became major leaguers. Breslow pitched for the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Middletown Giants (he was inducted into the NECBL’s Hall of Fame in November) and was captain of his Yale Bulldogs team in college, with his senior year 2.56 ERA tops in the Ivy League. He was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers during his year of graduation.
In 2008, he signed with the Cleveland Indians, in 2008-09 with the Minnesota Twins, then moved on to the Oakland A’s from 2009-11 and Arizona Diamondbacks in 2012, before being traded back to the Red Sox on the last day of July of that year. He remains with the local team.
One would imagine that medical school would be easier than that, but it’s indefinitely deferred at this point. However, Breslow is still regarded for his cerebral acumen. He was dubbed the “smartest man in baseball” by The Minneapolis Star Tribune’s LaVelle E. Neal III, as well as The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Turbow, who added, “if not the entire world.” In 2010, he was also named the smartest athlete on The Sporting News’ Top 20 list.
“I did have a traditional reform Jewish upbringing,” he told The Jewish Advocate. “I attended Hebrew School and received a bar mitzvah.” According to recent articles in Moment Magazine, The Connecticut Jewish Ledger and San Francisco’s JWeekly, Breslow’s family attended Congregation B’nai Israel in Bridgeport, Conn., where he was bar mitzvahed in 1993. Moment also reported that he has fasted while pitching on Yom Kippur, and quoted Breslow in a 2011 interview as saying, “Being Jewish is more difficult in baseball ... but I try to do what I can in terms of paying attention to holidays.”
The Advocate asked Breslow more about that influence. Does he identify with Judaism culturally or religiously? “I absolutely identify both religiously and culturally with Judaism,” he said. “I observe Jewish holidays in a personal and meaningful way, despite the difficulty this presents during the baseball season.” Are there any ways that Jewish values affect him, in the way that he lives his life and or in his baseball career? “I believe that the Jewish view of charity is something that has remained prevalent in my life through my founding of a nonprofit,” he said. “Additionally, I would say that my Jewish upbringing has shaped the man that I have become – I believe that morality, fairness and humility are prominent in Judaism.”
He also told Ruttman about the Hebrew high school that he attended once a week. “It was very interesting in that it offered a lot of the typical Jewish curriculum,” Breslow said. “I had the chance to take a class in Yiddish, and one on Jewish comedians. It was definitely schooling which went beyond learning to read Hebrew and about Torah.”
His performance on the mound last year wasn’t too shabby either, holding major league batters to a .217 batting average with runners in scoring position, and to just .204 with two outs and runners in scoring position. In 2009 and 2010, he was second in pitching appearances in the American League (77 and 75 games, respectively).
Does he have any Jewish mentors in baseball, or elsewhere, and why does he admire them? “Jews in baseball, unfortunately, are a rarity,” he told The Advocate. “Thus, nearly every Jewish baseball player can identify with others, and we are aware and respect the Jewish players who came before us.” He said that he had the chance to meet Koufax, “a player I have long admired not simply because of his religion, but because of the importance he placed on his heritage, and because he was such a dominant figure in this game.” Breslow told Ruttman that he has a pet bearded collie named Koufax, that he wore number 32 in the minor leagues (and whenever else he could), and that his most cherished piece of baseball memorabilia is an autographed picture of his idol.
“I felt there must be something special about Craig when I sought to interview him in 2007 – and talking to him then, he demonstrated the belief in himself which has carried him to fame and fortune,” said Ruttman. “Is that Jewish too? I suppose it is.”