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Where have you gone, Sandy Koufax?

The Jewish-athlete-obsession business is red hot

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After two weeks of back and forth, Gulkis finally says, "At this point, he doesn't have much of an interest. What with the season happening and everything...."

When Freedman at the Hall of Fame is told about Fiedler's lack of interest, he quickly reminds me that Miami's third-string quarterback Sage Rosenfels, a 6'4" blue-eyed buck from Iowa, is a fellow son of Abraham. "We lead the league in Jewish QBs," a Dolphins fan wrote in the finheaven.com chat room.

Gulkis sounds tired when phoned two weeks after the Fielder rejection for an interview with Rosenfels. "He's not Jewish," Gulkis sighs. "His father is Jewish. [(P)] He acknowledges that he's half-Jewish, but he's raising his children..." Gulkis pauses. It sounds like he might have begun uttering a word that begins with "C" which would make sense since Rosenfels' wife's first name is Maria, but then Gulkis seems to remember his public relations training --saying less is always better than saying too much -- and regathers himself, continuing without elaboration. "He's not raising his family Jewish."

Is this enough to disqualify the bench-warmer Sage -- who has thrown nine passes and rushed for negative 10 yards in his entire NFL career -- as a symbol for a people he doesn't even to want to be a part of? Not likely. The Jewish Sports Hall of Fame inducted him in absentia in 2002.

Some Jewish athletes will never even know they've been drafted as eternal symbols into the Jewish sports canon. Bostonite Martin Abramowitz earned some column inches in the Boston Globe and other papers for his set of Jewish Major Leaguers baseball cards, which purports to be as complete a compiling as possible of every Jew ever to play big league ball. Working from his kitchen table, Abramowitz secured funding from the American Jewish Historical Society, arranged photo rights with the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Players Association, and convinced the venerable card company Fleer to print 15,000-sets of the 142-card collection at cost.

Forty of these players, most from the early 20th century, most dead, never before appeared on a baseball card, among them Jesse "Tiny" Baker, whose major league career consisted of appearing at shortstop in one major league game in 1919 from which he was removed after being spiked by the legendary Ty Cobb. Baker's name at birth was Michael Myron Silverman.

Within a few days of the Globe article, the AJHS, which is offering the cards as a premium for those who donate at least $100, had received orders for 1000 sets. Within a month, the JML sets were being sold on eBay next to such items as a Koufax-autographed limited edition oil painting listed for $1,200, and a muddy postcard photo of boxer Sammy Dorfman, who went undefeated in 1925 and 1926, going for forty bucks.

The Panthers connection
This current wave isn't the first go-around for the Jews-in-sports thing. In 1965, The Encyclopedia of Jews in Sports was published, and in 1983, perhaps as a direct answer to the Airplane "light reading" joke of three years earlier, Robert Slater and Red Auerbach's 352-page tome Great Jews in Sports first appeared. An expanded and updated version hit shelves in November 2003.

But there's no longer a need to rely solely on arcane history books. Peruse the stunningly thorough jewsinsports.org -- which recently posted a feature on Sasha Cohen -- and there, listed alphabetically in the football section between Hall Steinberg, an all-Ivy-League fullback at Cornell in the late 1940s who later became a lawyer, and Robert Seigal, a player with the 11th-place Canton Bulldogs in 1925, is Mike Seidman, the current starting tight end for the Carolina Panthers. His bio informs readers that he was raised in Westlake Village, California, and that in 2003, Mike "was the highest Jewish Player selected in the NFL Draft."

The Panthers are happy to put their rookie on the phone. (Getting interviews with quarterbacks is hard. Tight ends not so much.) So how does it feel to be a Jewish sports hero? "If it makes people happy, then good for me, I guess," Seidman (M), 22, says. He is cheerful about the whole thing. Asked if he might marry a Jewish woman, even though he wasn't really raised in the faith, not being Bar Mitzvahed or keeping track of any holidays or anything, he replies, "My girlfriend is half-Arab. From Westlake. I didn't even think anything of it. People would tell me, "She's half-Arab. They don't like Jewish people.' I met her dad. He's cool."


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