(photo credit: Jay L. Abramoff)
While some critics may continue to question the potential of the Israel Baseball League, the country's first professional baseball league set to begin play June 24, they'll have a harder time now that three former major leaguers have signed on as managers. In an ongoing effort to add legitimacy to the league, commissioner Daniel Kurtzer, the former US ambassador to Israel, announced Ken Holtzman, Art Shamsky, and Ron Blomberg as the three newest skippers last week.
The league will be made up of 120 international players of all races, religions, and nationalities, but these three managers are regarded as some of the greatest Jewish major leaguers to play the game.
""I think they're going to bring not only their baseball experience, but also be great role models for both Israeli and American kids who want to play ball and be Jewish," Kurtzer told The Jerusalem Post.
Holtzman spent 15 seasons playing for the Cubs, Athletics, Orioles and Yankees, compiling a lifetime 174-150 record and 3.49 ERA to become the winningest Jewish pitcher in major league history.
Aside from throwing two no-hitters during his run with the Cubs, Holtzman's greatest years came in 1972-1974 when he won at least 19 games each season and played a key role in Oakland's three consecutive World Series championships.
"I'm 61 years old and I've never had a chance to get over there," said Holzman on his feelings toward Israel. "I'm quite anxious."
Shamsky, 65, spent eight seasons in the majors and was a member of the 1969 "Miracle Mets," but also played for the Cubs, Athletics and Reds, for whom he tied a major league record with four consecutive home runs.
Blomberg, 58, played seven major league seasons for the Yankees before ending his career with one last year with the White Sox. He was the No. 1 draft pick in 1967, but is most well-known as baseball's first designated hitter, which he compared to his latest signing with the IBL.
"I was the first designated hitter in Major League Baseball," said Blomberg. "Now I'm going to be the first manager in Israel. I like the first of things."
Aside from the new managers, league officials have been working diligently to sign all 120 players by the end of the final tryout in Los Angeles on April 15. One more tryout has been added on March 5, which will take place in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.
"The Dominican Republic and Israel have an unbelievable relationship," explained director of player personnel Martin Berger. "The Dominican was one of the very few countries to accept Jews back in the '30s and '40s."
The addition of Dominican players to the IBL is about much more than history, however, as Berger and other league officials expect it to bring the league to a much higher level.
"If these tryouts go the way we think they're going to go," said Berger, "this league will without question be the top league in Europe."
For Blomberg, who calls this opportunity "a major dream come true," expectations for the season are very simple. "I just want to go to a place where it's beautiful, I can meet people, we can play baseball, we can win some games, and the major thing is winning the respect of the fans."