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Tuesday's retirement of Red Sox outfielder Gabe Kapler didn't exactly shake the sports world, but Jewish sports fans certainly took notice of the departure by one of today's most well-known Jewish athletes.
Kapler, who played nine major league seasons for four different teams, will now make the shift to the Red Sox' class-A affiliate in Greenville, South Carolina, to begin what he hopes will be a long managerial career.
While the move may have little effect on the Red Sox, who weren't exactly in a hurry to re-sign the 31-year old, it could have major implications for the Jewish sports world. Unlike many other Jewish athletes, Kapler has been very vocal about his Judaism while displaying a Star of David tattoo on one leg and the post-Holocaust motto "Never Again" on the other. He has long maintained, however, that his Jewish identity is on more of a cultural level than a religious level and in 2004 he made the decision to play in a game on Yom Kippur.
"I am not really a practicing Jew," Kapler told reporters in 2004. "It would be selfish to be a practicing Jew on only one day."
Many Jewish sports fans took issue with this in light of another Jewish ballplayer, Shawn Green, sitting out on Yom Kippur.
However, when Kapler heard of the efforts by Israel Baseball League officials to field a national team at the 2009 World Baseball Classic and the opportunity for Jewish major leaguers to play for Israel, he made his feelings very clear.
"I would jump at the opportunity," Kapler told ESPN.com in August. "It would be an amazing, pride-building experience."
Although Kapler has retired from the majors, he would still be eligible to play in the WBC, which also requires that each player qualify for citizenship in his respective country.
IBL founder Larry Baras is doubtful that Kapler would come out of retirement to play for Israel, but sees talent in his coaching skills and plans to speak to his agent in the hope of bringing him to Israel as either a coach or a player.
"I'm going to ask his agent and see what he thinks," Baras told The Jerusalem Post. "Whether it's at the WBC or IBL level, we'll have to see."
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