Executive VP proud to encounter Israel's Red Sox nation

Parallels between baseball and Israel are amazing, says Charles Steinberg

Charles Steinberg 88 (photo credit: )
Charles Steinberg 88
(photo credit: )
So there it was, the fourth game of the 2004 American League Championship Series and the Boston Red Sox facing all but certain elimination by their nemesis, the New York Yankees. Baseball's Goliath, the Yankees, had won 10 previous ALCS titles, as well as the first three games of the sevengame contest, a deficit no team had successfully surmounted before. With a scoreboard that had the Red Sox down by a run in the ninth inning and the Yankees star closer on the pitching mound, it seemed to be all over. But Charles Steinberg, Red Sox executive vice president for public affairs, still had faith. One game, he begged, just let the Red Sox win one game so that they won't be consigned to an 87th year without a World Series championship by a Yankees sweep. And then he watched a modern-day "miracle" as the Red Sox battled back to win that game, as well as the next three, to take the ALCS - and then the next four straight against the St. Louis Cardinals to capture the World Series crown. "The victory that I hoped would last one day lasted eight days," Steinberg pointed out, a clear echo of Hanukka, when one night of oil lasted for eight following the Jewish victory over the Seleucid Empire. "We teach our children to believe in miracles that happened 3,000 years ago," Steinberg noted. With baseball, "you can teach children that things that may seem like miracles still happen today." And that lesson is far from the only link that Steinberg, who came to Jerusalem this week to support his sister's aliya, sees between the People of the Book and the thinking man's sport. "It's very spiritual. It's about family. It's about belief. It's about perseverance," he said in between sips of coffee on the balcony of the King David Hotel. "Are we talking about baseball or Israel? The parallels - albeit on different levels - are amazing." Lest anyone think his words sacrilegious, he clarified that his comments are "an illustration of how you can use Judaic thought and culture to teach lessons throughout the world. That I think is fair. That I think respects Judaism." A bigger potential pitfall, he observed, occurred when the Red Sox's World Series trophy made the rounds among houses of worship in the Boston area. Steinberg, who is credited for much-improved relations between Red Sox fans and the front office by promoting accessibility, customer service and community outreach events such as trophy tours, said he consulted the rabbi of his Conservative congregation about bringing the "I wanted to make sure that we didn't accord to the trophy idol status," he said. "We talked about how this is a symbol of a faithful victory. It is not unto itself anything more than a glorious symbol to reward the organization for that triumph." He added, "It's not the reward. The reward is 'keeping the faith.'" The phrase was a dominant theme on signs and T-shirts throughout the pennant race, as Red Sox fans prayed for victory after more than eight decades of disappointment. If he was concerned about the implications of mingling the Jewish and baseball experience, he got some unexpected affirmation from the ultra-Orthodox rabbi who hosted Steinberg and his sister on Friday night here. "Rabbi Moshe said that baseball is the sport of the Jews because it ain't over till it's over, and they count us out but we always come back." (It was the immortal Yankees catcher Yogi Berra who coined the former phrase.) Steinberg also attributed the Jewish affinity for baseball to its being "the game that made so many immigrants feel American; it was a great vehicle for absorption." Steinberg happens to preside over one of the most Jewish teams in baseball, thanks to players Gabe Kapler and Kevin Youkilis and general manager Theo Epstein. Steinberg said that his Jewishness is hardly ever an issue. But his sister, Jane, did have a notable ballpark encounter involving her faith. Following the final victory over St. Louis, she found herself alone in the stadium when someone came up behind her and started kissing her neck. Frightened and offended, she shouted out, "I'm an Orthodox Jewish woman!" The perpetrator turned out to be comedian Jimmy Fallon, who was at the game for the filming of Fever Pitch. Without missing a beat, he replied: "It's okay. I'm not prejudiced!" Steinberg introduced his older sister to the intense Red Sox culture upon becoming a VP in 2002, though she remained in the DC area, where she worked as a White House correspondent for a Jewish newspaper, until her aliya last week. Their family grew up in nearby Baltimore, and Steinberg's first baseball position was as an intern for the Orioles, where he continued to work part time, even while he attended dental school. He served as the official team dentist until moving over to public relations full time. He credits the higher education - even if in an unrelated field - for helping him succeed in the front office. He said that more and more baseball industry positions are going to people with advanced degrees, which in turn helps explain why more Jews are working behind the scenes if not on the field. When he started, he was the only Jew with the Orioles except for the owner. Now several Jews work with the Red Sox - one of whose owners is Jewish - as is true with most teams. Steinberg said that until recently, baseball failed to generate the profits that made it attractive to serious businessmen, meaning most office posts were held by former ballplayers. Once that culture changed, so did the ethnic make-up of the Even if it means she will be farther away from the ballfield, Jane was brimming with excitement about her move to Jerusalem. "To be returning home, to be making aliya, to have my brother at my side, was all a dream - and Besides, she doesn't need to look far to find Red Sox enthusiasts, who refer to themselves as a "nation" just as the wandering Jews do. "We haven't found the place in the world where there aren't Red Sox fans," Steinberg said. "I'm proud of that, and I'm proud that there is a Red Sox nation wherever I go - on Caribbean islands, or in Israel."