Monday, October 10, 2011

Matt Goldberg

We interrupt our coverage of the Major League Baseball playoffs—and the exploits of Ryan Braun and Ian Kinsler—to pass along some sad news from the Jewish sports world.

Longtime Oakland Raiders owner (or as he titled himself, managing general partner), Al Davis, passed away on Saturday, October 8.

It would be impossible to do justice to all of the achievements and controversies that defined Davis, who was every bit as colorful and intimidating a sports franchise head honcho as Red Auerbach (Boston Celtics) and George Steinbrenner (New York Yankees.)

Davis was born on July 4, 1929 in Brockton, Massachusetts, and passed two days ago at his California home. Perhaps, there is some significance to his being born on American Independence Day and dying on Yom Kippur. While there is no indication that he was an observant Jew, he was an American Jewish original. Let’s just say that he was extremely original—for better or for worse.

The symbol of the Oakland Raiders—arguably, as successful an American pro sports franchise as any other (at least until the last nine years or so)—was its helmet’s logo: an intimidating pirate with crossed swords. If you mention the colors silver-and-black to a sports fan, he or she will invariably think of the Oakland Raiders. And when one thought of the Oakland Raiders, the first name that would come to mind was Al Davis.

Davis, who grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, played junior varsity football at Syracuse University but was much better known for his football mind than for his own sterling play. He started his pro football career in the AFL as an assistant coach (and scout) for the Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers for a few years and then embarked on his legendary career with the Raiders as their head coach and general manager in 1963.

Davis soon adopted his signature look: the slicked-back hair and dark glasses that reminded some (in later years) of football’s Darth Vader. He also immediately turned the Raiders, once the AFL’s doormat, into a winning team. Indeed, they posted a 10-4 record in Davis’ first year and he was named the AFL’s coach of the year.

In 1966, Davis left the Raiders to become commissioner of the upstart AFL, and he immediately waged battle with then-NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle. The men would go on to feud for decades. Davis was one of the leading figures in securing an AFL-NFL merger, even if he never was a fan of Rozelle, who became its unified commissioner.

Davis returned to the Raiders in 1967 as head of football operations, a position he only truly relinquished in death. One of his first hires was an overweight, disheveled head coach by the name of John Madden, who was quite successful on the sidelines before he became a charismatic broadcaster and iconic video game magnate.

All in all, under Davis’ watch, the Raiders would win one AFL championship and three Super Bowl titles (1976, 1980 and 1983) while doing it his way. Davis’ way, the Raiders’ way, involved signing very intimidating players, regardless of their presumed (lack of) character. Davis’ motto was “Just win, baby,” and that’s what his beloved franchise did better than almost all others for almost four decades. They were notorious for their aggressive style of play on both offense and defense.

Davis’ lawsuits against the NFL (he sued to move the franchise to Los Angeles, but later brought the franchise back to Oakland) and feuds with other franchises were all a part of the record, every bit as much as his legacy of winning and in his terms, “commitment to excellence.”

Perhaps, pro football’s Darth Vader also had a softer side, or at least an appreciation for human rights. Davis hired the NFL’s first modern-era African-American head coach (Art Shell) and its first Hispanic head coach (Tom Flores). Current team CEO Amy Trask is the first woman to hold that position in the NFL.

Davis was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992. He also presented the induction speech for nine other members.

While certainly no saint, Al Davis was one of the most influential men in the history of pro football. He was a rebel, a renegade and most importantly to him, a Raider, or in his Broolynesque parlance, a Ray-duh.

Yesterday, the Oakland Raiders, in tribute to their main man of the last half-century gutted out a 25-20 win over the host Houston Texans. It wasn’t pretty, but they just won…baby.



Major League Baseball saw three of its four division series reach a fifth and final game, and two of the three outcomes were upsets.

The Milwaukee Brewers, and superstar left fielder Ryan Braun, eked out a 3-2 victory over the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks in 10 innings on Friday. Yes, the Hebrew Hammer played the final couple innings on Erev Yom Kippur; he had a 2-3 day at the plate with a double, a walk and a run scored.

For the series, Braun hit an eye-popping .500 (nine for 18) with a homer, four doubles, four RBI and four runs scored.

The Milwaukee Brewers earned the right to play their bitter intra-divisional rival, the St. Louis Cardinals, who improbably won Game 5 in Philadelphia 1-0 behind ace pitcher Chris Carpenter. This had to make for a tough start of the New Year for Phillies’ GM, Ruben Amaro, Jr.

Yesterday, the Brewers defeated the visiting Cardinals 9-6 in the first game of their best-of-seven NLCS showdown. After the Cardinals opened with a run in the top of the first, Braun answered yet again, crushing a mammoth home run (estimated at over 460 feet) into the left-center cheap seats. Should I say, relatively cheap seats?

The Cards would go on to take a 5-2 lead before Braun again delivered some heroics in the bottom of the fifth. With two runners on and nobody out, the Hebrew Hammer slashed an opposite-field ground-rule double to plate two runs. He would later score the tying run when fellow Brewers Basher Prince Fielder hit a towering two-run homer of his own.

As the teams get set to square off in Game 2 tonight, Braun is already 2-4 with a double, homer, four RBI and two runs scored. This game isn’t supposed to be half as easy as he makes it appear.



As the New York Yankees were losing their own Game 5, 3-2 to the visiting Detroit Tigers, the Texas Rangers were coming off a celebration and awaiting the winner of the Yankee Stadium showdown.

The Rangers had already eliminated the Tampa Bay Rays, winning three straight games, the last two at that horrible stadium in St. Petersburg, Florida known as Tropicana Field. The Rangers may beg to differ with my assessment as they have won five straight playoff games at the Trop in the last two years to kill the Rays’ playoff hopes,

The Rangers won Game 4, 4-3, on the strength of three homers by third baseman Adrain Beltre. Almost lost in that amazing feat was the performance of their leadoff man, Ian Kinsler, who opened the game with a longball of his won.

For the series, KInsler hit .250 (4-16) with a homer, two doubles, two runs, three RBI and a stolen base. While they aren’t Ryan Braun numbers, Kinsler is the spark plug at the top of the lineup that helps makes the Rangers attack so potent.

The Rangers’ reward for beating the Rays was a Game One meeting at home versus all-world pitcher Justin Verlander and his Detroit Tigers. KInsler had a one-for-three day versus the ace pitcher, singling in a run and drawing a walk.

The Rangers and Tigers will attempt to play this afternoon after yesterday’s game was rained out. So much for the droughts in Texas.



With his heroics of yesterday included, Ryan Braun’s career postseason average is now .421 with two homers, an amazing seven doubles, 10 RBI and seven runs. He has compiled these stats in only 10 games and a total of 43 plate appearances.


Stay tuned for more updates; he is producing at a pace that even a prime Babe Ruth would be hard-pressed to hang with.


That’s all for this week’s edition of Bagels and Jocks. Please feel free to share some dialogue below, and continue to enjoy the New Year.

Matthew J. (call him Matt) Goldberg will be taking a look at “This Week in Jewish Sports”) every Monday on Please send feedback or suggestions to

For information about Matt’s books, sports columns, speaking events and requests for appearances and custom writing, please visit, or contact him via email.

Filed Under: Bagels and Jocks: This Week In Jewish Sports


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Matthew J. Goldberg About the Author: An author, speaker and custom writer from Cherry Hill, NJ, Matt loves to entertain people through his writing and public speaking. Laughs, Smiles and just enough Wisdom reach his audience through the magic of his written and spoken words. More about Matthew

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