This past week, one of the most consequential events regarding Jews in sports occurred. Jacob Steinmetz, the 6’5” 220-pound right-handed pitcher was the first known practicing Orthodox Jewish player to be drafted into the Major Leagues. Steinmetz went 77th overall to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and has the potential to be the first frum big leaguer. So, let’s take a few moments to determine Steinmetz’s chance at making the majors and what this means for the future of Jews in sports.
Let’s start with Steinmetz’s skills. You don’t just happen to get selected in the third round of the MLB draft without insane abilities. Steinmetz possesses a fastball that clocks in around 97 mph, which is complimented by a “knee-buckling curveball” according to ESPN. It’s high praise for a 17-year-old. Steinmetz likely has some work to do to get to the majors, but that is what the minor leagues are for. So, what are the actual odds of the world seeing Jacob Steinmetz pitch in the majors? According to Bleacher Report, the odds of a third-round pick being called up stands at about 32%. Let’s face it, that’s better odds than anyone reading this article has of making it, but by no means is it assured.
Now let’s look at the other major question here. Can Jacob Steinmetz be considered Orthodox? Now, before you settle in for some controversy, know right now that you will not see an answer to that question in this column. My name doesn’t come with a “rabbi” title. All we know is what Jacob and his family have put out there. Jacob Steinmetz will play on Shabbos and Yom Tov. However, he will not be taking a vehicle to games. He will be staying close enough to respective stadiums to get there under his own physical capabilities.
The Diamondbacks’ scouting director, Deric Ladnier, weighed in on Steinmetz’s religious obligations. “He follows that strictly,” he said. “He’s very candid about it. We felt like the ability for us to make the adjustments for his schedule will be something that will probably be unique to this organization, but we felt like it was somebody we wanted in the organization. Obviously at 17 years old, with his upside, we’re very pleased to get him there.”
The positive takeaway here is that Ladnier seems to be trying to focus on Steinmetz’s talent, and rolling with religious obligations. That is what you want from front office personnel in this case. He should be focused on what the player can bring to your team, and if there are issues that come up, work around them. If Steinmetz can add value to your team, and a 17-year-old throwing 97 can probably do that, you’ll find a way to make it work.
There is just one area of precaution we should all take as we watch the career of Jacob Steinmetz: Do not expect him to be exactly what you think he should be. Do not criticize him for doing things you would not do. Do not condemn him when you think he is not representing the community as you think he should be representing it. He is a human being, and often when people are thrust into the limelight for one specific reason, they are all of a sudden expected to be the spokesperson for a thousand issues.
For instance, if Jacob Steinmetz does not publicly take a stand on anti-Semitism, or Israel, or any other social or political issue, that is his decision and his alone. While it is true that our community has never had an athlete of this caliber on this high a level, that does not mean he asked to be our representative. If you want to eventually buy his jersey and marvel at his athletic prowess, by all means go for it. If you want him to appear at a rally or post certain messages on his social media pages, that is something else entirely, and it is not your decision.
The closest comparison to make to Steinmetz is not even Jewish. For those who remember how a young, undrafted Asian-American Harvard graduate named Jeremy Lin captured the attention of NBA fans back in 2011, you will know that he also meant a lot to the Asian community, who do not really have representation in the NBA outside of a certain 7’5 man named Yao. He took the NBA by storm, yet was pressured to speak out about social issues, especially those related to China. Lin never was really outspoken about China, despite having parents who emigrated from Taiwan, and lived in China, and it may have had something to do with the pressure put on him to do so. Do not turn Jacob Steinmetz into that person.
Jacob Steinmetz is an anomaly in our world. He is probably better at baseball than I will ever be at anything, and we should wish him all the success in the world. But do not force him to be something he does not want to be. Right now, he is a 17-year-old draft selection of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Let’s let him enjoy this and carve his own path.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.