Israel Baseball League
|No. of teams||6|
|Most recent champion(s)||Bet Shemesh Blue Sox|
The teams played games at three ballparks. The Yarkon Sports Complex, seating 15,000, in the Baptist Village in Petach Tikva, just outside of Tel Aviv, was home to the Ra’anana Express and the Petach Tikva Pioneers. Gezer Field, about halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, was home to the Bet Shemesh Blue Sox and the Modi’in Miracle. Sportek Baseball Field, in Tel Aviv, is shared by the Tel Aviv Lightning and the Netanya Tigers.
The league had an eight-week, 45-game season. Bet Shemesh (29–12; .707), led by hitters Gregg Raymundo and Jason Rees, had the best regular season record in the league, and finished with a 2.5 game lead over Tel Aviv (26–14; .650), led by pitchers Aaron Pribble and Daniel Kaufman.
On August 19, in Petach Tikva, Ron Blomberg’s Bet Shemesh Blue Sox shut out Art Shamsky’s Modi’in Miracle 3–0 in the IBL’s inaugural championship game. Californian RHP Rafael Bergstrom (7–2, 2.44) pitched a complete game shutout for Bet Shemesh, downing Dominican RHP Maximo Nelson (5–3, 3.55 ERA) who pitched for Modi’in.
The Israel Baseball League announced on February 20, 2008, that eight players from the inaugural 2007 IBL season went on to other professional leagues.
The eight players were:
- Eladio Rodriguez, who was signed by the New York Yankees, and in 2008 played for their A+, AA, and AAA teams
- Jason Rees, who also was signed by the New York Yankees
- Maximo Nelson, who signed with the Japanese champion Chunichi Dragons
- Juan Feliciano, who turned down AAA offers from the Washington Nationals, Houston Astros, and Pittsburgh Pirates to sign with the Sultanes de Monterrey of the Mexican League
- Rafael Bergstrom, who signed and played with the Bridgeport Bluefish (Atlantic League)
- Jason Benson, who signed and played with the Newark Bears (Atlantic League)
- Josh Doane, who was invited to spring training to try out for the Boston Red Sox, and in 2008 hit .278 for Texas of the Continental League
- Noah Walker, who was also invited to spring training to try out for the Boston Red Sox
The IBL had many objectives when it was launched. It particularly wanted to provide its players with a great experience while also showcasing their skills so that they could continue their career pursuits.
The IBL had 120 players from nine countries in 2007: the United States (77 from 19 states), the Dominican Republic (16), Israel (15), Canada (9), Australia (7), Colombia, Japan, New Zealand, and Ukraine. The league had hoped to be made up of at least 25% Israelis by its fifth year. About 40% of the league was Jewish.
The league held tryouts in 2007 in Los Angeles, Massachusetts, Miami, Israel, and The Dominican Republic. Those selected were current and former U.S. minor leaguers, professional baseball players from other countries, and starting college players. The quality of play was similar to low Class AA ball in the United States.
The first pick in the draft was infielder Aaron Levin, 21, who played for Cuesta College and was selected by Modi'in. The first player signed was former Midwood High School and Binghamton University left-handed hitting outfielder Dan Rootenberg.
Pitcher Sandy Koufax was the last player chosen in the draft, by the Modi'in Miracle. "His selection is a tribute to the esteem with which he is held by everyone associated with this league," said Art Shamsky, who will manage the Miracle. "It's been 41 years between starts for him. If he's rested and ready to take the mound again, we want him on our team." He'll be working on 14,875 days rest, as has been pointed out. Koufax did not pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series for Los Angeles so that he could observe the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.
Catcher and former Boston Red Sox minor leaguer Eladio Rodriguez of Modi'in was the league batting champion (.461) and had 16 home runs in 102 at bats, and 23-year-old Australian right fielder Jason Rees led the league with 17 home runs and 50 RBIs in 130 at bats. Rodriguez, 28 years old, and Rees, 24 years old, were both subsequently signed in October to minor league deals by the New York Yankees. Third baseman Gregg Raymundo, who hit .292 in 7 minor league seasons and played for the Texas Rangers' and Pittsburgh Pirates' AAA teams, was a close second in batting with a .459 batting average.
One of the leading pitchers was Juan Feliciano of Bet Shemesh, who had pitched for the 2005–06 Hiroshima Carp in Japan. He was 7–1, with a 1.97 ERA, and in 50.1 innings gave up only 28 hits while striking out 73. 6' 5" lefthander Aaron Pribble of Tel Aviv was 7–2, with a league-leading 1.94 ERA. Rafael Bergstrom was 7–2, with a 2.44 ERA. Daniel Kaufman, who pitched for Emory University, held opposing batters to a .170 batting average. And 6' 6" Maximo Nelson from San Pedro de Macoris, in the Dominican Republic, led the league with 85 strikeouts; he pitched for the Gulf Coast Yankees in 2004 (posting a 6–5 record, with a 2.63 ERA). Israel native Shlomo Lipetz (3–1) 1SV 0.98 ERA of Netanya, Mike Etkin (4–0) 2SV of Tel Aviv, and Scott Perlman(3–2) 1SV 1/13 P INH Rr of Bet Shemesh were the league's top relievers.
The Hank Greenberg Award for Most Valuable Player was shared by Eladio Rodriguez and Raymundo. The Commissioner's Award for Sportsmanship and Character went to Pribble and infielder Brendan Rubenstein (Ra'anana Express). The Commissioner's Award for Distinguished Service was awarded to shortstop Eric Holtz of Bet Shemesh, a player-coach who filled in as player-manager. The award for best pitcher went to Feliciano, and the Most Valuable Israeli Player was pitcher Dan Rothem of Tel Aviv. In a leaguewide vote of the players (referred to as the 'Schnitzel Awards'), Player of the Year was awarded to Leon Feingold.
Among the first managers of the IBL were three of the best-known Jewish former major leaguers: Ron Blomberg was the manager of Bet Shemesh. Due to other commitments, Blomberg turned over managerial duties to player/coach Eric Holtz, while Scott Perlman took over as bench coach for several weeks during the middle of the season. Art Shamsky managed Modi’in and Ken Holtzman managed Petach Tikva until he resigned a week before the season ended. In addition, Steve Hertz managed Tel Aviv, Shaun Smith, an Australian, managed Ra'anana, and Ami Baran, an Israeli originally from Chicago, managed Netanya.
The League was the brainchild of Larry Baras, a businessman from Boston.
Martin Berger, President and Chief Operating Officer, is a Miami trial attorney. The league's Director of Baseball Operations is Dan Duquette, former general manager of the Boston Red Sox and Montreal Expos. Berger and Duquette were involved in selecting the inaugural season players. Bob Ruxin is Director of Business Operations; Ruxin has served as vice president of a sports products and management business. Leon Klarfeld is Director of Israeli Operations; he is a resident of Even-Yehuda, and has been involved in Israeli Baseball for over 20 years, was the president of the Israel Association of Baseball (IAB) between 1994 and 2002, and is a certified umpire for the Confederation of European Baseball. Jeremy Baras is the Director of Game (fan) Experience.
The Commissioner in 2007 was Dan Kurtzer, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Egypt. The league's Board of Advisors in 2007 included: Bud Selig (Major League Baseball Commissioner), Wendy Selig-Prieb (former Milwaukee Brewers owner), Marshall Glickman (former president of the NBA Portland Trail Blazers and former president of a minor league baseball team), Professor Andrew Zimbalist (baseball economist), Marvin Goldklang (minority owner of the New York Yankees and principal owner of four minor-league teams), Randy Levine (President of the Yankees), and Marty Appel (former NY Yankees public relations director).
On November 15, 2007, Kurtzer and nine advisory board members (including Zimbalist, Goldklang, Levine, and Appel) resigned. They commended Baras for having the vision to bring pro baseball to Israel, but in their letter of resignation, summing up the concerns of all, Goldklang and Zimbalist wrote that: "it has become apparent that the business leadership of the league has ceased to perform in an effective, constructive or responsible manner and has failed to manage its capital and other resources in a manner likely to produce successful results." The advisers who resigned said the league was unwilling to provide financial information. Berger, the league president, said: "They were asking us for things that we didn’t have yet. We haven’t done our financials for this year. We are upset and disappointed that they’re leaving, but we are going ahead for next year. We have been talking to people who potentially are going to purchase the teams."
- PBS aired the opening game, which had attendance of 3,112, on a one-week delay (July 1, 2007), in Boston, New York, Chicago, Washington DC, Los Angeles, and Miami. MLB.com carries coverage of the league's games.
- While most of the umpires are international, some were Israeli. There were two umpires per game, with three on Sunday nights.
- Games were seven innings, with a home run hitting contest (a "home run derby") to decide a tie.
- Following the conclusion of the IBL Duquette managed to place over 25 players in other professional sports around the globe.
Baseball in Israel
Baseball was first played in the British Mandate of Palestine on July 4, 1927. The first field in Israel was built in Kibbutz Gezer in 1979, and the country now has a baseball field at the Yarkon Sports Complex in Petach Tikva. Israel sends national teams of various age groups to international baseball tournaments each year. The best recent showing to date in International Play (Pool A) was a 1st place by the Israeli Juvenile (ages 10–12) in the 2009 European Championships (CEB). Between 500 and 1,000 Israelis regularly play baseball in amateur league play. Baseball is growing at an accelerated pace, with much greater baseball identity associated with the country.
In November 2007 it was announced that a new six-team league, the Israel Professional Baseball League, was taking shape, and would play its first season in 2008. Those behind the new league included billionaire Jeffrey Rosen, a major IBL investor who also owns the Maccabi Haifa basketball team, which he bought in the summer of 2007, and is the chairman of Triangle Financial Services of Aventura, Florida; Andrew Wilson, who was a facilitator on the ground for the IBL and now works for Rosen; Alan Gardner, a lawyer from New York, who was the centerfielder for the Bet Shemesh Blue Sox; and Michael Rollhaus, a businessman from Queens and major IBL investor.
World Baseball Classic
Israel applied, unsuccessfully, to participate in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. They were subsequently invited to participate in the newly created qualifying round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Media reported that Israel's all-star team would be receiving overseas reinforcements in the form of several American Jewish all-stars, including Brad Ausmus, Gabe Kapler and Shawn Green.
- Israel Association of Baseball
- Edelstein, Nathaniel (December 26, 2006). "Israel Baseball League locks in three ballfields for six teams". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved April 29, 2007.
- , New Jersey Jewish Standard, 2007-04-27. Retrieved 2007-07-09.
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- "Koufax Drafted By Israeli Baseball Team, Yes, That Koufax, 71-Year-Old Former Dodger Pitching Great; Threw 4 No-Hitters – The ShowBuzz". www.showbuzz.cbsnews.com. Retrieved June 15, 2008.
- "Baseball Toaster: Humbug Journal : He'll be working on 14,875 days rest". humbug.baseballtoaster.com. Retrieved June 15, 2008.
- "Koufax Drafted By Israeli Baseball Team", CBS News, 2007-04-27. Retrieved 2007-07-09.
- Kepner, Tyler (October 25, 2007). "Yanks' Manager Pick Not as Easy as 1, 2 or 3". The New York Times. Retrieved May 5, 2010.
- "WasWatching.com: Jason Rees And Eladio Rodriguez". www.waswatching.com. Retrieved June 17, 2008.
- "Gregg Raymundo Statistics – The Baseball Cube". www.thebaseballcube.com. Retrieved June 17, 2008.
- "israelbaseballleague.com: Press Releases". www.israelbaseballleague.com. Retrieved June 16, 2008.
- "Schnitzel Awards". www.israelbaseballleague.com. Retrieved March 15, 2011.
- Last, Jeremy. "IBL: Holtzman leaves Pioneers with one week to play and was replaced by former New York Yankees and New York Mets coach Tony Ferrara". Jerusalem Post. www.jpost.com. Retrieved June 15, 2008.
- Shaun Smith Profile, israelbaseballleague.com. Retrieved 2007-07-09.
- Ami Baran Profile, israelbaseballleague.com. Retrieved 2007-07-09.
- CNN http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/baseball/mlb/wires/11/18/2010.ap.bbi.israel.baseball.0236
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- Chass, Murray (November 18, 2007). "Rumors of Drug Use Have Damaged for Decades". The New York Times. Retrieved May 5, 2010.
- Berkman, Jacob. "Israel Baseball League starts in June", St. Louis Jewish Light. Retrieved 2007-07-09.
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- Embassy of Israel.
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- Morosi, John Paul (19 May 2012). "Ex-MLB players join Israel WBC push". Foxsports.com. Retrieved 20 May 2012.
- Handwerker, Haim (20 May 2012). "The Israeli Baseball All-Stars: A diamond in the rough". Haaretz. Retrieved 20 May 2012.
- Pribble, Aaron (2011). Pitching in the Promised Land: A Story of the First and Only Season in the Israel Baseball League. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0-8032-3472-7.
- Documentary, "Holy Land Hardball." http://www.hulu.com/watch/91195/holy-land-hardball
- "Holy Land Hardball" (film). 24/6 Studios Productions LLC. Retrieved 2010-08-20
- The Israel Baseball League
- Israel Association of Baseball
- "Israel Baseball League: An Idea Who's (sic) Time Has Come"
- Announcement of NY Yankees signing of two IBL players after first Israel Baseball League season
- "The new ball game," interview with Dan Kurtzer, 3/13/07
- "Israel Baseball League starts in June," 4/11/07
- "St. Louisan plays big role in IBL," 4/11/07
- "The Dream Comes True: Israel Baseball Season Starts in 2 Weeks," 6/10/07
- Nate Silver, "L’Chayim to the IBL," BaseballProspectus.com, 7/2/07
- "Hardball in the Holy Land," by Marty Appel, 7/11/07
- "Baseball, kosher-style," 8/17/07
- "Shalom, Y'all. Local Ump Spends Summer In Israel," 9/28/07
- Biblemetrics—Blog for Israel Baseball League Statistical Analysis