'Rabbi' wants to be known for his talent
Rusty Simmons, Chronicle Staff Writer
According to Baseball Almanac, Brian Horwitz is the 159th Jewish player to make the majors and is known by his teammates as "Rabbi."
Though he embraces mail he receives from Jewish fans and laughs about his nickname, the Giants' reserve outfielder wants to distinguish himself by more than his religion.
"Being Jewish is what makes me unique on this team," he said. "I understand it's rare, but I'm a baseball player who just happens to be Jewish. Hopefully, I'll eventually do something on the field that sets me apart."
Horwitz hasn't wasted any time making his name as a hitter, hitting two home runs in his first 13 major-league at-bats. Since being called up from Triple-A Fresno on May 30, he's 7-for-24 (.292).
In 425 minor-league games, Horwitz compiled a .319 average, winning batting titles in the Northwest League in 2004 and in the South Atlantic League in 2005. Baseball America dubbed him as the player with the best strike-zone discipline in the Giants' organization, so his immediate success hasn't surprised him.
"I know I can hit. I know if I get enough at-bats, if I get 100 at-bats, I'm going to put 30 hits out there," he said. "If I don't, I expect more of myself. I know what I've done, and I know what I can do. I know the pitchers are better, but it's still baseball."
Horwitz's confidence comes from a history of perseverance. He was the fourth outfielder in Fresno at the beginning of the season, and he went undrafted as a senior at Cal after turning down a contract with the A's after his junior season.
"The two days of the draft were probably the worst two days of my life," he said. "I've kind of been doubted my whole career, and that's fine with me. It's fuels the fire."
Horwitz's comments came in five-minute increments as he went into the cage for extra batting practice, then tracked down coach Roberto Kelly for outfield drills, then wanted to hit some more.
"From Day 1, he wanted to know what it would take to get to and stay in the big leagues," said Bobby Evans, the Giants' director of player personnel. "He wasn't satisfied with just advancing to the next level, and he won't be satisfied with just being here. He always wants more."
Reliever Alex Hinshaw, who played the better part of four minor-league seasons with Horwitz, saw that motivation from the beginning. He said Horwitz won't let him win in pool or cards.
"He's always got the highest goals set, and he won't stop," Hinshaw said. "If Brian Horwitz wants to be an All-Star, he'll be an All-Star. He won't let anyone tell him differently, and he won't let anyone get in his way."
The stigma about Jewish athletes was characterized in the movie "Airplane," which had this exchange:
"Would you like something to read?"
"Do you have anything light?"
"How about this leaflet, 'Famous Jewish Sports Legends.' "
Horwitz is the first Jewish player on the Giants since the 1995-96 tenure of pitcher Jose Bautista. In 1923, when the New York Giants tried to trump up publicity by advertising Mose Solomon as "That Rabbi of Swat," playing across town from Babe Ruth, "The Sultan of Swat."
Star Jewish players, like Sandy Koufax and Shawn Green, have remained few and far between, but last season was a banner year. Milwaukee's Ryan Braun was the National League Rookie of the Year, and Kevin Youkilis was a key component of Boston's World Series win.
"There are prejudices that run deep, but today, with the advent of international players, a great deal of that is gone," said Al Rosen, the Giants' former president and general manager. He recently was inducted into the Jewish Hall of Fame, and at 84, is up-to-date on the statistics of today's Jewish players. "There's no more bench-jockeying. There used to be some very nasty things coming out of the dugout. It's different now, and it should be."
Though Horwitz said he doesn't observe every aspect of Judaism and hasn't researched the history of Jewish players, he was struck by a documentary about Hank Greenberg. This year is the 75th anniversary of the Tigers' first baseman's rookie season, from which he became baseball's first great Jewish player.
"I had to be sitting in my hotel room at that exact time, had to turn to that channel at that exact time and they had to be playing that show at that exact time," Horwitz said. "Things happen for a reason, and things are really coming together for me right now.
"Stars are aligning. Things are happening. Opportunities are coming."