This past Monday, five days shy of his 24th birthday, Major
League Baseball named Milwaukee Brewers third baseman, National League “Rookie
of The Year.” He is the first Jewish baseball player to earn the high honor.
The award is the culmination of a season of awards for the Mission Hills, CA
native. He earned the same honor from “The Sporting News” and “Baseball America,
two prestigious newspapers dedicated to sports or baseball, and also, he was
voted the “2007 Players Choice NL Most Outstanding Rookie,” in a vote by his
fellow major league players.
"When your peers recognize you with an award, that's great," Braun said. "Those
are the guys out there on the field with you, competing against you. Their
opinion counts the most, for a player."
Known by the press as the “Hebrew Hammer,” Braun is the son of an Israeli-born
father, Joe Braun, and a Christian mother. However, he is proud of his Jewish
heritage and does not mind the references to his ethnicity.
"It's something that draws a lot of interest and something I take pride in,"
As for his nickname, "The Hebrew Hammer," he added: “I’m cool with that.” It
references his Jewish heritage, former Brewer Hank Aaron (whose nickname was "Hammerin'
Hank"), and in the past, a nickname of Cleveland Indian third baseman Al Rosen
and Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg.
In a bit of serendipity, Braun was raised for a time in Greenberg’s old house,
owned for the past 40 years by his maternal grandfather. If that is not
coincidence enough, Sandy Koufax’s original name was Sanford Braun. The name was
changed to Koufax, the last name of his mother’s second husband.
"There's no (family) connection that I know of," Braun said, "but it is kind of
Braun was born Nov. 17, 1983 in Mission Hills, CA. He attended Granada Hills
High School where he played shortstop and pitched; earning four letters, and was
captain for 3-years. He was also named the team’s Most Valuable Player. As a
senior, he batted .451, with an on base percentage of .675, and broke the school
record for career home runs, with 25.
The Los Angeles Times made him a two-time time all-area selection, while the Los
Angeles Daily News selected him three times. Baseball America named him one of
its top 100 pro prospects, but he made it clear he intended on going to college
before thinking of a professional baseball career.
College didn’t slow him down a bit. Turning down scholarships to Stanford
University and UC-Berkeley, he chose to attend the University of Miami. He
chose, according to an internet article on Wikipedia, “Miami for its academics,
its athletics, and its social scene, noting, ‘I think the girls were the deal
closer on the recruiting trip.’"
Braun rewarded Miami’s faith in his baseball acumen by racking up a considerable
list of awards including "National Freshman of the Year," and 1st-team "Freshman
All-American," by Baseball America and 1st-team All-American by Collegiate
Baseball. Moreover, he didn’t slowdown in his next two years batting .335, had a
slugging average of .606, and stole 21 bases as a sophomore. In his junior year,
his final and most successful at Miami, he batted .396 with 18 home runs, a .726
slugging percentage, 76 RBIs, and 23 stolen bases. He was 9th in slugging, and
10th in RBIs, in NCAA Division I, and was named to Baseball America's 2005
College All-American Team as the DH. His numbers earned Braun a spot as a
finalist for the Golden Spikes Award, the most prestigious individual award in
Braun was a first-round pick in the 2005 Amateur Draft going to the Brewers as
the fifth selection. That made him one of the highest drafted Jewish ballplayers
in the history of professional baseball, and definitely the highest selection
since the New York Yankees took Ron Blomberg as the first pick of the 1967 draft
— 16 years before Braun was born.
Between Miami and Milwaukee, the Brewers ran Braun through its farm system
including tank towns such as Helena, Montana, West Virginia, Brevard County,
Florida, and Nashville, TN. All in the relatively miniscule space of two years.
But anybody with a record of achievement and a stick as solid as his was wasted
in the minors. On May 24, 2007, the Brewers called him up to the parent club.
The following day he got his first hit and scored his first run. The next day,
May 26, he slammed his first homer — the first of 34 for the season — off San
Diego’s Justin Germano. His 34-round trippers is the fourth best all-time for
Jewish sluggers. The only members of the tribe who have done better are, as
expected, Hank Greenberg (58), Shawn Green (49) and Al Rosen (43). On the other
hand, Braun didn’t play an entire season either. He missed the first seven weeks
of the season. Had he played the entire schedule, he couldn’t have caught
Greenberg or Green, but Rosen was certainly within reach.
During the off-season, which runs until mid-February, the Brewers management has
asked him to concentrate on improving his fielding skills at third base. They
want him to field between 100-and 150-batted balls per day.
He intends to do that at the University of Miami where he will work out with
another major league, power-hitting third baseman, Alex Rodriquez of the