Jews & Sports

from Big Mo's Sports Desk

Throws No-Hitters, Batting Over .500!


Is it possible to play Major League Baseball while being a Sabbath-observant Jew?

It’s a question that could have an answer within the next few years if Elie Kligman, an 18-year-old from Las Vegas, has anything to say about it.

Kligman is considered one of the top high school players in the West and is being recruited by major colleges. The 6-foot, 185-pound senior plays several infield positions and pitches.

But his sports agent father, Marc, a high school catcher himself, thinks his best route to the majors would be as a switch-hitting, strong-armed catcher. Neither the colleges nor the pros have gotten to see much of Kligman on the field over the past two seasons because of COVID, as there have been few games to showcase his talents.

Kligman likely would have accepted a scholarship to college as early as last summer, before his senior year, but now expects to make that decision by July at the latest. (He preferred not to say which schools are recruiting him, but said they are in Division I, the highest rung in college sports.)

Marc Kligman does not expect his son to be picked in July’s MLB draft — but he didn’t rule it out, adding that he believes his older of two sons is ready for that step, even with the COVID obstacles. And if a team makes a good enough offer, Marc Kligman would encourage Elie to take it.

Why does Elie Kligman think he could convince a major league team to sign a Sabbath-observant player, one who wouldn’t be available for as many as two games a week?

The teenager was ready with a quick response. “Most guys don’t play 162 games a year. If I’m a catcher, not playing three days in the week or two days in the week is pretty normal, so I don’t think it would be that different from other guys,” he said. “I would just be missing different days.”

There would be even fewer obstacles if Kligman made it as a pitcher, with starters going every fifth game and relievers rarely appearing in more than three games in a row.

Marc Kligman said people have reached out to him with instances of pitchers who overcame religious restrictions — Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson had a contract stating that he wouldn’t pitch on Sundays out of respect for his religious mother. Ed Correa, a White Sox pitcher in the mid-1980s was a Seventh-day Adventist who didn’t pitch from sundown Friday to sunset Saturday.

And then, of course, there’s the legendary Sandy Koufax, who sat out Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur.

Kligman, who attended the public Cimarron-Memorial High School online during the pandemic, says playing on Shabbat and Yom Kippur is a nonstarter, regardless of the game’s importance. He has raced to the ballpark after sundown. “I’ve showed up at games halfway through,” he said.

The decision not to play on Shabbat is a personal and family decision. “It’s the way I was raised (first in San Diego, before they moved to Vegas), the way our family goes about everything.”

Teammates, he said, “have been very supportive. “They usually ask me a lot of questions, like, what do you do on Shabbos, why can’t you be here, but everyone is super respectful of all the things that I have to follow and what I do.”

Asked how he would classify his family’s Judaism, Marc Kligman said, “Labels are tough. We consider ourselves to be observant, religious Jews. The people that we pray with and the customs that we follow are Chabad, which is part of the Hassidic movement.”

The family’s Jewish community has been mostly supportive of Elie Kligman in his pursuit. “The people that we’ve known have always known we’ve been doing this for a long time,” he said. “The support from everybody has been positive, they come to games, they ask me about games.”

Marc Kligman said not everyone is on board, however. “I think those who don’t understand maybe think this is nonsense, that kids should be studying to become rabbis and teach at yeshivas,” he said. “But most of the Chabad rabbis realize that there are things that Elie and myself can do through the medium of baseball, and what we accomplish to try to bring people closer to Torah and Judaism, that they can’t.

“We’ve had many people reach out to us and ask for Elie to speak to schools, religious day schools, to communities. They’re just all very inspired that here’s a religious Jewish boy with a Jewish first name, Jewish last name, playing baseball, and he’s not compromising, not letting it get in the way. To the vast amount of very observant Jews that’s very inspirational, especially to young kids.”

It only takes one team to make this story happen, Marc Kligman said, noting however that half the pro teams won’t even bother to look at a high school catcher. “It takes so long to develop a catcher. Organizations want them to go to college and figure it all out and come out more mature at 21. But the other organizations are potentially interested because they want to mold them at a young age the way they want them to turn out.”

“I think Carlos Ruiz, the longtime Philadelphia Phillies catcher who caught four no-hitters, who happened to be a client of mine, was a big influence on Elie,” Marc Kligman said. “That’s maybe where he got his love for catching. To be a good catcher you really have to love it, it’s too hard of a position.”

For now, Elie Kligman said he will play any position a team wants, as long as it gets him to the big leagues. He’ll be playing in showcases and tournaments after his high school season, and there’s a chance he could be working out with players from Team Israel next month and in July. Someday he’d like to play for the Jewish state’s squad.

Marc Kligman recalled a conversation he had with his son a few years ago.
“He said I’m ready for it. I want to see if we can make it work,” Marc Kligman said. “God first, being observant, religious, understanding the world is created for service to God, and to make the world a better place. Why can’t baseball and being observant coexist?”

By midsummer, Kligman will know which path he will take, college or the minor leagues.

Source: Excerpted and adapted from an article by Rob Charry at (3 May 2021). See there for several photos and a video of Kligman in action.

See also the nice NIAA (Nevada Interscholastic Athletics Association) video interview of Elie Kligman.



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