Throws No-Hitters, Batting Over .500!
Is it possible to
play Major League Baseball while being a Sabbath-observant Jew?
Its 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 Julys MLB draft but he
didnt 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 wouldnt be available for as many as two games a
The teenager was ready
with a quick response. Most guys dont play 162 games a year.
If Im a catcher, not playing three days in the week or two days
in the week is pretty normal, so I dont think it would be that different
from other guys, he said. I would just be missing different
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
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 wouldnt 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 didnt pitch from sundown Friday to sunset
And then, of course,
theres 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 games
importance. He has raced to the ballpark after sundown. Ive
showed up at games halfway through, he said.
The decision not to
play on Shabbat is a personal and family decision. Its 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 cant
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 familys 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.
Jewish community has been mostly supportive of Elie Kligman in his pursuit.
The people that weve known have always known weve 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 dont
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 cant.
had many people reach out to us and ask for Elie to speak to schools,
religious day schools, to communities. Theyre just all very inspired
that heres a religious Jewish boy with a Jewish first name, Jewish
last name, playing baseball, and hes not compromising, not letting
it get in the way. To the vast amount of very observant Jews thats
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 wont 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. Thats maybe where he got his love for catching.
To be a good catcher you really have to love it, its too hard of
For now, Elie Kligman
said he will play any position a team wants, as long as it gets him to
the big leagues. Hell be playing in showcases and tournaments after
his high school season, and theres a chance he could be working
out with players from Team Israel next month and in July. Someday hed
like to play for the Jewish states squad.
Marc Kligman recalled
a conversation he had with his son a few years ago.
He said Im 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 cant 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 https://www.timesofisrael.com/shabbat-observant-baseball-phenom-eyes-major-league-career-but-can-it-be-done/
(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. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnIdHBJg8IY