(JTA) — Josh Rawitch’s day-to-day business is similar to that of any nonprofit executive, speaking with stakeholders, overseeing senior staff, and raising funds.
But his work involves people like Jewish baseball legend Sandy Koufax.
Since September, Rawitch has been president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York. He is the eighth leader in the institution’s 82-year history.
The Jewish Los Angeles native has spent nearly three decades in baseball, including long stints with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks, working primarily in communications roles.
Like the Hall’s 339 privy members, Rawitch’s ascent to baseball’s esteemed historic institution began with a phone call—asking if he would succeed his Jewish predecessor Jeff Idelson.
“Obviously when you get a call like that, you don’t ignore it,” Rawit told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “I had a conversation with my wife and I said, ‘Can you believe the potential opportunity here?'”
Rawitch applied, interviewed, and eventually got “the phone call” — the big one — from Jane Forbes-Clark, the organization’s chairman of the board and granddaughter of Hall of Fame founder Stephen C. Clark.
As a lifelong baseball fan, Rawitch was speechless.
“It’s a pretty cool way to end up in Cooperstown at the end of 27 years working in baseball,” Rawitch said. “Obviously very different from the ones who earned their plaques, but the phone call itself, coming from Jane, probably felt quite similar.”
Now Rawitch gets to see those plaques every day.
“The Plaque Gallery itself is of course incredibly special because I can’t not look at Jackie Robinson’s plaque when I come in, or at Sandy Koufax, whom I grew up loving,” he said.
Rawitch tries to spend time in the hall every day and take in the exhibits and artifacts. While it’s known for the heroes honored in the Plaque Gallery on the ground floor, it also contains a three-story museum dedicated to the game and its history.
On January 25, Rawitch will fulfill another dream role for a baseball player when he publicly announces the results of the 2022 ballot. The 30-nominee ballot has been considered by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in a rigorous and sometimes controversial voting process. Boston Red Sox fans are vying for David Ortiz, although it’s possible no player will meet the required introduction threshold, as happened last year. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are both in their tenth and final years of eligibility, but performance-enhancing drug scandals have damaged their chances.
Rawitch does not vote – nor can he comment on the candidates or details of the ongoing debate about baseball’s history with PEDs. But he will be front and center on Tuesday, announcing the results on a live MLB Network television special.
“As a lifelong baseball fan, I’m not sure there’s a greater honor than doing that, other than maybe sitting on the podium, which I got to do at the last induction ceremony,” Rawitch said. “You look around and your collection of baseball cards has come to life around you. They’ve earned their way to the podium and I don’t know if I’ll ever feel the way I do. But it’s quite an amazing and humbling experience.”
As the public face of the Hall of Fame, he sees the names of those living legends appear on his phone daily, he said, including Koufax, who Rawitch got to know during his time with the Dodgers.
“There are plenty of times in a day when my phone rings and you’re a little bit under the impression that you’re getting a chance to talk to someone you grew up with, or who you just have a lot of respect for,” Rawitch said. “Part of what I’ve learned from working in baseball for a quarter of a century is that baseball players are just like you and me… When you show them the respect they’ve earned, but at the same time just build a personal relationship with them you start to realize they’re just like everyone else.”
As Rawitch settles into his job, he is driven by one main goal for the Hall of Fame: staying relevant. He said young fans who visit the museum today should have the same experience they had years ago, and his father before him.
“How people consume baseball and how people consume its history, we just have to make sure we deliver that in a way that remains relevant for generations to come,” Rawitch said. “If we can do that and we can continue to make people understand how special this sport is and how important it is that we keep it, that’s probably at the top of my list of things we can achieve.”
That is of course easier said than done. The gradual decline in baseball’s popularity in recent years is well documented: the juice scandal has tarnished the game’s reputation, games over three hours have tested fans’ patience, and a current player lockout means that the headlines are focused on tense labor relations, not the upcoming season. One way to buck that latest trend, Rawitch said, is to elevate the game’s current stars — including Jewish players like Max Fried and Joc Pederson.
After the 2021 World Series – featuring four Jewish players – Rawit was tasked with asking Fried and Pederson if the Hall of Fame could display their memorabilia. A recent video on Twitter shows a Hall of Fame employee opening a box containing Pederson’s famous pearl necklace.
“Huge amounts of people thought this was really cool when they just watched this unboxing video of the pearls arriving in Cooperstown,” Rawitch said. “That can make baseball cool and culturally relevant in a way that you certainly couldn’t before social media.”
Meeting Fried, a fellow Jewish resident of LA, took on additional significance for Rawitch.
“There have been a number of players over the years, both current and legends, that I have had the pleasure of meeting, and I think you have that immediate connection to being Jewish,” he said.
In Fried’s case, that was reinforced by another connection: Fried’s high school coach was Rawitch’s high school teammate.
“Immediately there was an ease while I was talking” [Fried], and part of it was knowing I knew his coach, but part of it was knowing, okay, here are two guys who probably grew up relatively similar in the San Fernando Valley, love baseball, and one of them pitching and one of them is working for the Hall of Fame,” says Rawitch.
Rawitch also appreciates the importance of players like Fried, Pederson and Houston Astros, third baseman Alex Bregman, who perform on the biggest stage in the sport. He compared it to Team Israel’s magical run in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, which Rawitch experienced up close as the press secretary of the venue for the tournament.
“I think every time you can see someone who looks like you, feels like you, it definitely makes you feel like, hey, that’s possible. I can,” he said.
Baseball connects to Judaism in a different way, Rawitch said: Both foster a deep personal and communal attachment to tradition.
Rawitch’s son is the third generation of Dodger fans in his family to watch games featured by legendary broadcaster Vin Scully. For Rawitch, that creates a similar bond to generations of relatives who had bar and bat mitzvahs and practiced other Jewish customs.
“You walk into a baseball stadium and you feel the tradition. You walk into a synagogue and you feel the tradition,” he said. “You light candles and you feel the tradition … knowing that there are generations of people who came before you and did the same.”
The post For the New Jewish President of the Baseball Hall of Fame, It’s All About Tradition appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
For the new Jewish president of the Baseball Hall of Fame, it’s all about tradition