Freakonomics guru weighs in on Adam Greenberg in Jewish Jocks collection

November 16, 2012

Remember when I warned about the motives of Jeffrey Luria and the Miami Marlins when they signed Adam Greenberg to a one-game contract so he could get that first official at-bat? So much for the good-will he engendered with that act of kindness.

Stephen J. Dubner, coauthor of one of my favorite book series (and its companion website/blog), wrote an essay on Greenberg for Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame. At the time he submitted the profile, Dubner couldn’t have known about the never-give-up, never-surrender ballplayer. He was kind enough to share his thoughts on why Greenberg should be included in the pantheon of notable Jewish athletes.

* * * *

KK: Did you pick Adam Greenberg or was he assigned to you?

Stephen Dubner: Oh, I picked him all right. While there were a lot of fascinating people to choose from — as evidenced by the final roster in the book — I’ve always been drawn to quieter and undertold stories. And to his credit, Frank Foer was enthusiastic about having Adam in the book even though he didn’t know anything about him at that point.

KK: Why did you choose him then?

Dubner: A few summers ago, my family (wife and two young kids) were spending some time out in Connecticut, and we started going to Bridgeport Bluefish games. They’re an unaffiliated professional baseball team — in other words, not part of the minor-league system that typically feeds the majors. So while most of the players were very good, they weren’t your typical minor leaguers. A lot were older — late 20s, early 30s. Many of them had already played in the majors and were hoping to claw their way back up. We first noticed Adam because he was such a dynamic player — great center fielder, smart batter, aggressive baserunner.

Also, he was Jewish, as are we, so of course that made us pay a little extra attention. Then we read a thumbnail bio in the Bluefish program and were very taken with the poignance of his story, which of course made us root for him extra hard. Then, at a Bluefish fan-appreciation day, where the kids get to run the bases and get autographs from players, my kids gravitated toward Adam, so we did meet him quickly then.

I hadn’t planned to write about him — Barry Bearak had already written an excellent profile in the Times Magazine, where I used to work — but fortunately Jewish Jocks gave me an opportunity to do so.

Anya and Solomon Dubner visit with Adam Greenberg. Photo courtesy Stephen Dubner

KK: Did you have to do a lot of research? Was there anything that surprised you on your project?

Dubner: I spent some time with Adam in Connecticut and then we stayed in touch through the months. The biggest surprise was his attitude, which I essentially used as the through-line in my chapter: his indomitable optimism.

KK: Was your initial opinion of Greenberg altered by the time you finished?

Dubner: Well, I found him to be an impressive human being, but I can’t say I walked into it thinking he wouldn’t be.

KK: Of course, when you submitted the essay, you had know way of knowing the turn his life would take at the end of the season. What are your thoughts about that? (I wonder, given the deal the Marlins just made, if they might consider inviting him to spring training.)

Dubner: His salary requirements would certainly seem to fit the Marlins’ absurd new payroll plans. In any case, no, the “One At-Bat” campaign took me totally by surprise, and while I e-mailed with Adam throughout it, I’m not sure either of us thought it would turn out as dramatically as it did.

In a way it would have been better had he gotten his at-bat with his original team, the Cubs. On the other hand, there was something sweeter about it happening as a member of the team whose pitcher hit him in the head. By the way, one of the strangest parts of the story is that Adam did face that pitcher one more time, in 2011, while Adam was playing for the Bluefish and the pitcher, Valerio de los Santos, was playing for the Long Island Ducks. Adam got a base hit.


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