One More Nobel Prize Winner
Just after my last column went to press, RICHARD THALER, 72, a Univ. of Chicago professor, won the Nobel in economics. His work has shown that most people don’t follow a conventional economic model that assumes they are highly rational. His books for the lay public (including the best-selling “Nudge”) show how “irrational” behavior can be harnessed for a better outcome. Thaler gives great credit to the two Israelis who opened up a field that’s now called “behavioral economics”: DANIEL KAHNEMAN, 83, a Nobel Prize winner in 2002 and Kahneman’s collaborator, AMOS TVERSKY (1934-1996). Thaler grew-up in New Jersey. His mother’s parents were Russian Jewish immigrants and his father, who was born in Canada, was the son of Austrian Jewish immigrants.
On Baseball and Nobel Prizes
Another World Series is looming and, as I write this, four teams are vying for the two Series spots. Two Jews are on those four teams.
ALEX BREGMAN, 23, is the Houston Astros’ third baseman. In a word, he’s “performed” since being called up in 2016. In 2017, he hit .287, with 19 home runs, 71 RBIs, and 17 stolen bases. On Oct. 5, in his first postseason at-bat, he hit a first-inning home run against Red Sox ace Chris Sale in Game 1 of an American League Division Series. In Game 4, Bregman sparked a series-clinching rally with another homer off Sale. Bregman’s parents are both lawyers and members of New Mexico’s oldest synagogue. His father was a good baseball player in his youth.
JOC PEDERSON, 25, a Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder, had a horrible 2017 season and was sent to the minors in August. He was recalled on Oct. 1 and made a brief appearance in one playoff game (to date). He made the All-Star team in 2015, so there’s a chance he can regain his form. Pederson, whose mother is Jewish, is secular. He played for Team Israel in 2013.
Now, I know some Jews will kvetch that only two Jews are in the playoffs. But hear me, oh Israel, as I give my reply rant. The four Jews who won a Nobel Prize this year raised the total number of Jews who have won a Nobel since the awards began in 1901 to 201. These 201 represent 23% of all winners since 1901 and 37% of all American winners. This is remarkable in that Jews are about 0.2% of the world’s population and no more than 3% of the American population.
Since 1871, about 20,000 men have played in the major leagues. About 170 have been Jewish. It’s really about 155 if you exclude “half Jews” raised in another faith and one convert-away.
Yes, I know that Jewish pros are prized among Jews because they are rare and because they defy the stereotype that Jews are bookish. But consider this: Japanese-Americans and Armenian-Americans are comparable ethnic groups. Like Jews, they are, on average, highly educated and earn good incomes. However, they’ve produced far less major league players than Jews in absolute numbers and as a percentage of the American population. Together, they have produced just three Nobel Prize winners.
So, my advice is: “You’re doing something right Jews, don’t worry about the pros so much. Even your athlete numbers are respectable.” My guess is the late Yogi Berra would have agreed with me. Berra was a Hall-of-Fame catcher and a very good manager. He was asked in 1952 if he could be a famous person other than himself, who he’d like to be. He didn’t name another athlete. He replied: “ALBERT EINSTEIN.”
She’s Still Singing
LESLEY ANN WARREN, now 71, was the pretty actress with a fine singing voice who played Cinderella in the TV version of RODGERS and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” that first aired in 1965 and was repeated for many years after. Since then, her career has been spotty, with some highlights: an Oscar nomination for “Victor, Victoria” (1982) and recurring roles on “Will & Grace” as Will’s father's mistress and on “Desperate Housewives” as Susan Mayer's mother.
Less well known is her starring role in the 1967 film musical, “The Happiest Millionaire.” It was the last film supervised by Walt Disney and the songs were by RICHARD and ROBERT SHERMAN, the brothers who wrote the “Mary Poppins” songs. The film failed because it was too saccharine even by Disney standards. But the music was pretty good (available on DVD). On Dec. 5, Ms. Warren will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the movie by performing the film’s songs at a New York club.