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Bill Plaschke

Dodger Lead Grows

A Very Private Issue Gets Aired Publicly

September 24, 2004|Bill Plaschke

SAN DIEGO — It's not about the stadiums and synagogues full of rhetoric and righteousness.

It's about two people.

"You only have to answer to yourself and God," Shawn Green said.

How unsettling, then, that so many are trying to wedge themselves between them.

Green's decision to miss one of two Dodger games being played this weekend during Yom Kippur -- the holiest day on the Jewish calendar -- was announced Thursday amid much tongue-clucking.

Some say he should be more true to his religion and miss both games.

Others say, if he's only going to celebrate half the holiday, why not be more devout to his team and play both games?

Green looks at both sides and wonders how so many people can be so openly judgmental about something so buried under his shirt?

That something is his heart, which he said he followed in making a decision that many said was nothing more than a compromise.

"For me, this is where I'm at," he said. "I woke up this morning feeling good about it."

While many said he should sit out both tonight's and Saturday's showdown games in San Francisco because they fall under the 24-hour span of the holy day, Green has decided to play today and sit out Saturday.

That was his initial decision earlier this week, then he wavered after talking to friends and advisors who surely informed him many in the Jewish community would be upset if he played at all.

In the end, he decided to follow that heart, and who among us can truly understand enough to argue?

"Everyone approaches their religious worship in their own way ... missing one of two games is most consistent with my beliefs as a Jewish person," Green said quietly in the visiting clubhouse at Petco Park on Thursday. "I'm not orthodox, but I'm Jewish and I respect its customs."

This weekend in San Francisco, Green will be forced to cling to the explanation as intently as the Dodgers were clinging to first place Thursday after a 9-6 victory over the San Diego Padres.

The Dodgers are fortunate to be there, what with another horrific performance by starting pitcher Kazuhisa Ishii on Thursday overcome only by smart hitting and great fielding plays by Steve Finley (somersault catch) and Jayson Werth (cannon throw).

Throw in a ninth-inning blowup by the Giant bullpen against Houston, pushing the Dodgers lead from half a game to 1 1/2 games, and there is some renewed breathing room, but not much.

They will need every bit of whatever gas is left in their depleted tank this weekend.

They will need, among others, the guy whose ninth-inning, two-strike, two-out homer in Colorado last weekend is one reason the Dodgers have remained in first place.

They will need Green.

Who is, quite literally and certainly unfairly, damned if he does and damned if he doesn't.

"He's been under a lot of pressure from both sides," Finley said. "It boiled down to, he did what he felt he had to do."

And for that, he should be admired, not scolded, if only because so few athletes today take a stand on anything.

Tiger Woods sits quietly while women are barred from Augusta and other minorities scour for the funds required to compete for a spot on the tour.

The likes of Joe Montana and Michael Jordan sat quietly for years.

Green makes a national noise by sitting out what will be one of the most important games of the year for a religion he admittedly does not practice.

Yet some folks will lament his absence, while others will mourn his presence.

"If I was his rabbi, I would not want him to play in either game," said Rabbi Merle Singer of the Temple Beth El in Boca Raton, Fla. "People will respect him more if he stands up for his ideals and principles."

Green acknowledges that he does not regularly practice the Jewish faith. He never had a bar mitzvah, he did not marry a Jewish woman and he does not belong to a congregation.

"That doesn't matter," Singer said. "This is not only a religion, it's a heritage. Be proud of who you are."

Yet isn't Green making a statement about who he is?

He is someone who does not practice his faith but wants to honor it nonetheless. He is someone who does not consider baseball more important than life, but who does not want to abandon his responsibilities there, either.

In a sports world where most things are black and white, there is plenty of gray here. Just like in that other, real world.

"In religion, I don't think there is an 'all or none,' " Green said. "Everybody has to go about it their own way."

As with anyone in this land of glorious religious freedom, here's hoping Shawn Green is allowed to do so unimpeded.

*

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.

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