Sunday, November 19, 2017

Amazing Four-Generation Jewish Story of Alex Bregman of the Houston Astros

Peter Gammons, the iconic sports writer, recently penned a beautiful, inspiring article about Alex Bregman. Bregman's rise to the Major Leagues is one for the history books. Gammons paints a wonderful picture of Bregman's Jewish family and how baseball has been a part of it for generations.

The amazing story of a four-generation journey, culminating in Alex Bregman and his family's American Dream, by Peter Gammons

The starting point of Alex Bregman’s road to the World Series didn’t begin at age four, when he turned an unassisted triple play in his first T-ball game. Or when he was the first high school sophomore to be named the USA Baseball Player of the Year. Or when he homered off Chris Sale to lead the Houston Astros to victory in the clinching game of the American League Division Series at Fenway Park.

We’ve come to expect all that. That’s just Alex Bregman. He wore the number 30 at LSU to signify the number of teams that didn’t select him in the early rounds of the 2012 draft, and now he wears No. 2 for the Astros not to celebrate Derek Jeter, but because “he knows he should have been the first pick, not the second, in the [2015] draft,” says his father Sam.

No, as Sam Bregman watches his 23-year-old son hitting homers, knocking in game-winning runs and playing a brilliant third base as the Astros battle the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, he will tell you the starting point of Alex’s journey goes back to the end of the 19th century. “It’s the fulfillment of four generations of short Jewish Bregmans who dreamed of playing in the major leagues,” Sam says. “The big leagues and the World Series. One hundred twenty years in America fulfilled by Alex in this World Series.”

It is the story of the American Dream. It began in Pinsk, Belarus, in the late 19th Century, when the religious intolerance of the Russian Orthodox Church resulted in “Kill the Jews” riots and the subsequent deaths of thousands of Russian Jews. Alex’s great-grandfather Sam (Bo) Bregman was a child in those horrific days. He told the next two generations of Bregmans that when his mother housed and hid other Jews, her door was broken down and she was beaten. Soon after, Bo left home in a horse-drawn cart, crossed the border, was taken to a ship, and, as he told his grandson Sam, “sailed across the ocean to the United States hiding in the bottom of a boat.” He landed in Baltimore and began the great American Dream that, a century later, led to his great-grandson homering off Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher of a generation, in Game 1 of the World Series.

Bo Bregman ultimately moved to Washington, where for years he essentially ran the numbers racket in the District of Columbia. He earned a good living but eventually became a boxing promoter. He made enough money to be one of the original minority owners of the Washington Redskins when they moved from Boston, drawing 1,000 fans for their first game in 1936 in Frederick, Maryland. Bo hung out with Angelo Dundee. He promoted the Joe Louis-Buddy Baer heavyweight championship fight in 1941 at a sold-out Griffith Stadium. And he raised his son Stan.

He infused Stan with his love of sports and the boy became a regular at Griffith Stadium. In 1941, at the age of 10, Stan went to a Sunday doubleheader and saw Joe DiMaggio tie and then break George Sisler’s consecutive-game hitting streak in the same afternoon.

Stan went on to attend Georgetown and Georgetown Law School and formed his own firm. He was active in Democratic politics, working for Adlai Stevenson in 1956, Hubert Humphrey in 1960, and again as one of the campaign directors for Humphrey when he ran against Richard Nixon in 1968. “Most of all,” says Alex, “my grandfather loved sports. Especially baseball and the ponies.”

Because of his political involvement, Stan was a friend of Democratic Party Chairman Bob Short. Seven years after the original Senators left for Minnesota, in 1961, Stan convinced Short to buy the expansion Senators. After the sale, Stan negotiated the deal to bring Ted Williams to Washington as manager.

Sam Bregman was born in 1963, and, as a kid, he was always at the park, hanging out in the dugout and the manager’s office. “I spent a lot of time on Ted’s lap,” Sam remembers. “He was great to me, brought me brownies. I loved being in the clubhouse. I remember after every game Frank Howard would drink a case of Schlitz.

“One night my dad gave Ted a ride home,” Sam says. “He was a little nervous because I was very young and Ted’s language could be pretty salty. Well, this night Ted was told the Senators traded a positional player for a pitcher. Well, Ted swore a little, then said in that loud voice, ‘The only thing I can say for pitchers is that they’re all stupid and have fat asses.”

After the 1971 season, Stan negotiated the deal that would relocate Short and the Senators to Arlington, Texas. “He finally got the court injunction allowing Short to move,” Sam remembers, “and in the dark of night the Senators equipment trucks took off for Texas.”

In those years, Stan became close to Senators outfielder Hank Allen, Dick’s brother. After the 1972 season, in which Dick Allen was the American League MVP for the Chicago White Sox, Stan negotiated what was then the game’s biggest contract, three years and $750,000, on Dick’s behalf. Dick and Hank ultimately started a horse breeding farm, and Stan agreed to be their legal counsel, gratis.

He remained close to Hank, who also became a baseball scout while breeding horses. Hank and Dick raced a horse named Bannister Bregman at Pimlico, and in 1989, Hank became the first African-American to train a horse that raced in the Kentucky Derby. Allen’s Northern Wolf finished sixth, behind Sunday Silence, but it was historic.

Stan and Sam eventually moved to Albuquerque, where their family took root. Alex was born in 1994 and by age four he was playing T-ball. “From little league to high school my grandfather was at all my games,” Alex says of Stan, who died in 2014 at age 83. “He was my greatest fan. When he couldn’t get to my high school games, he’d call me after every game, always encouraging me. Man, he was a special part of my life.”

At 10, Alex was a batboy for the University of New Mexico, and when the team hosted Arizona State, he got to see Dustin Pedroia, who quickly became his favorite player. “They were winning something like 12-0, he hit a ground ball and dove headfirst into first base,” says Alex, who also plays with a similar intensity. “I will never forget that. I always want to be like Dustin Pedroia.”
Sam bought part of an NBA Developmental team, the Albuquerque Thunderbirds, and Alex got to see the business side of sports. Once in a while, Stan and Sam would get Hank Allen, who became a scout with the Astros, to come to New Mexico and watch Alex play. “I was about 13 and they told Hank he should get the Astros to draft me,” recalls Alex. He said, ‘maybe, we’ll see.’”

In 2015, Allen’s Astros selected Alex with the second pick in the draft, after Vanderbilt’s Dansby Swanson. “It was a big moment for us,” says Sam.

Indeed, it was. Bo Bergman got off that boat and walked ashore in Baltimore nearly 20 years before the Russian Revolution, more than three decades before he helped the Redskins move from Boston, 60-something years before his son got Ted Williams to manage the Senators, nearly 120 years before his great-grandson homered in Game 1 of the World Series off Clayton Kershaw.

Sam Bregman says four generations of short Bregman Jews wanted to play in the World Series, and now Alex is there, fulfilling those hopes, living the American Dream.

Peter Gammons has written about baseball for nearly 50 years for outlets such as The Boston Globe, Sports Illustrated, and ESPN. In 2005, Gammons was honored with the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for outstanding baseball writing, which was awarded during the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y. He is also TV analyst on MLB Network. Follow Peter on Twitter @pgammo.