Contrary to popular belief, Sandy Koufax wasn’t the first dominant Jewish pitcher in baseball. That distinction belongs to Erskine Mayer, who made history nearly five decades earlier by becoming the first Jew to win 20 games and also pitch in a World Series, both of which he did twice.
Mayer, whose father composed an opera written in Hebrew and whose mother’s lineage traces back to the Mayflower, compiled a 91-70 career record and 2.96 E.R.A. over his eight-year career for three teams. The first six of those were in Philadelphia, where after debuting in 1912 at 22, he went 21-19 with a 2.58 ERA in 1914, then 21-15, 2.36 in 1915 while helping lead the Phillies to their first pennant. When he lost Game 2 of the Series vs. the Boston Red Sox, it became historic. Not only was it the first time a Jew pitched in the World Series, but the first time a President, Woodrow Wilson, attended a Series game. Mayer also started Game 5.
After joining the American League champion Chicago White Sox in August, he pitched one inning in the 1919 Series, won by Cincinnati. He was unaware at the time that eight teammates had accepted bribes and were eventually banned from baseball in what became known as the Black Sox Scandal.
Mayer, who pitched in 245 games retired after that season and was living in Los Angeles when he died of a heart attack in 1957 at 68.