When Pikesville resident Avi Harris heard that Delmon Young would be playing with the Orioles this year, he was less than excited.
“It was disconcerting,” Harris revealed recently. “I did not want him here.”
What bothered Harris was an incident in April 2012, when the then-Detroit Tigers player allegedly got into a tussle with an Illinois businessman and his friends outside of a hotel in New York in the early morning hours. A drunken Young reportedly yelled, “You bunch of f—king Jews” after the man gave money to a panhandler who was wearing a yarmulke. The Illinois man was not Jewish, and the tussle continued inside the hotel.
Young pleaded guilty to aggravated harassment, was suspended from Major League Baseball for seven games, underwent anger management and alcohol counseling and also completed a program at the Museum of Tolerance in which he spoke to a Holocaust survivor.
“Having a chance to meet a Holocaust survivor and hear about the horror she faced firsthand allowed me to truly appreciate the history of that time,” the player told the New York Daily News. “It was an eye-opening experience that I won’t soon forget.”
Harris, who has since become familiar with all of the details surrounding Young’s apparent change of heart, now says that he can forgive the Oriole.
While a spokesman for the Orioles declined to comment, citing that the outfielder and designated hitter wasn’t with the team in 2012, local rabbis and avid fans have taken a nuanced view of Young.
Rabbi Daniel Burg at Beth Am Synagogue, and Rabbi Steve Schwartz at Beth El Congregation, were in agreement that athletes shouldn’t necessarily be looked at as role models.
“We expect for some reason as a society athletes to behave at a certain standard, and certainly I think we shouldn’t be looking to athletes as exemplars of menschlichkeit in the world,” said Burg. “That being said, people have to be responsible for their actions.”
Burg is not so sure anti-Semitic beliefs can fade overnight, and he hopes the Orioles have talked seriously to Young about his role in the public eye.
“Do I feel ambivalent about cheering for the guy? I do, for what it’s worth,” he said.
Schwartz said Jews believe in the idea of teshuva, repentance, as well as the Talmudic concept of giving a person the benefit of the doubt.
“Maybe he learned from that experience. Maybe he doesn’t feel that way anymore,” he said. “Maybe when he said it he didn’t know what he was saying.”
At the end of the day, his past might be a moot point.
“If he plays well and doesn’t make any unsavory comments, everybody will be happy,” said Schwartz.
Young hit his first home run as an Oriole on April 8 in a 14-5 win over the Yankees in New York.