How did sports impact your Jewish identity?
To be perfectly honest, growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, sports never impacted my Jewish identity. I always considered myself an athlete who happened to be Jewish. In particular, baseball taught me about teamwork, humility and dealing with failure and success. The fact that most of my friends were Jewish and loved to participate in sports really helped me. Again, through my minor league days and my first few years in the Major Leagues I was a professional baseball player who happened to be Jewish. That changed somewhat when I came to the New York Mets. I identified more with being Jewish for various reasons, and when I took off for the Jewish Holidays in 1969 (the year the Mets won the World Series) during a tight pennant race I realized that I had done something that many people thought very significant. Over the years that has become synonymous with me and I am constantly reminded by young and old fans and some who weren't even born at that time of how important that was to them. I am very proud of that.
What advice would you give to a young Jewish athlete today?
My message to a young Jewish athlete today is very simple. Don't even consider your religion to be a detriment. There are more Jewish players in the Major Leagues now than ever before, and I believe in all professional sports there are many more opportunities to make it to the highest level of those sports. Work as hard as you can to become a better athlete, and remember whether you make it to the top or not give it your best shot and cherish the moments along the way.