Here is a picture of Israel’s baseball team. They got knocked out of the World Baseball Classic on Wednesday morning after losing to Japan:
And here is their mascot, the Mensch:
Israel might not have the best national baseball team in the world, but they do have the best mascot. And I’m going to tell you why.
The biggest problem with mascots is that they’re generally creepy as fuck. My colleague Ryan Nanni once did the horrifying work of rounding up the most terrifying old college mascots, and, three years later, he still can’t sleep (he also has some thoughts about the genitalia of anthropomorphized blob mascots, but that’s neither here nor there).
All mascots run the risk of making you want to gouge your eyes out. But human mascots are more likely to scare the living daylights out of you than, say, a friendly, goofy monster mascot like the Red Sox’s Wally. I mean, you’ve all seen the King Cake Baby. It’s very hard to take a person’s face, turn it into plush, felt, or plastic, and not create something that fuels nightmares.
Israel’s Mensch is therefore a feat of pure mascot genius. Here’s a guy who’s not only made out of fabric and doesn’t make you run screaming in the other direction, but he’s actually kind of endearing! Look how happy he is as slugger Cody Decker picks him up:
And look how cute he is sitting on a bench:
He’s a mensch on a bench!
(I should tell you that Mensch-on-a-Bench is a real thing. You know Elf-on-a-Shelf, that stuffed elf that sits on the bookcase of your kid’s playroom so you can tell them he’s watching them and knows if they’re being bad? And that if they are being bad, Santa won’t give them any presents? Mensch-on-a-Bench is the Jewish equivalent. Both of these things are messed up, because if you grow up thinking inanimate objects are spying on you, you run the risk of turning into Kellyanne Conway, who recently suggested that foreign governments can spy on us through our microwaves.)
But I digress. Israel’s Mensch is also delightful because he’s literally a good guy: Mensch in Yiddish — a delightful mix of Hebrew and German — means, “a person of integrity and honor.” My Jewish family uses this word all the time. My mom will call me and be like, “The guy at the Apple Store spent an extra hour helping me figure out why Instagram wasn’t working on my phone, he was a real mensch.” (That’s just an example. My mom is actually very good at Instagram, but you get the gist.)
I do think that the Mensch is, for the reasons above, objectively the best mascot.
But I also should tell you that I have a vested interest in Israel’s mascot, because the Orioles are about as important a religion in my family as Judaism itself. And, seeing as the High Holidays usually overlap with the MLB playoffs, Jewishness and baseball always feel inextricably linked. We have a bunch of Jewish baseball jokes we’ve passed on for generations. When the rabbi says, “and He shall reign for ever and ever,” we lean over to each other and say, “and that’s why the ballgame was cancelled.”
There aren’t a ton of Jews in baseball, either, so a team full of them is very exciting for me. The Sox’s Gabe Kapler was a hero of mine growing up in Boston. I loved that he called up a rabbi in 2004 to see if he should play on Yom Kippur during the playoff run that would result in the team’s first World Series win in a million years. I loved it even more when the rabbi said, "Do it! We need all the help we can get!" and Kapler decided to play.
Anyway, all of this to say that the Mensch rules, and even though the Israelis lost the WBC, they won Best Mascot. Which is just as important.