Major League Baseball
The legend of Shlomo Lipetz, WBC Team Israel's 44-year-old 'mythical figure'
Major League Baseball

The legend of Shlomo Lipetz, WBC Team Israel's 44-year-old 'mythical figure'

Updated Mar. 17, 2023 10:29 a.m. ET

In October 2001, a hairy Israeli man in skinny jeans and a skin-tight nightclub shirt strolled onto the baseball field at San Diego Mesa Junior College. Thousands of miles from home and just three weeks removed from mandatory military service, the 22-year-old freshman approached one of the coaches and introduced himself.

"Hi, I’m Shlomo," he proclaimed in broken English. "I want to play baseball."

Twenty-two years later, the 6-foot-4 sidearming Israeli soft-tosser is the second-oldest player in the 2023 World Baseball Classic. When Team Israel takes on the Dominican Republic in a week’s time, Lipetz will share a stadium, if not a field, with the likes of Juan Soto, Manny Machado and Rafael Devers

Here is another seemingly contradictory fact: The 27⅔ innings he threw for the Netanya Tigers of the short-lived Israel Baseball League way back in 2007 are the totality of his official professional baseball experience.


Armed with a mid-70s fastball, a vagabond’s passport, a mullet and, sometimes, a gold tooth, Lipetz is Kenny Powers, Forrest Gump, Paul Bunyan, Batman and Walter Johnson rolled into one. He has pitched around the globe — from Tel Aviv to Vienna, Belgrade to Seoul, Tecate to Blagoevgrad, San Diego to Turin, from the Tokyo Olympics to Central Park — all the while carrying the Israeli baseball community on his shoulders.

"He’s a sort of mythical figure, a magnetic personality with wisdom to share." said Sam Fuld, a member of Israel’s 2017 WBC team and current GM of the Phillies. "A father figure, but also the cool dad."

Lipetz played in Israel’s first-ever organized international game, a 50-0 loss to Saudi Arabia in the 1990 European Little League Championships at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, and one of its most recent ones, an 11-5 loss to the Miami Marlins in a warm-up World Baseball Classic exhibition on March 8. He is Israel Baseball’s foundation stone, its throughline, its guiding light, its break-in-case-of-emergency starter and reliever, and now, heading into the WBC, the only Israeli-born player on its roster.

"There's a character there," shared Alon Leichman, the current assistant pitching coach for the Cincinnati Reds and as a longtime Israel baseballer, one of Lipetz’s closest friends. "He's 6-4. He dresses European. He has a mullet or a mustache or both. He only throws like 77, but he’s putting the ball wherever he wants. Oh, and he'll give you a [complete game] every single time."

"He dresses like a f---ing magician," jokes Nate Fish, the self-proclaimed King of Jewish Baseball, a longtime friend of Shlomo’s and a current coach on Israel’s staff.

Now wait until you hear about the day job. Lipetz is the President of Venues for City Winery, one of the nation’s preeminent live event space companies. He has worked there since its founding in 2008, helping to develop City Winery from a single location in NYC to a nationwide collective with venues and programs all across the country. Tasked with organizing and booking City Winery’s musical acts, Lipetz’s Instagram is dotted with pictures of him in the presence of people like John Prine, Bill Withers, Phoebe Bridgers and Paul McCartney.

Shlomo Lipetz, Greg Phillinganes, Ed Sheeran, Bill Withers, Michael Dorf and Taro Alexander attend the soundcheck for "Lean On Him: A Tribute To Bill Withers" at Carnegie Hall on Oct. 1, 2015, in New York City. (Photo by Bobby Bank/WireImage)

"I always joke to music people that I’ll rip off my jeans and have my baseball uniform underneath," Lipetz said. "I love that dynamic, that I can use both sides of my mind."

But despite his hectic work life, Lipetz stays fresh between international competitions by pitching, as often as three times a week, for three or four different teams across the New York area. One teammate ballparked Lipetz at around 30 starts per team per year, a remarkable number considering that Shlomo does not own a car and takes public transportation to games.

"I had a stroke [in 2022] and Shlomo didn’t even bother with the GoFundMe," said Alex Oats, one of Shlomo’s many rec-league coaches. "He called me and said, ‘Let me know what you need. I got you.’"

"Everyone is like, ‘How does he do all this?'" says Leichmann. "I don’t know, because he’s f---ing Shlo."

This is the legend of Shlomo Lipetz.

Shlomo Lipetz in the Team Israel dugout. (Photo by Getty Images)

Lipetz was born in 1979 in Tel Aviv, Israel. For most Israelis at the time, baseball was an afterthought, a stateside novelty that nobody but far-away American relatives cared about. But the game found Shlomo anyway.

Lipetz’s mom had a close friend who lived on Kibbutz Gezer, one of the few communities in Israel with anything resembling a baseball culture. When visiting her friend, Mama Lipetz would often bring along little Shlomo, who found his way toward the ballfield and eventually fell in love.

"That place was a baseball utopia," he remembered.

During the 1980s, the sport began to grow ever so gradually, as Shlomo and his friends formed a tight-knit group of hardball-crazy Israeli youngsters. In 1990, Lipetz and his friends, jonesing for a grander baseball experience, convinced a group of intrepid parents to organize the first Israeli National Baseball team, entering it into that summer’s European Little League Championships to be held at the U.S. Air Base in Ramstein, Germany.

"We slept in the basement of the Rabbi of Ramstein," Lipetz remembered. "We all wore different hats and played in T-shirts and sweatpants and taped our numbers on our backs."

Unfortunately, that tournament, and with it Israel’s baseball journey, got off to a rocky start. Lipetz and his ragtag group of 11- and 12-year-olds lost the country’s first-ever competitive baseball game to Saudi Arabia by the nail-biting score of 50-0. The Saudi team, composed entirely of the children of American military members and oil executives, offered to end the game early after scoring 22 runs in the third inning, but the Israeli players hadn’t flown all that way for nothing. They declined. It was such a noteworthy blowout that the Los Angeles Times reported on the game in the morning paper. 

But that domination didn’t dissuade Lipetz, who stuck with the sport during his teenage years despite the lack of nearby competitive action. The occasional trips to Europe to face the continent’s top teams served, as Lipetz puts it, "a taste of what baseball was for so many people and what baseball could one day be for me." By the time he was about to begin his mandated army tenure at age 18, he was thinking big, dreaming of one day playing college baseball in the United States.

During his time in the army, Lipetz was part of an athletics-focused program that kept him close to Israel’s small but expanding baseball community. He coached, taught, played fast-pitch softball and, most importantly, played catch with anyone nearby, willing and able. So by the time his service ended in 2001, Lipetz felt prepared to pursue his goal. Less than three weeks later he was in California, enrolled at San Diego Mesa Junior College, ready to walk on to the baseball team ... even though it was October and tryouts had already come and gone.

Luckily, a coach named Cordell Hippolito, now a minor-league instructor with the Dodgers, was at the field that day. He took to Shlomo, and the two spent that winter playing catch together. Fortunately for the burgeoning hurler, the team at Mesa was in desperate need of arms come springtime. And that’s how 22-year-old freshman Shlomo Lipetz and his 70-mph heater, just months out of the Israeli military, realized a college baseball dream.

A year of intensive weightlifting and throwing helped Lipetz raise his fastball velocity from the low 70s into the high 80s. After his second year at Mesa he transferred to then-Division II University of California San Diego. At UCSD, Lipetz carved, posting a team-leading 2.84 ERA his junior year and seven saves as the closer his senior year. Upon graduation, a few MLB teams sniffed around, but nothing significant materialized. Shlomo ended up pitching semi-pro in Mexico to stay fresh for his Israel national team ambitions in Europe, but didn’t have any aspirations beyond that.

And right around then is when a Jewish bagel mogul from Boston named Larry Baras had the wild idea to establish a professional baseball league in Israel. Besides the lack of fields, players, equipment and fans, it was a fabulous idea. But somehow Baras arranged for 120 ballplayers to spend the summer of 2007 in Israel. The IBL was born.

"So you have to understand that nobody was coming or going into the league, everyone was just kinda stuck there all summer," recalls Nate Fish, then an IBL player, now a member of Israel’s WBC coaching staff. "But randomly at one game, the Netanya Tigers suddenly have a new guy ... and he’s actually good."

It was, of course, a returned-home Shlomo Lipetz, who proceeded to shred the IBL into pieces with a 0.98 ERA in 27⅔ innings. The American-born Fish says he didn’t interact with Lipetz much during the season, but at the league’s championship game, Shlomo approached him with an inquiry.

"He comes up to me and he’s wearing a kilt and combat boots," Fish said. "He says, ‘I heard you live in New York, I’m moving to Brooklyn next week.’ We exchanged phone numbers. He hit me up when he got to New York. He’s been there ever since, and we’ve been friends ever since."

Together, Fish and Lipetz changed the trajectory of Israel’s national team, helping to lift the squad from the lowest levels of European baseball. For the WBC roster, a player only needs citizenship eligibility to qualify, but for other international competitions, players must be actual citizens of the country they represent. That meant Fish and Lipetz took on European baseball with a roster full of dudes named Oren, Assaf and Moshe.

In 2011, with Israel needing two wins against Great Britain to qualify for the European Championships, Lipetz tossed a complete-game gem in the first game of a doubleheader. Fish and the head coach at the time, Pat Doyle, realized they didn’t have any arms left. Eventually, Shlomo volunteered to pitch the second game.

"We said, ‘F--- it,’" Fish remembered. "So we start him in the second game. They're announcing the lineups: ‘Pitching for Israel ... Shlomo ... Lipetz.’ You can see the faces on the Great Britain guys, they couldn't believe it, because he had really f---ed them up. But not only is he starting Game 2, he’s long-tossing, he’s throwing another bullpen to warm up. It’s 110 degrees."

But after four more shutout innings to start Game 2, the Brits got to Lipetz in the fifth, plating a pair of runs on the way to a 5-2 victory. Despite the defeat, Shlomo’s ironman pitching performance has lived on in Israel baseball lore.

"Remember, he did not come from American baseball," Fish said. "He did not have the same sensibilities as you or I. He really didn't think it was that weird to throw 216 pitches, on some level. And on some level, he knew it was insane."

Such outings have given Lipetz a permanent place on Israel’s tournament roster. He supplied pitching depth on the 2017 WBC team that featured multiple big leaguers including Ike Davis, Ryan Lavarnway and Fuld. And when Team Israel found itself up 11-1 on South Africa in the deciding game of the Tokyo Qualifiers, it was Lipetz who recorded the final out.

That legacy is why, at age 44, Lipetz finds himself on Israel’s WBC roster, the most talented group of baseballing Jewish men ever assembled. Even though his "fastball" nowadays clocks in around 75 mph, according to Statcast data from Israel’s recent scrimmage against the Marlins, he can still get a few outs when called upon. Lipetz is unlikely to pitch in pool play, but he’s still the heart and soul of the club. 

"More than what he's done on the field, he's been a true mentor and leader," said Leichmann. "Everyone loves the guy. When he walks in a room, people are attracted to him. He's the glue of the team."

"Shlo is Israel Baseball," said Joey Wagman, who has played all around the world with Lipetz.

"He’s already one of my all-time favorites," said Phillies and Team Israel catcher Garrett Stubbs, who met Lipetz for the first time only a few days ago. 

But come Sunday, when big leaguers like Stubbs and Giants slugger Joc Pederson are getting a deep-tissue massage or taping their wrists ahead of Israel’s opening game against Great Britain, Lipetz will be on a work call for his real job.

A few months after he moved to New York in late 2007, Shlomo saw a Craigslist post for an unpaid music industry internship with a notable NYC entertainment executive named Michael Dorf. He showed up cold at Dorf’s office and got the job. The following year Dorf founded City Winery and brought Lipetz along for the ride to help book acts for that new venture. Fifteen years later, Shlomo is still at it, except now City Winery is a $100-million company that oversees around 4,000 shows a year.

"People in the music world get a kick out of it," Dorf said over the phone. "I have huge booking agents for world-famous bands that show up here and the first thing they ask about is how Shlomo’s baseball thing is going."

And because the two have been working together for 15 years, Dorf doesn’t blink when Lipetz requests a few weeks out of the office to pitch for Team Israel. He trusts Shlomo to get the job done and that keeping his playing career going is part of what makes Shlomo, Shlomo. Besides, it’s a great schtick that’s good for business. Shlomo takes it all, both the ball and the tunes, very seriously.

Dorf says that after Lipetz returned home from the Olympics in 2021, he changed his City Winery email signature to read "Shlomo Lipetz, President of Venues, Olympian."

"I’m in the Olympic Village in Tokyo," Lipetz recalled. "We just got back from the Opening Ceremony, on the biggest high of our lives, and I’m having conference calls with my booking team in New York, or an executive meeting at 1 a.m. local time or going through the 8,500 unread messages in my inbox. 

"That is definitely the duality of my life."

Jake Mintz, the louder half of @CespedesBBQ is a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He played college baseball, poorly at first, then very well, very briefly. Jake lives in New York City where he coaches Little League and rides his bike, sometimes at the same time. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Mintz.

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