WINNIPEG — It’s only with the swift passing of our years that most of us begin to be even remotely interested in our lineage and feel the need to learn more about our ancestors.
Take, for example, 13-year-old Caleb Rutner, LEFT, a Grade 7 student at
Winnipeg’s River Heights Junior High School. Just weeks ago, Rutner won
the gold medal in the 52-kilogram bantam division at the Canadian
National Wrestling Championships in Saskatoon.
Caleb, it turns out, has a rich history and a gene pool to match that no doubt contributed to his superior performance on the mat.
When asked why he became involved with wrestling as early as age six, he explained: “My dad asked me if I wanted to try it out. He was a wrestler back in his college days in New York and Nebraska. He was born in the Bronx.”
Caleb’s father, Toby Rutner, a local psychologist, later explained: “I was a high school wrestler in New York and went to Nebraska State in Wayne, Neb., on a scholarship.”
“Since you are looking into Caleb’s pedigree,” he continued, “ it might interest you to know that my dad was Mickey Rutner, a major league baseball player who played for the old Philadelphia Athletics [in the American League]. He recently died, and since he at one point in his career played baseball for the Toronto Maple Leafs, there was a very large obit on him in the Globe and Mail.” (The Maple Leafs were a AAA ball team in the International League which folded in 1967.)
The proud dad added that his widowed mother, Lee, a dancer, was a member of the famous Rockettes, a 75-year-old group that still performs mainly at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
As for Caleb’s zaide, Mickey, he died last Oct. 17 at age 88. At the time, he held the distinction of being the oldest living Jewish major leaguer.
The onetime third baseman had the proverbial cup of coffee in the majors. His short stay in the show was not due to lack of talent, but because of the anti-Semitism often faced by Jewish athletes back then.
Mickey was called up to the A’s in September 1947 at age 27 and played in 12 games. He managed 12 hits in 48 at bats for a .250 average that included a double and a home run, along with four RBIs.
A book, Man on Spikes, was written about a fictional character named “Mike Kutner,” who was apparently based on the career of Mickey Rutner. The author was Eliot Asinof, who once played minor league ball with Rutner and who also wrote the well-known book that was made into a movie, Eight Men Out, about the 1919 Black Sox gambling scandal.
As for Caleb, asked how he feel about capturing a national wrestling title, he said, “I don’t want to seem that I’m gloating, but I am pretty proud.
“My coach, Kris Stasiak, who is a former Polish Olympic wrestling star who wrestled in the Olympics, has contributed a lot to my success. I don’t think I could do it without him.”
Altogether, 10 wrestlers vied for the national title, and Caleb had to defeat three opponents: one from London, Ont., followed by another from British Columbia and a third from Alberta.
Earlier in the month, Caleb, along with a few other wrestling mates from his Winnipeg Wrestling Club, competed in a tournament in Grand Forks, N.D., where he added to his growing pile of medals and trophies with two golds for Greco-Roman wrestling and another gold for freestyle.
Naturally, Caleb is familiar with the shenanigans that go on in professional wrestling and isn’t overly impressed. “TV wrestling, that’s just fake stuff. It doesn’t come close to any of the wrestling styles in amateur. Ultimate fighting contests are sort of brutal. Sometimes I sort of just turn away,” he said.
The best, it appears, is yet to come. Caleb is set to become a travelling man in September when his club heads to Poland for a competition against European wrestlers. While there, he will also expand his knowledge of Jewish history with a trip to Auschwitz.
As for the future, he wants to represent Canada in the Olympics and the Maccabiah Games.
Considering his background, work ethic, and family history, don’t bet against it.