Team Israel's secret weapon: Cincinnati's own Mensch on a Bench

Moshe doll a mascot in World Baseball Classic
Team Israel's secret weapon: Cincinnati's own Mensch on a Bench
Posted at 7:55 AM, Mar 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-08 10:56:07-05

CINCINNATI - The man behind the Mensch knows a good marketing opportunity when he sees one.

Mensch on a Bench founder Neal Hoffman is working on a custom order for Team Israel, a World Baseball Classic underdog that is winning games – and fans – after adopting Moshe the Mensch as its mascot.

“I just called my designer and I’m having (Moshe’s) hat replaced with a baseball cap with the Israeli logo on it,” Hoffman said. “I’m going to send it to them for good luck.”

Hoffman invented Moshe the Mensch as a Hanukkah-themed plush toy five years ago. His Cincinnati-based company generates about $750,000 a year, selling Mensch on a Bench dolls and books that tell the story of Hanukkah.

Hoffman said the company has generated more than 2 billion media impressions in its five-year history, most of it from coverage of his appearances on ABC’s Shark Tank show in 2014 and 2015.

Team Israel is boosting that total by carrying Moshe onto the field after victories and bringing him to post-game press conferences.

“He’s a friend. He’s a teammate. He’s a borderline deity to our team,” first-baseman Cody Decker said after the team’s 2-1 win over South Korea this week. “He brings a lot to the table.”

Decker is a journeyman Major Leaguer who signed as a free-agent backup catcher with the Milwaukee Brewers in January. He bought a Mensch doll as a good luck charm for Team Israel -- also known as the Jew Crew -- last fall.

The team is ranked 41st in the world, but hasn’t lost a game since then. In South Korea this month, it beat the third- and fourth-ranked teams in the tournament. A win against Netherlands would guarantee an advance to the next round.

“They are 200-to-1 underdogs to win it,” Hoffman said. “But as I told my son this morning, we have a long history of the Jews fighting uphill battles and winning, just like the story of Hanukkah.”

Decker is having a lot of fun with the Moshe mojo. He’s compared the Mensch to Jobu, the doll deity from the movie Major League. But instead of offering rum, he said the team pours Moshe a glass of Manischewitz wine.

Hoffman said Decker now his favorite player.

“It’s lighting me up,” Hoffman said. “We’re thrilled to just be involved.”

The one and only downside from the experience is that Hoffman hasn’t enjoyed a sales spike from the Team Israel exposure.

“We’re out of stock,” Hoffman said. “We never expected to have a rush of sales in March. I assume we’re losing some sales, but the hope is that those people are going to come back at Hanukkah time.”

For now, Hoffman is happy to cheer Team Israel’s unlikely run in the World Baseball Classic.

“We’re honored to be a part of it,” he said. “I think the team is full of Mensches.”