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Flatbush Flashback

Jewish Stars of Baseball

"Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story" trailer from Willow Pond Films on Vimeo.

"Cleveland Indians third baseman Al Rosen, the second in a very short line of 'Hebrew Hammers' (and the best Jewish slugger since the original Hebrew Hammer, Hank Greenberg), was leading the A.L. with 18 home runs, 4 more than Mickey Mantle of the Yankees." —from Bobby in Naziland

Peter Miller's Egg Cream, a documentary about the chocolate beverage that contains neither egg nor cream, led me to another Miller film, Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story, from 2010, which also coincides with a theme I touched on in Bobby in Naziland.

 

Bobby references three Jewish major league ballplayers: Brooklyn-born Sandy Koufax, pitcher for the Brooklyn and L.A. Dodgers; Detroit Tigers first-baseman and outfielder Hank Greenberg; and Cleveland Indians third-baseman Al Rosen.

 

In the book, I talk about how Koufax, on his way to the Hall of Fame, learned to throw his unhittable curve ball on the "sacred, scruffy sandlots" of Brooklyn's Parade Grounds and was crowned King of the Jews when he sat out a World Series game on Yom Kipper.

 

I also mention how Greenberg, in 1938, blasted 58 home runs, the closest anybody came to breaking Babe Ruth's record before Roger Maris did it, in 1961. Though he missed three prime years to serve in the army during World War II and was subjected to rabid anti-Semitism from fans and opposing players, over the course of his 13-year career Greenberg hit 331 homers with a .313 lifetime batting average—amazing statistics for a player of any religion.

 

But I didn't know till I saw Jews and Baseball that Greenberg, too, was celebrated for refusing to play a World Series game on Yom Kipper.

 

In this impressively comprehensive documentary, Miller, an Emmy- and Peabody-award–winning director, doesn't cover all 160 Jews who played the game going back to the dawn of professional baseball. But he covers a lot of them, lavishing most of his attention on Koufax and Greenberg, the game's two greatest Jewish stars, but also giving Rosen—somewhat obscure because he played only seven full seasons, outside a major media market—his due.

 

I've been following baseball since I was old enough to understand what baseball was. And I was brought up in a household where any Jew who'd ever achieved anything of significance was brought to my attention. Yet I didn't discover Rosen until I was about nine and started reading books like Who's Who in Baseball. I was amazed that I'd never heard of a player who'd hit so many homers—43 in 1953 alone, when he was the American League MVP—and who shared my last name.

 

He wasn't the only Rosen who played professional baseball. Also mentioned in the film is Goody Rosen, a Brooklyn Dodger and New York Giant center fielder who, in his best season, 1945, hit .325 with a dozen home runs. I remember people in my father's candy store talking about him long after he'd retired—probably because, like Y.A. Tittle, they liked saying his name.

 

Narrated by Dustin Hoffman, Jews and Baseball features extensive archival footage, interviews with fans like Larry King and Ron Howard and, of course, interviews with Koufax, Greenberg, and Al Rosen.

 

Though the film will obviously hold the strongest appeal to Jewish baseball fans (and those old enough to remember the Brooklyn Dodgers), I'd recommend Jews and Baseball to all fans, regardless of religion, race, or country of national origin. It's streaming on Amazon.

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My latest book, Bobby in Naziland, is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.

 

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