Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Genre of Biographical Cultural History

People often describe my books as oral history. I did too until I became aware that what I was doing did not fall within that definition. I searched for a correct definition, and could not find one. After considerable thought, I decided to define my work as "biographical cultural history." You might ask, "What is the difference?" Oral history is generally presented dryly as only the verbatim answers of the interviewee to an invisible interviewer. Or, if visible, the interviewer is represented only by his question. In my books, I seek to transform the interview into a short biography related as a lively conversation between the subject and me. Thus, I'm not only visible, but shifting here and there, as required by the arc of the short biography I am writing, to the third person to interject comments or information to fill in the gaps, and thus project the interview not only as a lively conversation, but as the story, in essence, of a person's life, and with his or her observations and opinions, especially within the field of their interest. I believe this to be a new genre which I have sought to define below in a more academic manner:

"Biographical cultural history" appears to be a new book genre, applicable to a multiplicity of topics. In-depth personal and topical interviews of a group of individuals chosen for their prominence in a certain cultural historical field are fashioned by the author into short biographies to reveal the essence of their lives per se and their pertinence to the topic. All are then organized and integrated to create the penultimate "biographical cultural history." In each biography the author interweaves his questions and relevant verbatim extracts of the interviewee's words into a living first person present tense conversation, with the author's third person opening and closing commentary, interstitial observations and remarks, relevant biographical, historical, cultural information, and informative illustrations. An eminent historian, cultural expert, and/or the author then may write an interpretative essay for inclusion in the book to assess the social and cultural impact of the information developed in the biographies on the present and future.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Baseball Fans Hit It Out Of The Shul

Sunday morning, 350 guests attended Skirball’s baseball round-up tying Jewish American legacies to our national sport. Larry Ruttman moderated a lively conversation between baseball fans and ex-players including Ira Berkow, Alan Dershowitz, Donald Fehr and Art Shamsky. Hearing insider stories for the first time made the event a home run.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Bud Selig’s "Hope and Faith" in His Last Great Goal Rewarded on Jupiter's Field of Dreams

Published in NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture, Volume 22, Number 1, Fall 2013. Copyright © 2014 by the University of Nebraska Press. Reprinted by permission of the University of Nebraska Press.

What do the following seemingly disparate folks have in common: Major League Baseball commissioner Allan “Bud” Selig from Milwaukee, Wisconsin; 1909 Nobel Peace Prize winner Paul-Henri-Benjamin Baluet d’Estournelles baron de Constant de Rebecque (November 22, 1852&endash;May 15, 1924) of France; SoHo wine bar manager Shlomo Lipetz of New York by way of Tel Aviv, Israel; Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame manager and player Yoshio Yoshida; Team Spain’s 2013 World Baseball Classic (WBC) manager Mauro Mazzotti from Italy; Nate Freiman, Team Israel’s 2013 WBC home run slugger from Phoenix, Arizona, by way of Wellesley, Massachusetts; native black Sotho tribe member and minor-league South African shortstop Gift Ngoepe; and secretary general of the French Federation of Baseball and Softball Jean-Christophe TinĂ©?

They love baseball, whether it is played on fields in America, France, Italy, Spain, South Africa, Israel, Japan, the Dominican, Cuba, or anywhere else on earth.

The field of dreams for the WBC qualifying round among France, South Africa, Spain, and Israel was comely Roger Dean Stadium in luxurious Jupiter, Florida, where green abounds, not only in the pockets of its well-known residents, but on the many golf courses rolling across the landscape. So when players from nine countries took the diamond on Wednesday, September 19, 2012, hopes were high in and behind the dugouts.

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig was onto something a decade or so ago when he decided to put the strength of his office behind the WBC and the internationalization of baseball. Always a proponent of “hope and faith,” Selig hoped that the teams from many lands would put on a good show, get along, and grow the game he loves, and he had the faith to commit to that idea. If this week of WBC qualifiers has evidentiary value, Selig’s faith was rewarded.

[As the games unfolded, the author interviewed players, managers, and coaches from all four teams from France, Spain, South Africa, and Israel, whose words are recounted in this article.]

[The general manager of the French entry, former player Jean-Christophe TinĂ©, supplied fascinating information about the long history of baseball in France, including the effective coaching of French teams by former Japanese star Yoshio Yoshida, who came for a holiday, and stayed for years; a French Nobel Peace Prize winner who found in baseball a source for world peace; and the status of the game’s development in France and Europe today.]

[Mauro Mazzotti, the weathered and charismatic winning manager from Team Spain, and a former Seattle Mariners scout, told of his early days in the high quality Italian baseball leagues, and why most national teams pull out all the stops to win in the World Baseball Classic, taking advantage of the loose eligibility rules.]

[Interviewing official Mike Randall, black shortstop Gift Ngoepe, and white pitcher Dylan Unsworth, all from Team South Africa, afforded valuable insights into the state of baseball and race relations in that still troubled country.]

[Newly appointed Detroit Tigers manager, Brad Ausmus, managed Team Israel in these games. Ausmus was interviewed along with Peter Kurz, their general manager, who emigrated from New York to Israel some years ago; pitcher and native Israeli Shlomo Lipetz; trainer and New Yorker Dan Rootenberg; 1969 Miracle Mets star Art Shamsky; and Adam Greenberg, famous for being beaned on the first MLB pitch he saw, and years later striking out on his only other big league at-bat.]

That Sunday night [after the exciting deciding game], there was happiness in Team Spain’s clubhouse, sadness and disappointment in Israel’s [despite the heroic slugging of giant Nate Freiman, then a minor leaguer, now a mainstay in an Oakland Athletics uniform]. But the tensions of the five-day competition did not spark any ill feeling. The spirit of goodwill and fellowship that marked the week held. Maybe everyone didn’t go home as happy as they might have been, but everyone from South Africa, France, Spain, Israel, and wherever else, went home feeling something good had transpired.

Bud Selig’s “hope and faith” that baseball would continue its peaceful march around the globe was rewarded yet again.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Selig Meeting with Ruttman at World Series

Photo courtesy of Major League Baseball.
On October 24, 2013, Larry Ruttman presented the ‘first copy’ of American Jews and America’s Game to the commissioner of Major League Baseball, Allan H. “Bud” Selig, at Fenway Park just prior to the second game of the 2013 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals. Selig wrote the Foreword for the book.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Ausmus in Welfleet

Former MLB catcher Brad Ausmus (left), who managed Team Israel in the WBC Qualifier, (and is considered a future MLB manager by many), appeared this week at a talk in Wellfleet, MA (Cape Cod) with author Larry Ruttman - whose "American Jews & America's Game" book has been very well received. Ausmus, who is a chapter in the oral history, has Jewish bloodlines on his mother's side.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

American Jews and America’s Game

American Jews and America’s Game
Voices of a Growing Legacy in Baseball
Larry Ruttman
Foreword by Bud Selig
Introduction by Martin Abramowitz

Most fans don’t know how far the Jewish presence in baseball extends beyond a few famous players such as Greenberg, Rosen, Koufax, Holtzman, Green, Ausmus, Youkilis, Braun, and Kinsler. In fact, its presence extends to the baseball commissioner Bud Selig, labor leaders Marvin Miller and Don Fehr, owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Stuart Sternberg, officials Theo Epstein and Mark Shapiro, sportswriters Murray Chass, Ross Newhan, Ira Berkow, and Roger Kahn, and even famous Jewish baseball fans like Alan Dershowitz and Barney Frank.

The life stories of these and many others, on and off the field, have been
compiled from nearly fifty in-depth interviews and arranged by decade in this edifying and entertaining work of oral and cultural history. In American Jews and America’s Game each person talks about growing up Jewish and dealing with Jewish identity, assimilation, intermarriage, future viability, religious observance, anti-Semitism, and Israel. Each tells about being in the midst of the colorful pantheon of players who, over the past seventy-five years or more, have made baseball what it is. Their stories tell, as no previous book has, the history of the larger-than-life role of Jews in America’s pastime.

“The historian Jacques Barzun was right when he said, ‘Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.’ Larry Ruttman knows that too, and that is why I chose to write the foreword to his book American Jews and America’s Game. His stories cover almost one hundred years of American history and the place of American Jews in that history. . . . This is a book that celebrates family—baseball’s, yours, and mine.”
—Allan H. “Bud” Selig, Commissioner of Major League Baseball

“This book of intimate and revealing conversations with Jews who care passionately about baseball is a surprise and delight. . . . In the tradition of Studs Terkel, Ruttman’s warm and folksy style lets us feel like we’re in the room with them as they share their thoughts and feelings about Judaism, baseball, and life. It’s a great read. Ruttman has a gift for bringing people out and the results are fabulous.”
—Rabbi Rebecca T. Alpert, associate professor of religion at Temple University and author of Out of Left Field: Jews and Black Baseball

“There may well be more books about Jews and baseball than there are Jews who played professional baseball. But this one is different. Here baseball’s most interesting Jews speak in their own words about their lives, their love of the game, and above all about their Judaism. Informative, inspiring, historically significant and a pleasure to read, this is a book that anybody who cares about America’s game or America’s Jews will cherish.”
—Jonathan D. Sarna, author of American Judaism: A History and chief historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History

“American Jews and America’s Game is a highly accessible book about the game America’s Jews love to love. The author allows his subjects great latitude to comment on their Jewishness and their association with the game. The interviewees range from baseball’s best to ordinary fans, united around their faith and favorite sport. This is an enjoyable read.”
—Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt and Israel and the first Commissioner of the Israel Baseball League

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

An Appeal to Jewish Major League Players of Today and Yesterday


Shawn Green says he will do it. 'Superman' Sam Fuld told me he would be "honored" to do it. Ian Kinsler has been quoted as saying it would be "cool" to do it. Naturally, people talk of Jewish superstars Ryan Braun and Kevin Youkilis doing it. And how about recently retired star catchers Brad Ausmus and Mike Lieberthal, and active players lately like Gabe Kapler and David Newhan doing it? And we want to mention other major leaguers like infielders Danny Valencia and Ike Davis, outfielder Ryan Kalish, and pitchers Jason Marquis, Craig Breslow, Scott Feldman, and John Grabow doing it. Only recently, Scott Schoeneweis and Jason Hirsh pitched in the majors, and Canadian-born Adam Stern patrolled the outfield there, so one hopes they would be doing it. Everybody's sentimental favorite to do it is Adam Greenberg, who took a pitch to the head on the first pitch in his only major league appearance, thus having a 1,000 On Base Percentage (OBP), and no batting or fielding average!

Of course no one is going to displace bellwether Ryan Braun from the outfield should he choose to play on this team, but it's fun to think of the undersized but fleet trio of 'Superman' Sam Fuld, Adam Greenberg, and Adam Stern playing the outfield together, reminding us of the Almighty and heroic feats, two guys with the 'first' name, and the other a 'Superman.'

Waiting in the wings is Jewish giant Leon Feingold, never a major leaguer, but the MVP pitcher of The Israel Baseball League in 2007, and a world champion eater and thinker. Now working in web communications near Boston as a sales rep is Jeffrey Maier, who, as a twelve year old, in a playoff game in Yankee Stadium, reached his glove out of the right field stands and deflected Derek Jeter's fly, famously turning it into a tying home run, then showed his prowess was no fluke, going on to college stardom at Wesleyan.

Yale's Ryan Lavarnway was socking balls out of sight on a regular basis learning catching skills in the Red Sox system until the Sox brought him to the bigs in recent days to provide some power with Youk and 'Big Papi' on the sidelines.. Tall reliever Michael Schwimer just got the call too from the front-running Phillies. Eric Berger, Aaron Poreda are honing their pitching skills in the high minors. In fact, there are lots of Jewish players working their way through the minor leagues, and the number is increasing all the time.

Of course any team, let alone one with so many stars, has to be managed properly. Who would do that? Well, when the Israel Baseball League was launched in 2007, Art Shamsky of the 1969 World Champion ' Miracle Mets' took his team, the (aptly named) Modi'in Miracle, to a successful season. Also managing teams in that league were former big leaguers, southpaw star, Ken Holtzman, first DH ever, Ron Blomberg, and legendary college coach, Steve Hertz.

And has anybody seen best-ever lefty Sandy Koufax lately? That great man could provide more than a few tips on how to get them out. As could another ex-Dodger hurler, Ralph Branca, now a hale eighty-five, who long ago tossed up the pitch Giant Bobby Thomson swatted for 'the shot heard round the world,' and who recently learned that his mother, Hungarian immigrant Kati Berger, arrived here Jewish.

Combine the pick of those lights with a few native Israelis showing diamond talent in a sport newly appreciated there, mostly under the banner of the Israel Association of Baseball, and you have a team good at all positions, good enough to qualify, good enough to take it all. What a story that would be for baseball, Israel, and America!

And what an upper for a country besieged by not only its sworn enemies but a bad and somewhat unbalanced press!

As Commissioner of Baseball, Bud Selig, told me when I interviewed him for my upcoming book, American Jews And America's Game: Jewish Voices of American Baseball, due to be published by the University of Nebraska Press in early 2013 at just about the time as the World Baseball Classic:

"The World Baseball Classic is huge. You can see that we have more countries now. One day I hope we can include Israel. The internationalization of baseball is my last great goal."

Later, when Israel was invited to participate, Selig announced that Israel is "a wonderful addition" to the WBC, an idea he fathered. What a trip it would be if the meaning of Bud's words were expanded into Israel taking it all!

Having interviewed a lot of the players and others above mentioned for my book, I can attest to the giving qualities of all of them, which insures that even on short notice they will cohere into a smoothly functioning and successful team.

So come one, come all, and join up. Under Israel's law of return, all of you are eligible for Israeli citizenship, and that's all you need to be eligible for Israel's team. Four teams out of twelve, including Israel, will meet in the qualifying round tentatively scheduled for Taiwan in November 2012. Of those, only Canada, Colombia, and Panama look like tough opponents. Once by that round, Israel will be in the classic, and with you guys on Israel's team, not only in, but a good bet to win it all.