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



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.