American Jews and America's Game: Voices of a Growing Legacy in Baseball

American Jews and America's Game: Voices of a Growing Legacy in Baseball

American Jews and America's Game: Voices of a Growing Legacy in Baseball

American Jews and America's Game: Voices of a Growing Legacy in Baseball


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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, that 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.

Larry Ruttman, a Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society, is the author of Voices of Brookline. He has practiced law in Boston for more than fifty years and produces and hosts a television interview show in his hometown of Brookline, Massachusetts.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496209924
Publisher: Nebraska
Publication date: 08/01/2018
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 544
File size: 16 MB
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About the Author

Larry Ruttman, Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society, is the author of Voices of Brookline, a national finalist for the Award of Merit of the American Association of State and Local History. He has practiced law in Boston for more than fifty years and produces and hosts a television interview show in his hometown of Brookline, Massachusetts.

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the 1930s

Henry "Hank" Greenberg

Hall of Fame Infielder and Outfielder, Revealing the Survival of American Judaism Generation by Generation

It is ironic that Hank Greenberg, without question the greatest Jewish position player ever and one of the greatest of all players, an icon to all Jews in his own time for refusing to play on Yom Kippur during the closing games of the hotly contested 1934 American League pennant chase, gave his three children practically no hint of their Jewish heritage during their formative years. Perhaps equally ironic is that Greenberg, despite emerging from an Orthodox Bronx family and then eschewing Jewish observance altogether and Jewish identification to some extent for all of his mature years, lived what might well be described as an impeccable Jewish life, probably unrecognized as such by himself. In some little-understood way, whether traditionally, observationally, osmotically, genetically, or some combination of these, the essentials of the Jewish tradition were powerfully passed through Hank to his children, Glenn, Steve, and Alva, and to most of his children's children — his own grandchildren — perhaps adding some insight into the survival and even the flowering of the Jews over millennia.

So who was Hank Greenberg, slugger and hero, now gone for over a quarter of a century, since 1986? An intimate portrait of this extraordinary person is here painted by his accomplished son Steve, his successful and philanthropic daughter Alva, and his teammate, longtime friend, and fellow Hall of Fame honoree Ralph Kiner. Greenberg's public persona is etched by his Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer, Ira Berkow, and his acclaimed film documentarian, Aviva Kempner.

Steve Greenberg

Steve Greenberg, born after the end of his father's baseball career, graduated from Yale University, where he was the captain of the Eli nine. He subsequently played fine baseball in the Minor Leagues, became a highly regarded baseball agent, at an early age was the deputy commissioner of baseball under Commissioner Fay Vincent, and now is arguably the most important dealmaker in sports. He operates from his position as a partner at Allen & Company, the well-regarded Manhattan boutique investment bank that weaves together complex deals in the ofttimes chaotic media and sports industries.

Was there any Jewish orientation in Steve's home during his growing-up years?

"Neither of my parents, at least by the time I came around, was particularly religious, and we really had very little or no religious training when I was growing up. By the time we reached puberty we had to sort of figure out what was important to us and how we wanted to deal with the religious side of our lives. Every application you get from the time you are thirteen, whether it is from junior high school, a private school, a boarding school, or a college, had a little box for religion. I can remember sort of puzzling over that as a teenager."

Was Steve bar mitzvahed?

"Well it's strange to say that by the time I should have been a bar mitzvah boy I really didn't have any Jewish training at all. So I didn't know really what the Jewish traditions were, what the Jewish history really was, other than the little bit that I picked up by osmosis. So my relationship with my Jewish identity, if you will, came from going to services as a late teenager. The first time I ever went to a high holiday service was when I was eighteen."

How did that seminal event come about?

"I was dating Myrna Katz, the girl who became my wife. I was a freshman at Yale at the time. She said, 'Where are you going for the holiday?' A very good question. Myrna went on, 'They must have services in New Haven,' and sure enough they did, and she went with me. Then I sort of began to figure it out on my own. I had taken a lot of religion courses in high school and even at Yale, so I had studied the differences between various religions. Obviously, I had read enough of the Old Testament through those studies to know a little bit of Jewish history. What did I figure out? I learned through that reading and other reading and talking to my dad and others about the history of the twentieth-century Jewish experience — particularly about the Holocaust and the Jews in America. I figured out how I wanted to relate to that.

"Now we go to high holiday services. Both of our daughters were bat mitzvahed, but I'm not particularly observant beyond that. We used to have the Shabbat service every Friday night when the kids were little because we thought it was a great way for the family and our friends to get together. [Shabbat is the Jewish Sabbath, a day of religious observance and abstinence from work, kept from Friday evening to Saturday evening.] That said, we were sort of on the liberal end of the Reform spectrum. On Shabbat we lit the candles, said the Hebrew prayers, and we broke the challah [a special braided bread eaten by Jews on the Sabbath and holidays]. Then we had pizza and spaghetti for dinner because that's what we liked to eat. Our rabbi said, 'You know, there's nothing wrong with that. It is not disrespectful.' So we figured out how we wanted to observe and be part of the Jewish tradition."

Steve's family now belongs to the Central Synagogue, a Reform congregation in Manhattan.

"Now I only go to temple on the high holidays and stay home from work on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. I'm aware of my father's own particular baseball history of not playing on Yom Kippur. We love the holidays. Every year we have a big seder with twenty-five or so people. [Seder is a service and ceremonial dinner for the first two nights of the holiday of Passover, which celebrates the Exodus, when the ancient Jews were freed from slavery in Egypt.] We always host a break fast dinner after Yom Kippur at which we read aloud the Edgar Guest poem. [Guest, an English-born Detroit newspaperman and poet, wrote a laudatory poem about Hank Greenberg not playing on Yom Kippur.] So that is how I think about these things."

Had Steve ever spoken to his father about the different route his father had taken?

"We talked a lot. He was raised in an Orthodox home. His parents were immigrants. He went to temple every week, was bar mitzvahed, and was observant because it was part of his tradition. His mother kept a kosher home. [In Judaism kosher refers to conforming to dietary laws, being ritually pure, or selling or serving food prepared in accordance with dietary laws.] That was a Hank Greenberg I never knew because I never knew the Hank Greenberg who had that upbringing, just like I never knew the Hank Greenberg who hit fiftyeight home runs. I was born after he retired. The Hank Greenberg that I knew, my dad, had moved to a very different place in terms of his Jewish identity by the time he was no longer in the limelight as an icon and hero. But I spoke to him about the years before I knew him and about his views on religion.

"What I came away with was that I would hold up his view of how a Jew should act against anybody else that I've known — whether they went to temple every day, whether they observed everything, whether they kept a kosher household — because his view was basically and simply founded on the Ten Commandments, which he took to heart. And he didn't pass them down to us in the sense of one, two, three, four, five, on a list, but rather in terms of how he acted. He treated people fairly. He didn't cheat people. He believed in honesty. He respected his parents. That is really what I got from him. And he had a certain spirituality that was not textbook, not taken from the Torah [the law of God as revealed to Moses and recorded in the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures (the Pentateuch)], but a view of morality and how to behave that I would emulate over anybody else whom I've ever met. I like to think that all three of us — my brother, Glenn, and my sister, Alva, and myself — are picking up on my dad's example in some way."

What accounts for the lack of exposure Steve and his siblings had to Judaism as they grew up?

"We got up one Yom Kippur morning, and my dad said, out of the blue, 'Boys get dressed. You're not going to school today. I'm taking you someplace special because this is the holiest day for the Jews.' I'm eleven, my brother is thirteen, and we were excited. So what does Dad do? He takes us to the planetarium and we sit there in the dark looking up at the stars. My joke after that was that I thought that Yom Kippur was a day on which the Jews went to the planetarium! But the fact of the matter is that that was sort of the beginning of an awareness. But my brother and I were left to figure it out by ourselves.

"The next spring at Passover we hosted a seder at our home. My grandfather, my father's father, comes, a couple of my aunts and uncles come, my cousins come, there are probably fifteen of us. My grandfather, with his Eastern European accent, and in Hebrew where appropriate, presides over the seder. That was wonderful! It was almost as if someone from a foreign culture had come. I had never been exposed to a seder. I didn't really know the story of Passover. I was about eleven or twelve at that time. Perhaps then I knew some of the story of Exodus. My father obviously made the decision not to expose us. It's not like he said, you're not Jewish, you're Protestant or something else. There was just never any discussion about it.

"There were two reasons for it: one was that my mother's family on my grandmother's side was German Jewish. I won't say they were anti-Semitic but they were of the group known as 'Our Crowd' [prominent nineteenth-century German Jews famously identified with the banking industry], the assimilated and not-at-all-religious Jews of New York, of which there were many, and still are. My mother, Caral Gimbel, was an heiress to the Gimbel department store fortune, so not overtly but implicitly, my dad 'made a bargain' when he married one of that crowd. Part of the deal was that religion wasn't going to be part of the equation.

"My father also told me that over a course of years, and highlighted by or culminating with World War II, he got turned off by religion. He came to see all organized religion as hypocritical. He certainly saw the Catholic Church as terribly hypocritical historically, and he saw organized religion generally tearing people apart as opposed to bringing them together — wars fought over it, people persecuted because of it, people annihilated because of it. And when he came back from the war he said he just had absolutely no interest in participating in traditional religious ceremonies or events. Then, shortly thereafter, he married my mother, so that was his explanation for why we had no exposure."

Was there a distinction in Hank's mind between being an observant Jew or an ethnic Jew?

"There was no stronger supporter of Israel and its right to defend itself and exist. Not only didn't he deny his Jewishness, but if you read anything about him, you know if someone said something anti-Semitic and he caught it out of the corner of his ear, you better be prepared to fight him because he would fight you over it. While with the Tigers he was very protective and supportive of people in the Detroit Jewish community. As I said, he lived by the standards that his people held most dear. So he was clearly Jewish and thought of himself as a Jew. He just thought that organized religion was gobbledygook. So he just lived his life."

During the last thirteen years of Hank's life, father and son enjoyed an intimate relationship. In those years, Steve says, they would see each other "three or four days a week. We played a lot of tennis together. We had lunch together frequently. We would have heart-to-heart conversations. I asked him every question I could think of.

"My father was fiercely Jewish. Quite literally, he fought some people over it. He went into the Chicago White Sox clubhouse after a game in which some White Sox players were calling him 'a dirty kike.' He stood in the middle of their clubhouse and said, 'Which one of you bastards was yelling that stuff at me? Get up now and let's deal with it.' But he never came back to Judaism in any formalistic way.

"First and foremost I was fascinated with the baseball part. This was the period of my life when I was a players' agent. I had played some Minor League ball. I couldn't get enough of talking with him about Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and other of his contemporaries. It wasn't hard to get him to talk about baseball. My father was fascinated by Babe Ruth. Whenever the subject came up about my father hitting fifty-eight home runs in 1938 and being only two away from Ruth's record of sixty with five games to play, he would say, 'Look, nobody should ever confuse me with Babe Ruth. Ruth hit over fifty home runs first, and then a couple of years later he hit fifty-nine home runs, and then he hit sixty home runs. He was just in a league all by himself. I had one fluke year when everything went right, and I got close, but nobody should confuse me with Babe Ruth.' That was not false modesty. By saying that he wasn't running himself down, or Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio. He just felt that Ruth was a quantum leap ahead of everybody else."

In fact, Hank Greenberg put on an astoundingly good imitation of his hero "The Bambino," as the record book attests: a .313 lifetime batting average. Hank drove in an almost incredible average of one run in less than each four at bats in his twelve-year American League career and batted .318 in the four World Series to which he led the Tigers. Greenberg was also considered a fine-fielding first baseman and left fielder.

What about Hank's intellectual life and politics?

"He was a voracious reader of fiction, nonfiction, biographies, and history. He loved to talk about current events and history. My father and I talked a lot about world affairs and what was happening from day to day. He never voted for a Republican in his life. He disliked Ronald Reagan. This is interesting because, again, it goes back to Jewish values. The first year that Reagan was president his tax return was published, which showed that he had earned some seven-figure sum and had given only about $10,000 to charity. My father's reaction was that 'I knew I didn't like that Reagan. He's a cheap bastard like all those Republicans.' He was a lifelong Democrat — FDR was at the top of his list. I think he would be enthralled by Barack Obama and would love the fact that the country has come to the point that it actually would elect an African American to be president.

"Jackie Robinson broke in with the Dodgers in 1947, which was my father's last year playing baseball. On the field of play he spoke encouraging words to Jackie. Later he became friends with him. My dad became general manager of the Cleveland Indians when Bill Veeck was the owner. [Veeck was an owner and promoter famous for bringing many significant and imaginative innovations to the baseball scene.] Both of them teamed up to help the advancement of many African Americans into the American League, including Larry Doby [Hall of Fame outfielder and first black to play in the American League and later the second black Major League manager]."

How personal were the conversations between father and son?

"When I was having a problem he would be the first person I would go to because of his world experience. He was as smart as anybody I knew. I often thought that if he had broken a leg when he was sixteen and couldn't play baseball, there is absolutely no question that he would have done something notable in some other field by his force of will, determination, and raw intelligence. I saw him in his fifties, sixties, and seventies in the company of top businessmen of the time, and he could hold his own with any of them, despite having only one year of college. That is just who he was.

"I tried to explore with him his own romantic life because it was striking to me that the Hank Greenberg that I never knew in his twenties and thirties was an awfully good-looking guy, tall, lanky, handsome, dapper, carried himself well, and at that time he was a bachelor and a ballplayer with lots of money in his pocket by the standards at that time. He talked about it a little bit, not in any great detail, because he was of that era where there was a certain kind of formality and chivalry about that subject, almost a Sir Walter Raleigh attitude — the idea that you just didn't talk in great detail about the women you dated. But we talked about it some. There is no question that he had a very active romantic and social life.


Excerpted from "American Jews & America's Game"
by .
Copyright © 2013 Lawrence A. Ruttman.
Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations,
Foreword by Allan H. "Bud" Selig,
Introduction by Martin Abramowitz,
The 1930s,
Henry "Hank" Greenberg: Hall of Fame Infielder,
and Outfielder, Revealing the Survival of American,
Judaism Generation by Generation,
The 1940s,
Thelma "Tiby" Eisen and Anita Foss: Baseball Players and,
Pioneers for Women's Rights, in a League of Their Own,
Dr. Martin Abramowitz: Originator of,
Jewish Major Leaguers Baseball Cards,
Barney Frank: Fan and Congressman,
The 1950s,
Al Rosen: First-Ever Unanimous Most Valuable,
Player Selection, the Luckiest Jew Alive,
Alan Dershowitz: From Avi the Bum and Ballplayer to,
Alan the Professor, Defender, and Civil Libertarian,
Sol Gittleman: First-Generation Jewish,
American, Realizing the American Dream,
Howard Goldstein, Esquire: Jewish Baseball Memorabilia,
Collector, Preserving Memory Jewish-Style,
Roger Kahn: Author of the Classic,
Baseball Book The Boys of Summer,
The 1960s,
Sandy Koufax: Pitcher Nonpareil and Perfect Gentleman,
Murray Chass: Hall of Fame New York Times Scribe,
Ira Berkow: New York Times Journalist, Author,,
Pulitzer Prize Winner, and Jewish Son,
Rabbi Michael Paley: Unorthodox Orthodox Rabbi,
Art Shamsky: Hank Greenberg Redux,
Ross Newhan and David Newhan: Hall of Fame Sports,
Scribe and Major League Baseball Player, Father and Son,
The 1970s,
Marvin Miller: Baseball Game Changer and Former Executive,
Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association,
Ken Holtzman: Winningest Jewish Major,
League Pitcher Ever, Observant Jew,
Ronald Shapiro and Mark Shapiro: Father and Son,,
the Merging of Judaism into America,
Ron Blomberg: Designated Hebrew,
Marty Appel: Former New York,
Yankees Public Relations Director,
Joel Mael: Vice Chairman of the Florida Marlins, Orthodox Jew,
Elliott Maddox: Major League Outfielder,,
Black Convert to Judaism,
The 1980s,
Donald Fehr: Former Executive Director of the,
Major League Baseball Players Association,
Jerry Reinsdorf: Owner of the Chicago,
White Sox and the Chicago Bulls,
Steve Hertz: Major League Infielder, Legendary College Coach,
Al Clark: Longtime Major League,
Umpire, Fallen and Redeemed,
The 1990s,
Allan H. "Bud" Selig: Innovative and Controversial,
Commissioner of Major League Baseball,
Jeffrey Maier: Fan and Tenth Player,
Andrew Zimbalist: Baseball's Economist,
Leon Feingold: Israel Baseball League Player of,
the Year, Jewish Physical and Mental Giant,
Alan Schwarz: New York Times Columnist and Author,
Marvin Goldklang: Multiple Minor League,
Team Owner and Baseball Man of Influence,
Brad Ausmus: Gold Glove Catcher,
Randy Levine: President of the New York Yankees,
The 2000s,
Theo Epstein: The Youngest General,
Manager in Major League Baseball History,
Gabe Kapler: Major League Outfielder,
and Minor League Manager,
Craig Breslow: Major League Relief,
Pitcher, Yale University Graduate,
Jeffrey Gurock: Professor of Jewish History at,
Yeshiva University, Orthodox Jew, and Sportsman,
Stuart Sternberg: From Canarsie to,
Tampa Bay by Way of Wall Street,
Kevin Youkilis: Euclis, the Greek God of Walks,
The 2010s,
Darren Harrison-Panis: On Course to,
Be a Major League Baseball Owner,
"Superman" Sam Fuld: Outfielder Nonpareil,
Ian Kinsler: Major League All-Star Second Baseman,
Selected Bibliography,

What People are Saying About This

Jonathan D. Sarna

“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

Allan H. Bud Selig

“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 this 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.”—from the foreword by Allan H. “Bud” Selig, Commissioner of Major League Baseball

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