June 6, 2013 1 comment
Author: Larry Ruttman (author’s website)
Other contributors: Foreword by Bud Selig; Introduction by Marty Abramowitz
Published: 2013 (publisher’s website)
Pages: 544 (including 75 photographs)
Price: $25.67 at Amazon (discounted from $34.95)
Our rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Reviewed by Stuart M. Katz for Jewish Baseball News
In American Jews and America’s Game, author Larry Ruttman shares the stories of more than 40 American Jews whose lives and careers were defined or influenced by the game of baseball.
Beginning with the 1930’s, Ruttman chronicles nine decades of the American Jewish experience through the lens of the country’s pastime. Generated primarily by interviews he conducted between 2007 and 2011, Ruttman includes stories of prominent Jewish players past and present – Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax, Art Shamsky, Craig Breslow and Kevin Youkilis, among others.
But the more innovative parts of the book are the first-hand stories of Jewish academics, fans, team owners, and other baseball royalty who influenced or observed the growth of the game – and the simultaneous progress of American Jewry. Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, megastar attorney Alan Dershowitz, former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, players union attorney Marvin Miller, and author and Yankees publicist Marty Appel are just a few of the voices that contribute to this fascinating volume.
What’s Jewish about it
Ruttman personally interviewed nearly every subject in this book, enabling him to pose the same questions to many of them. Are you religiously observant? Did you experience anti-Semitism in baseball? Are Jewish people particularly attracted to baseball? With a few exceptions, most of the interviewees describe a proud connection to their Jewish heritage and roots, even if aren’t religiously observant. Nearly all experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism associated with baseball. Many routinely participated in, or even created, charitable endeavors, to which Ruttman ascribes a Jewish ethos. Several of the interview subjects speak about Jackie Robinson, Branch Rickey and the indelible mark they left on the game as trailblazers who permanently broke down long-standing barriers to equality.
Ruttman covers some very familiar ground in his chapters about Greenberg, Koufax and some of the other better-known players. But American Jews and America’s Game includes stories of many lesser-known players, including Jewish stars of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Some of the accounts sound like chapters from a Jewish Geography lesson, like when Ken Holtzman of the Oakland A’s skipped a start during the 1973 American League Championship Series to go to synagogue in Baltimore on Rosh Hashanah, and ended up sitting next to and sharing a meal at the home of Jerry Hoffberger, the owner of the Baltimore Orioles, against whom Holtzman was pitching the next day.
Stories like this one, and learning about Elliott Maddox’s strong affinity for rugelach, were the highlights of this book for me. By including the stories of Marvin Miller, Chicago Cubs (and former Boston Red Sox) general manager Theo Epstein, Yankees president Randy Levine, and sportswriter Murray Chass, American Jews and America’s Game testifies to the widespread influence that American Jews have had on baseball, and from a multitude of personal perspectives.
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Stuart M. Katz is a die-hard Yankees fan. An attorney at Cohen and Wolf in Bridgeport, Conn., he chairs the firm’s Employment & Labor Group and represents employers as well as executives.
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