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Author: Robert Weintraub (web page)

Published: 2011

Pages: 421

Price: $17.81 for hardcover (

Our rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Reviewed by Stuart M. Katz for Jewish Baseball News


It’s May of 2011, and the New York Yankees lead the major leagues in home runs, having twice hit five in a single game. But as author Robert Weintraub explains, the Yankees were not always the “Bronx Bombers,” and home runs were not always the hallmark of the game that they have become. In The House That Ruth Built , Weintraub details the Yankees’ first championship season, 1923. He vividly sets the stage for the construction of Yankee Stadium, describing the rivalry between the then-preeminent New York Giants, commanded by their legendary manager, John McGraw, and an upstart Yankees team that literally rented playing space from the Giants prior to the construction of their own ballpark. Weintraub looks behind the scenes at the New York politics that both hindered and helped the Yankees build the stadium, and, with fascinating detail, chronicles the Yankees’ 1923 season. The House focuses as much on Babe Ruth’s low points and highs – both personal and professional – as it does on McGraw’s passion for “Scientific Baseball” and his distaste for the evolving popularity of home run hitters like Ruth and what he considered their detrimental effect on the purity of the game.

What’s Jewish about it

Weintraub weaves into his retrospective the Jewish presence in the Bronx and in the Yankees’ natural fan base, noting that “by 1930, nearly half of the Bronx’s 1.2 million residents were Jewish.” In his discussion of the 1920 sale of Babe Ruth from Boston to the Yankees, Weintraub recounts that the Boston press, critical of the move, made various anti-Semitic references at the time. Conversely, he describes the July 24, 1923 boxing match held at Yankee Stadium between two Jewish fighters – Benny Leonard and Lew Tendler – as a huge draw that “electrified the city’s large Hebraic population.”  Elsewhere, he explains John McGraw’s burning desire to bring a Jewish superstar to the Giants, both to appeal to New York’s large Jewish community and to “trump Ruth.” Jews and New York baseball are forever intertwined, and Weintraub underscores this connection in a variety of interesting ways.

My take

Within the first few pages of this book, Weintraub describes the Ansonia, the apartment building in Manhattan where Babe Ruth resided and which remains a prominent fixture on the Upper West Side today. I have visited the Ansonia many times. Only recently, though, when my son was reading another book about Babe Ruth, did we realize that Ruth lived in the very same apartment building that a close relative of ours inhabits right now. It is hard to grow up in or around New York and not eventually discover your familial “brush with greatness” or other unique connection to the Yankees of yesteryear. For many, though, much of the history of the early Yankees has been overshadowed by the franchise’s more recent accomplishments. The early years of professional baseball are amazing to read about, as much for the resemblances to the current game as for the vast differences.

This book’s title undersells its content. Weintraub’s narrative seamlessly shifts between detailed accounts of conversations between players and managers of the time, depictions of world events, and what reads like first-hand color commentary of dozens of games played throughout the 1923 season. The level of detail reflects Weintraub’s tremendous research skills and his command of 1920’s baseball. For a reader who grew up in the era of Guidry, Gossage, Nettles and Jackson, and who remembers vividly the Torre years, the opening of the “new” Yankee Stadium and the 2009 World Series championship, The House That Ruth Built provides a fascinating window into the past and a unique opportunity to recall how it all began.

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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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