Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story
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Baseball is seen as the quintessentially American sport with good reason. Emerging by the mid-nineteenth century as the nation's most popular game, baseball provided each new wave of immigrants with an avenue into American culture.
JEWS AND BASEBALL traces the Jewish involvement in the history of the sport from the game's earliest days, through the tumultuous war years to today's All-Star games. By analyzing various stages in this history, including how the legendary Sandy Koufax pioneered rights for players and Hank Greenberg's support of Jackie Robinson, the film demonstrates how Jews shaped baseball, and baseball shaped them.
Narrated by two-time Academy Award® winner Dustin Hoffman, this lively and thorough account of Jewish America's love affair with baseball sheds new light on America's national pastime
Includes interviews with former player Al Rosen, sports historian Maury Allen, celebrity enthusiasts Larry King and Ron Howard, and all-stars Shawn Green and Kevin Youkilis, as well as a rare interview with baseball legend Sandy Koufax.
Bonus Features: Deleted Scenes, Including Exclusive Never-Before-Seen Interview with Sandy Koufax; Sophie Milman Sings Take Me Out To the Ball Game
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There has always been a certain low humor about Jews in sports. The film opens with a scene from the movie AIRPLANE, in which Julie Hagerty is handing a passenger 'light reading,' a leaflet on Great Jewish Sports Legends.
A joke I remember from Hebrew School tells us that baseball is the first thing mentioned in the Bible: "In the Big Inning God created the heaven and the earth." Exactly when and where God created baseball is not known, legends of Abner Doubleday and Cooperstown aside, but what is well known is that successive groups of immigrant fans and players adopted baseball as their sport and passport to Americanization.
Jews were part of baseball from the very outset of league professional play. L. Emanuel Pike of the Philadelphia Athletics was on the first salaried team in 1871, and may have been the first great home run hitter of the sport, hitting six a year for three straight years during the Dead Ball Era.
Between the 1870s and the 1930s, a workmanlike succession of Jewish players followed Pike. Most were named Cohen and most used pseudonyms. It was not until the 1930s that a Jewish superstar emerged---Hammerin' Hank Greenberg of the Detroit Tigers who was to become the first Jewish player inducted into the Hall of Fame. Greenberg nearly matched Babe Ruth's and Lou Gehrig's hitting records; indeed, he may well have surpassed them but for the fact that Greenberg's career was interrupted by World War II. He had truncated 1940 and 1945 seasons and did not play at all in 1941, 1942, 1943, and 1944. A focus of much verbal abuse by hayseed fans and players, Greenberg let his bat do most of his talking. He saw every hit he got as a swat at Hitler. But he never let his bat talk on Yom Kippur.
Greenberg's career is the fulcrum of the film. Prior to Hank Greenberg, an athletic Jew was seen both as a person who perforce had to hide his identity in order to play, as well as being a freak of nature. After Greenberg, players named Al Rosen, Cal Abrams, Moe Berg and Sandy Koufax began to fill out Major League rosters.
The Brooklyn Dodgers' signing of Jackie Robinson in 1947 is examined from a Jewish perspective by a rabbi who is also a rabid fan.
The Dodgers' Sandy Koufax, the second Jewish Hall-of-Famer and possibly the greatest pitcher of all time, is portrayed as the spiritual successor to Greenberg and as the player whose career normatized the presence of Jewish players on the field. Those who have come after Koufax, like Shawn Green and Kevin Youkilis, still see themselves as representatives of the American Jewish community, but they are no longer subject, as Greenberg was, to ethnic abuse. Nor are they seen as oddities. Many fans are unaware that they are Jewish. They simply are talented Major Leaguers. And that is as it should be.
The Extras focus almost exclusively on Sandy Koufax, a shy man who has been coaxed before the cameras for this DVD. There is also lounge singer Sophie Millman's jazzy rendition of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame." Her silky voice is offset by some minor but noticeable lapses in timing. She sings like Koufax pitched as a rookie.
A fun documentary, this is a must-have not just for those of us who are Jewish, but for all baseball fans.