Brookwrite

Columns - 2010

    The Chosen Game

    by Doug Brook
    Southern Jewish Life columnist

    For almost several years, almost several of you have read here an annual review of Jewish Heritage Day at one, and sometimes nearly two, ballparks around this great land of ours, obviously excluding The Bronx.

    There should be enough proof already that Jews and baseball are closely tied, with all the prayer involved in every game, most people involved leaving in defeat, and eating.

    But for those who need more, there's now cinematic proof that before baseball became America's Pastime it was already the Jewish Pastime. "Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story." Currently making the film festival circuit, this new documentary runs ninety-one minutes, or roughly ninety minutes longer than most people expect.

    As the movie reminds early on, the Bible starts out with not merely a big bang, but with a grand slam. "In the big inning, the Big G created heaven and earth."

    Narrated by Dustin Hoffman, the film goes from the very roots of baseball in America through the present, through players, fans, and eventually owners.

    Hank Greenberg, the original Jewish player to not play on Yom Kippur, gets his moment, as does Koufax, and many others you might never have heard of but should have. Moe Berg, "the smartest man in baseball" and major league spy whose mysterious life included espionage for the United States, is a story so nice he's mentioned twice.

    The film shows that its first scene, taken from "Airplane!" where a request for light reading was met with a "leaflet on famous Jewish sports legends," doesn't do justice. There's also tales of the House of David barnstormers from the 1950s, where all players were required to have long beards. Marv Rotblatt was a nineteen year-old pitcher who couldn't grow a beard yet, so he had to wear a fake one in games.

    Rod Carew was long thought to have converted to Judaism because his daughters had bat mitzvahs, but he never converted. Eliot Maddox did convert, making his mother kvell because "at least he finally believes in something." Maddox says, "I've always been a two-strike hitter. Now I'm black and Jewish, so I've got two strikes."

    Most importantly, the film makes apparent why New York Jews were mostly not Y*nkees fans for a very long time, an era known as, The Good Old Days.

    The film leaves little wonder why there are annual baseball events for Jewish heritage. And if it did, remember that many heritage nights occur in August, when ticket sales can sag.

    But lest you consider that Jewish Heritage Night is merely a major event, let's consider its minor variation. For example, this year saw the second annual Jewish Heritage Night at the Single-A San Jose Giants featuring, among other things, someone committing Harry Caray on the field, in Hebrew, during the seventh-inning stretch. "All right, everybody. Let me hear ya. V'echad! Shtayim! Shalosh! Take me out to the ballgame..."

    But the biggest hit is at the ballpark of the Splash Hit, where the San Francisco Giants play just a deep home run to right from McCovey Cove. This year's Jewish Heritage Night featured clips between innings from "Jews and Baseball" as well as the MLB Network's special about the short-lived Israel Baseball League, "Holy Land Hardball."

    The game itself featured an important Giants victory, powered by Jewish rookie pitcher Madison Bumgarner's six strong innings and fifth-inning double knocking in Jewish shortstop Juan Uribe. The Giants pulled out a 5-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies, helped by Jewish rookie catcher Buster Posey's two-run double, and a strong home run by Jewish centerfielder Andres Torres.

    If you want to know about the actual Jewish Major League ballplayers, check out jewishbaseballnews.com. It lists daily and season statistics for all Jewish players in the Majors, including Mets first baseman Ike Davis.

    Through September 5th, the overall Jewish batting average in 2010 is .288, compared to a Major League average of .262. The pitchers have a combined ERA equally higher than the Major League average, so it's better left unsaid. (Note to editor: Remember to remove the pitchers sentence.)

    As of this writing, fourteen active players are listed, all of whom have the good sense to not be Y*nkees.

    Doug Brook is a writer in Silicon Valley who considered committing the other kind of Harry Caray on the field after missing a couple of notes in God Bless America. For more information, past columns, other writings, and more, visit http://brookwrite.com/. For exclusive online content, become a fan at facebook.com/the.beholders.eye.

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.