Jews and Baseball: A Cultural
"I love baseball; you know it doesn't have to mean anything, it's just beautiful to watch"
—Woody Allen, Zelig.
Why Jews and baseball? Why connect a wave of immigrant tailors and Talmud scholars, and their descendants, to a game mostly played by American farm boys who were classified by their greatest bard, Ring Lardner, as barely literate? The answer does not necessarily lie in the fact that there have always been a number of Jewish-American major league ballplayers from Lipman Pike, who in 1866 earned credit for becoming the first professional player, to Hall of Fame members Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax. Interestingly, unlike most Jewish players, both of these greatest of all Jewish stars respected their ethnicity, not playing on Yom Kippur. And toward the end of his life, Greenberg changed his earlier desire to be known simply as a great ballplayer: "I find myself wanting to be remembered ... even more as a great Jewish ball‐ player." 1 Although baseball historians may argue about numbers, Peter Levine's figure of 110 Jewish major league players from 1871 to 1980 (out of 10,000) seems accurate. 2
More remarkably, the figure seemed low to many in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1926 Baseball Magazine's F. C. Lane posed the question "Why Not More Jewish Ball Players?" in a game as "cosmopolitan as baseball." He quotes pitcher Ed Reulbach arguing that magnates should seek "some hook-nosed youngster who could bat and field" to supply a proper hero for Jewish fans. 3 John McGraw, who often carried as many as four Jewish ballplayers on his Giants roster, was always seeking a Jewish Babe Ruth, but the closest McGraw came was the brief career of the hopeless Moses Solomon, the ill-named