From Pike to Green with Greenberg in
Between: Jewish Americans and
the National Pastime
STEVEN A. RIESS
American Jews have not been among the most prominent ethnic groups in the production of high-quality baseball players.1 Nonetheless, Jews have contributed in significant ways to the history of American baseball. There was a Jewish professional ballplayer even before the first professional league was organized, and a few, particularly Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax, achieved great prominence. Jews were among the early owners of professional baseball teams, and their representation in baseball's inner circles today exceeds their representation in society as a whole. Furthermore, Jewish journalists played an important role in popularizing the national pastime, and Jewish novelists have been among its most eminent critics.2 This essay examines the Jewish contribution to the national pastime, primarily on the playing field. I argue that the Jewish encounter with baseball reflected their experience with the broader culture, particularly their migration from urban slums to suburbia and the problems of acculturation, assimilation, and anti-Semitism.
Most Jews living in the United States in the nineteenth century were of German origin, part of the large mid-century German migration. They came to America for economic betterment and brought with them