A League Of Our Own
Major League Baseball honors its Jewish players.
Special to the Jewish News
lmost every Jewish-American can tell you
how Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax
refused to play baseball on Yom Kippur.
But what about the estimated 140 other Jews who
played in the majors? What about their stories?
Like the day during an exhibition game when
Ike Danning, who played for St. Louis, was catch-
ing for pitcher Harry Ruby. The Jewish battery
decided to have some fun and forego traditional
signs and call the pitches in Yiddish.
Jimmy Reese, an infielder for the Yankees, had a
particularly good day at the plate. After the game
Danning told Reese he didn't realize what a good
hitter he was. Reese responded, "You didn't know
my name was Hymie Solomon."
Reese was one of about a dozen or so Jewish
ballplayers who changed their names. Now, thanks
to a new set of baseball cards, stories such as
Solomon's are finally being told.
What's more, the Baseball Hall of Fame in
Cooperstown, N.Y., is hosting "A Celebration of
Jews in Baseball" Aug. 29-30 in conjunction
with the American Jewish Historical Society and
Celebrate 350: Jewish Life in America 1654-2004.
The event will include discussions, a skills clinic,
films, book signings and appearances by former
Jewish big leaguers. Former major leaguers who are
scheduled to attend the event include Ron
Blomberg, Mike Epstein, Ken Holtzman and
Norm Sherry. The gathering will also feature the
first kosher dinner served at the museum.
The genesis for the event began very simply.
Martin Abramowitz, a baseball enthusiast, was
attempting to collect the baseball cards of all the
Jewish major leaguers. In 1999, as he sat in his
Newton, Mass., home lamenting that many of
them never had a baseball card, his 11-year-old son
Jacob suggested, "Why don't you create your own."
Jacob even sketched out a logo of a baseball inside
a Star of David.
"I started out as a collector wanting to complete
a set," Abramowitz said, "but then the project
picked up momentum. I started to feel that these
players who never had cards were missing a piece
Abramowitz had planned to produce a few sets
for himself and some friends. But as word began to
spread of his project — which he named Jewish
Major Leaguers, Inc. — interest grew.
Then two things happened that allowed
Abramowitz to mass-produce the set. First he dis-
covered one of his son's bunkmates at Camp
Ramah was the son of Roger Grass, the CEO of
Fleer baseball cards, which meant he didn't have to
search for a specialized printer. Then he was able to
get the Jewish Historical Society to help fund the
The networking continued when Bob Ruxin, a
board member of Jewish Major Leaguers, contact-
ed his friend Marty Appel. Appel, who has
authored books on baseball and was the media
relations director for the
New York Yankees,
the Hall of Fame about
hosting the event.
"I'm Jewish and I am a baseball histori-
an," Appel said, "so I thought the idea of bringing
these Jewish players together and hearing their sto-
ries and recognizing their accomplishments was a
Even though,there haven't been a large number
of Jews to play in the majors, Michael Feldberg,
executive director of
the Jewish Historical Society, believes this event is
important in showing how Jews have become
woven into both America's pastime and the tapes-
try of American life.
"There have been only a handful of accom-
plished players," Feldberg said. "The fact that there
have been just 142 of them, most of them quite
ordinary, is symbolically important because base-
ball itself is so central to American culture.
"If we didn't have a representative sample of Jews
playing at every level of accomplishment, including
the one in 10 who is up [in the majors just long
enough to have] a cup of coffee, then we wouldn't
be like everyone else, we would be different."
More importantly, Feldberg added, "The point
of baseball is that it turns those who play it and
follow it avidly into Americans. Whether they are
Dominican, Cuban, African-American or Jewish
it is a path of integration into
American society. It is precisely the
ordinariness of the Jewish experience
in baseball that makes it important."
Appel, who is 56 and grew up in
New York with non-baseball-fan par-
ents, says baseball was a way for him to
make friends as a child.
Feldberg says baseball has been almost
a barometer for how Jews have evolved
"There were many within the Jewish
community [in 1934] who were worried
when Greenberg sat out the game on
Yom Kippur, that it might cause a back-
lash because it might cost the Tigers a
pennant," Feldberg said. "When Koufax
did it [in the 1965 World Series] there
was more a sense of pride in the Jewish
"By 1986, when the New York Mets
were playing in the World Series and one of the
games fell on Yom Kippur, the New York Board of
Rabbis complained to Major League Baseball
because it was unfair to Jewish spectators.
"There is a kind of evolution from a self-con-
sciousness that there might be a backlash to a sense
of quiet pride to an assertion of a right."
To purchase a set of Jewish Major Leaguer was,
log on to jewishmajorleaguers.org
Jewish Major Leaguers