July 12, 2001
Homeboys on Home Plate
There are myriad jokes about Jews in sports. In the 1980 movie "Airplane," a passenger asks for something light to read. The stewardess offers her a pamphlet on Jewish athletes.
Peter and Joachim Horvitz, the father-and-son team whose recent compendium, "The Big Book of Jewish Baseball: An Illustrated Encyclopedia and Anecdotal History," sets out to prove that there has been a wealth of Jews who have made significant contributions to our national pastime.
The book opens with the biographies of 146 former major-leaguers and includes their connections to Judaism, places of birth, athletic history and lifetime statistics. Following the biographies are 10 chapters on topics including Jewish minor-leaguers, umpires, Olympic players and scandal scoundrels. The book winds down with an extensive collection of short stories, including the interesting factoid that Baltimore's Camden Yards has a minyan on hand for prayer sessions. The encyclopedia concludes with the biographies of Jewish players in the major leagues today.
Unfortunately, the title does not accurately reflect the content of the book. It is too thin to be big, has too few action photographs to be considered illustrated (it is mostly a collection of baseball cards) and has an insufficient number of stories to qualify as anecdotal. Anyone looking for more than trivial baseball trivia might want to pass on this book, which should be treated as background reading and not as an in-depth resource.
For those true fans of trivia, this book delivers. Did you know that Mose Solomon hit 49 home runs in 1923 in the Southwest League? If you consider tidbits such as this interesting, be forewarned that you will have to dig through endless paragraphs of statistics and personal history to find them (or you can just read them on the back cover, like I did, and save yourself the $20).
The book did contain a few nuggets of knowledge that I eagerly took away with me: Rod Carew will never be Jewish (no matter how many times Adam Sandler includes him in his "Chanukah Song"). Hank Greenberg felt that he was spitting against Hitler every time he hit a ball out of the park. A wealthy and influential Jewish New Yorker, Arnold Rothstein (who readers may recognize from "The Great Gatsby" as Meyer Wolfsheim), was instrumental in rigging the 1919 World Series. H.Y. Muchnick, a member of the Boston City Council, insisted that the Red Sox try out black athletes including Jackie Robinson, who ended up joining the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Sam Jethroe, the Boston Brave who died on June 18.
This was a somnambulant book about exciting Jewish baseball players. As Mel "Voice of the Yankees" Allen may have said, "How 'bout that!"