Like many of my generation, I first heard about a Jewish jock during the fall of 1965. A boy sauntered into my Hebrew school classroom holding a transistor radio to his ear. He asked the teacher if he could listen to the World Series in class. Everything got quiet as the rest of us watched for the teacher’s explosion.
“Turn it up so we can all hear,” he said. (Yes, it was a Reform synagogue.)
We didn’t, of course, listen to the game for the entire 90 minutes of class. Just 10 minutes or so, long enough to give the teacher a smooth segue into a lecture on Sandy Koufax’s refusal to pitch the first game of the series because it fell on Yom Kippur. ”You should all be such good Jews,” he said. It was a solemn moment, twenty or so 9-year-olds wondering if they would live up to such an ideal.
I now know of many more Jewish jocks, not all so exemplary as Sandy Koufax, thanks to Jewish Jocks: an unorthodox hall of fame, edited by Franklin Foer and Marc Tracy with illustrations by Mark Ulriksen. This is a terrific collection, for the writing of the essays as much as for the interesting lives and times of the subjects. You might find yourself very surprised to learn some famous names are or were Jews–my sports encyclopedia of a husband was.
In Jane Leavy’s contribution, “The Best Bar Mitzvah Guest Ever,” we revisit that proud moment in Jewish-American history:
“Koufax became the New American Patriarch: Abraham, Issac, Jacob and Sandee, a pitcher defined as much by what he refused to do as by what he could do with a baseball in his left hand.”
A transistor radio makes an appearance in her essay, too. And who could ever get enough of Hank Greenberg? Ira Berkow thoroughly investigates the question of whether American League pitchers conspired against Greenberg to prevent him from breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record.
Speaking of Ruth–no, he wasn’t Jewish, but Robert Weintraub’s piece on Mose Solomon is titled, “The Hunt for the Hebrew Ruth.” John McGraw, then manager of the New York Giants, was desperate to sign a Jewish player, thinking he’d be a huge draw with the city’s Jewish population. When Solomon signed, a newspaper headline announced, “McGraw Pays 50K for only Jewish Ballplayer in Captivity.”
Besides baseball, boxing, basketball, football, tennis, soccer, weightlifting–all sports are represented and Jewish jocks are loosely defined to include anyone associated with sports–owners, trainers, sportswriters, announcers. Fifty essays in all, all great.
edited by Franklin Foer and Marc Tracy with illustrations by Mark Ulriksen
Hardcover, 304 pages
Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.