Book review: Jewish Jocks, an unorthodox hall of fame

Jewish_JocksLike 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.

Sandy Koufax

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.

 Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox hall of fame

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.



8 Responses to Book review: Jewish Jocks, an unorthodox hall of fame

  1. Jerry Pritikin October 29, 2012 at 11:47 am #

    I recommend a great documentary called JEWS IN BASEBALL, and I was lucky to have met quite a few of those mentioned in it. Hank Greenberg, Al Rosen,Sid Gordon, to name a few.

  2. Frances Archer October 29, 2012 at 11:52 am #

    Jerry, I forgot about the film. It played a couple times in the Chicago area, and I missed it. Will have to order it. Thanks for reminding me of it. This is a good time of year to watch, extends the baseball season a bit.

  3. Christine Hancock October 30, 2012 at 7:36 am #

    Always interesting reading. I am not Jewish but your post makes me want to read this book, which by the way I am ordering.

  4. Frances Archer October 30, 2012 at 9:33 am #

    Chris, I think you’ll enjoy it. Very entertaining. There was an old ad line: You don’t have to be Jewish to like ….” I think it was from an ad for bagels. Anyone remember? Anyhow, same applies to this book.

  5. Frederick Nachman November 3, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    The ads were for Levy’s rye bread, an East Coast brand. I’ll have to read this book. Speaking of Jewish jocks, my 100-year-old uncle asked me the other day to check if a player in the Arizona Fall League – Ian Kadish – is Jewish. Sure enough, he is.

  6. Frances Archer November 4, 2012 at 6:38 pm #

    Your uncle is a sharp one. Thanks for the info on Levy’s. That sounds familiar. Now, are you ready to shoot the grounds of the Muncipal TB Grounds before the winter sets in? I will confirm with the park district to make it legit. I definitely could use some help. See the photo I took of the tour group, to be posted shortly.

  7. Marv Stern November 7, 2012 at 9:25 am #

    I’ m reading the book now. Great material from cover to cover. My favorite pieces are of Howard Cosell and Theo Epstein. Thanks for the recommendation.

  8. Frances Archer November 7, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    Marv, I agree. This book is a winner. I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

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