- The Eastern European Jewish Immigrant Experience with Baseball in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century
In the last decade there has been a renewed interest in the study of Jews and baseball by both amateur and professional historians. The recent book, Jews and Baseball: Entering the American Mainstream, 1871-1948 Volume I (McFarland and Company, 2006), by Burton A. Boxerman and Benita W. Boxerman encompasses the biographical history of many Jewish players, owners, and other baseball professionals who have shaped baseball history to which this essay addresses. Baseball historian Martin Abramowitz, in December of 2005, published an updated set of 142 baseball cards featuring Jewish ballplayers which has since become a valued item among baseball collectors.1 In 1999 the award-winning documentary film and book on Hank Greenberg by Aviva Kempner and Ira Berkow received accolades from both the baseball and Jewish communities. Finally, there appears to be a resurgence of Jews in present day baseball with the likes of Shawn Green, Dave Newhan, Scott Schoeneweis, Brad Ausmus, Lance Berkman, Adam Stern, Kevin Youkilis, Craig Breslow, Gabe Kapler, Matt Ford, John Grabow, Adam Greenberg, Mike Lieberthal, Jason Marquis, and Justin Wayne, to name a few.2
Of some 10,000 players that have played the game from 1871 to 1980, there have been only about 110 Jewish Major Leaguers.3 Boston Globe reporter, Nathan Cobb, observed "that although God's chosen (to suffer, presumably) represent almost three percent of America's population; they number only 0.8 percent of the baseball fraternity."4
Baseball historian Roger Abrams has commented in his book, The First World Series and the Baseball Fanatics of 1903 that any discussion of Jews and baseball ultimately must begin with more modern Jewish players like Hank Greenberg, Moe Berg, and Sandy Koufax.5 In criticism of Abrams' assertion, there should be some history devoted to the under-represented and relatively unknown history of the Jewish ballplayer between the years of late nineteenth century immigration. If, "as a whole, the ethnic representation in baseball was presented [End Page 79] publicly as a metaphor for America's melting pot,"6 then with the millions of Eastern European immigrant Jews arriving at this time in history, why had there not been more Jews in the game before the great second generation stars like Greenberg, Berg, and Koufax?
The suggestion that Jews have not been a part of the game, or were incapable of playing the game, is not only a much repeated myth, but false. Jews have always been a part of the game since the game's inception, most notably on the ownership side in the early years. Prominent second generation Jewish owners and managers like John Brunswick, Nate Menderson, Aaron Stern, Louis Kramer, Judge Emil Fuchs, Sydney Weil, Mayor Julius Fleischmann, and Andrew Freedman were a few of the more successful owners in baseball, while Barney Dreyfuss and Albert Lasker, who were no less successful, were first generation immigrants.7 Albert Von Tilzer composed the music8 to the grandstand favorite "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Finally, Commissioner Bud Selig, former head of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) Marvin Miller, and Hall of Fame hitter Rod Carew (although there is a debate as to whether he actually did convert to Judaism) round out a short list of modern Jewish participants that have impacted the game tremendously.
Researching the ranks of players during the nineteenth century has turned up some surprising evidence concerning Jewish players. While Jews totaled a miniscule percentage of those who played, there were Jews who played. While there were just six major Jewish players in the nineteenth century,9 there were about fifty-five others that preceded them in play from 1890 to 1942.10 The first two recorded Jewish sluggers, Lipman Pike and Nate Bertonstock, were among the most celebrated players from the mid 1860s through the late 1880s. In fact, Pike, once a prominent member of Temple Israel in Brooklyn, New York,11 has been considered by some baseball historians to be the first professionally paid player in history. This distinction has garnered him the title of "baseball's professional Adam." In 1866 the...