- Chasing Dreams: Baseball and Becoming American
“Chasing Dreams: Baseball and Becoming American” National Museum of American Jewish History
101 South Independence Mall E, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Telephone: (215) 923-3811; Fax: (215) 923-0763
Open: Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.; Wednesday, 10:00 a.m.-8 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday, 10:00 p.m.–5:30 p.m.
Admission: adults $12; youth (13-21) and seniors (65+) $11; active military (with ID), members, and children (12 and under) free.
Guided tours are available. Wheelchair accessible. [End Page 495]
“Chasing Dreams: Baseball and Becoming American” premiered at the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) on March 13, 2014, in Philadelphia. The exhibit depicts Jewish immigrants and their descendants employing baseball to reconcile dual ethnic and American identities. After its Philadelphia tenure concludes, the full exhibit will tour nationally at other museums and institutions, with an abbreviated version available for smaller venues. NMAJH chief curator Josh Perelman and associate curator Ivy Weingram partnered as co-curators of “Chasing Dreams.” Chief consultant John Thorn, Major League Baseball’s official historian, and an advisory committee developed the exhibit’s interpretive narrative.
Jewish Americanization through baseball constitutes the organizing vision of “Chasing Dreams.” To portray this, Perelman and Weingram selected over 130 material artifacts, including photographs, bats, balls, gloves, catcher’s gear, caps, jerseys, player cards, board games, newspaper articles, advertisements, letters, managers’ handwritten lineups, box scores, radio broadcasts, recorded interviews, and film clips. Technology nicely juxtaposes traditional displays. Halls of fame recognize and celebrate excellence, typically focusing on individual achievement. Several Jewish sports halls of fame already exist, including the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in Commack, New York; the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in Netanya, Israel; and the Greater Washington Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. “Chasing Dreams,” by intent, is not one of them.
Nonetheless, the exhibit gives special prominence to the two Jewish players who rank amongst baseball’s all-time greats, Detroit Tigers slugger Hank Greenberg and Los Angeles Dodgers nonpareil pitcher Sandy Koufax. Artifacts and texts record their notable athletic accomplishments, choice of synagogue over stadium on the High Holidays, and symbolic importance as role models to their Jewish contemporaries. Outside of the main exhibit area, a venue invites visitors to don a replica of Koufax’s number 32 jersey and throw soft faux baseballs from a “mound.” “Chasing Dreams” also includes lesser major and minor leaguers as well as those who played in diverse settings outside of Organized Baseball, ranging from the sandlot to the Olympics. Owners, managers, coaches, umpires, scouts, executives, agents, broadcasters, writers, statisticians, and fans also receive their due. The organizational structure of “Chasing Dreams” divides into five interrelated areas—baseball history, Jewish identity, ethnic diversity, the generations of family, and memory creation.
To construct an exhibit that reflects the variety of the Jewish baseball experience, the curators created a grassroots Tumblr site to encourage ordinary people to share their personal mementos. Much of the best of the exhibit’s nuance, uniqueness, and color comes from the response to the Tumblr initiative. A baseball jersey with the Star of David affixed hangs next to a photograph of a 1929 YMHA camp baseball game. A circa 1940s photograph depicts Esther Schimmel, with her grandchildren, presiding over a food concession at a family parking lot close by St. Louis’ Sportsman’s Park. Accompanying text explains that the fork Esther wielded to hold 5¢ hot dogs allowed her to avoid direct hand contact with non-kosher food. A 1970 photograph features Boston fan Bob Tubin practicing tzedek (justice) by driving his taxi, with sign affixed announcing that all fares would go to the Jimmy Fund, the official Red Sox charity. The Hebrew school certificate of 6’8” Nate Freiman documents his eligibility to play for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic. [End Page 496]
“Chasing Dreams” references the relationship between Jews and other minorities, noting phenomena that range from fractious to cooperative. The exhibit documents the complex, multifaceted interaction between Jews and blacks concerning the Negro Leagues and the integration of Organized Baseball. A mounted baseball diamond facsimile...