by Jeff Aeder
“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh . . . people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”- Field of Dreams
Before they came to Wrigley or Comiskey or Ebbetts or the Baker Bowl or some anonymous field in Iowa, they came to America.
Ike Samuls came from Galicia and hit .230.
Lefty Cristall, Izzy Goldstein, and Reuben Cohen all came from Odessa. Cohen changed his name to Ewing and played short.
They came to America to be free. And to be Americans. And to learn how to hit a curveball. And to endure nine hour train rides and to wear wool flannel in 90 degree heat and to play for peanuts.
And America let them.
Let them fail, let them sit, let them languish in the minors but also let them achieve greatness.
America let others mutter under their breath, to laugh at their names, to let every error indict an entire people.
But when a Florida hotel owner wouldn’t let NY Giants Weintraub and Danning stay at his hotel, America also let manager Bill Terry stand up and say if they can’t stay then the team won’t stay.
A tall, gangly kid from New York became known as “The Hebrew Hammer.” Hank Greenberg had the swing to chase the Babe, coming only 2 homers short of the magic 60. However, Greenberg’s power transcended the diamond. At a time in the 30s when Jews faced supreme challenges here and abroad, the Star of David’s first baseball superstar filled our cups with a huge source of pride.
Several decades later, G-D decided to create the perfect pitcher. The end result, Sandy Koufax, had such a rhythm and grace it was like watching ballet being performed on the mound. Yet he was more nightmare than art to hitters who didn’t have a chance against his fastball and devastating curve.
How about the other all-stars . . . Danning, Gordon, Rosen, Hotlzman, Stone, Green, Ausmus, Youklis, Kinsler, yes and even Braun.
This is all great but what makes our history special is . . . the character of the players . . . it was Jackie Robinson who said of Hank Greenberg after a run in on 1st base: “Mr. Greenberg is class. It stands out all over him.” It was Greenberg again along with Koufax, Green, Shamsky, Holtzman, Danning, Weintraub, Arnovich and Youklis who honored their heritage and did not play on Yom Kippur.
There were Jews wearing suits, not uniforms, who also had an immense influence on the game. Marvin Miller acted like Moses to the players, telling them they had a right to be free . . . free agents, that is. Bud Selig had his critics to be sure, but as the long-time commissioner, his many progressive decisions had baseball charging into the 21st Century. If the Cubs ever win that elusive World Series from the wildcard route, the Wrigley faithful will be shouting out, “This Bud’s for you.”
Since Jews like to laugh at themselves, we chuckled when the stewardess in “Airplane” said to a passenger, “Are you looking for some light reading?” and promptly handed her a leaflet entitled “Famous Jewish Sports Legends”. Yet the reality is the Jewish impact on the game could fill volumes.
The story is far from finished. At the relative dawn of a new century, surely, there will be another Koufax, another Greenberg to carry on the proud heritage of Jews in baseball.
Published in Former Teams, Free Verse, History, Players, The Game Itself | Link to this poem | No Comments