I have to admit that before being given a copy of this book to review that I hadn't given a lot of thought to the relationship of Jews and baseball. Certainly I hadn't given it a thousandth of the attention I'd given to the Negro Leaguers, but I hadn't given huge amount of thought to the specific contributions of any religious or ethnic group beyond the obvious.
Certainly I knew that there had been some good and even great Jewish players and that there were managers, owners and executives who were Jewish, but really outside of guys named Koufax, Greenberg, Barney Dreyfuss and Theo Epstein, my knowledge was rather superficial. That's especially true in terms of the depth of contribution that Jews have made to the game.
But it's about more than that too. It's about the assimilation of the two waves of Jewish immigrants into the melting pot that was America and how through baseball, both in terms of knowledge of the game and in the playing of the game, became Americans themselves. It was a common ground for people of all backgrounds and races -- at least until black athletes were driven from the ball field by racial intolerance.
And intolerance was something the Jewish ballplayer understood, even if anti-semitism wasn't as rampant as it could have been. That intolerance was something that led many of the top Jewish executives championing the cause of integration for decades before it ever happened.
While the book does contain a lot of good information -- including what appears to be a comprehensive list of Jewish players, managers, owners and even journalists before 1948 -- it does have some drawbacks too. That comes with being a little too comprehensive, turning some of the chapters into virtual laundry lists of baseball non-entities who sometimes obscure the stories of individuals which are interesting and quite memorable.
A good example of that might well be Lipman Pike who may well have been the first professional baseball player of all time with a pay of $20 a week back about 1866. He also turned out to be the first Jewish National Leaguer, as well as the first Jewish manager of all time.
The book has a very academic feel to it and has a limited scope in terms of audience. However as niche book, with a targeted audience of Jewish Baseball fans it should be very well received due to the effort and scholarship involved in putting together a massive amount of information and distilling it into a rather palatable book form. Certainly the history is good and it will appeal to scholars and those interested in Jewish history in America as well as fans of the game.
It might even open a few eyes. I'll be reviewing volume II of this book going from 1948 to the present in the next few weeks.
The majority of baseball fans who aren't Jewish will probably give this one a miss, but for those of Jewish background, academics and students of the game will probably enjoy the book even if it can be a bit ponderous at times.
Give this one 3 Balls for the fans mentioned in the paragraph above due to its specialized content, but if that's not really your cup of tea you probably could call it a 1 Ball book -- still worth reading, but not one which will fire your imagination.
AtHomePlate.com writes its book reviews with the following rating scale in mind:
Four Balls: An exceptional book that truly earns a walk straight to the local book store to get a copy.
Three Balls: This book stands out from its peers and is highly recommended.
Two Balls: A book worth reading/owning and is usually above average.
One Ball: This book has something to say but is nothing special.
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