Archive for the ‘Jewish authors and sportswriters’ Category


Maccabiah Update

Posted on: November 27th, 2018 by Ron Kaplan No Comments

It’s been a while since I posted any news about the Maccabi sports movement, including the Maccabiah Games. Here’s an attempt to remedy.

You can see that the Maccabi movement in Great Britain is very active. One of my regrets during my recent trip to England was not being able to visit them, as well as missing out on the British Baseball Federation. Oh, well, maybe next time.

Finally, On December 9…


You can’t click on the image to access the page, so just drop them an email or call ’em up.

Here’s a piece from the NJ Jewish News I wrote about Jeff Bukantz and other locals who participated in the 2013 Games. I know there are other stories about JB, including a discussion of his book about his dad, Daniel, himself a fencing legend, but unfortunately they don’t appear to be on the NJJN website.

And finally, finally, some shameless self-promotion: if you are interested in having me speak to your synagogue or group about my book, The Jewish Olympics: The History of the Maccabiah Games (or any of my other books for that matter), drop me a line and let’s chat.

Image result for kaplan, jewish olympics


Shameless self-promotion: Upcoming Hank Greenberg events

Posted on: July 12th, 2017 by Ron Kaplan

I’ve been looking to participate in Gelf Magazine’s “Varsity Letters” program for years. The dream comes true July 24. Hope to see you there. Here are the details:

Varsity Letters logo Baseball Night

Varsity Letters is back at The Gallery at Le Poisson Rouge on Monday, July 24, with four authors of recently released books about baseball:

• Sports Illustrated writer Jay Jaffe, author of The Cooperstown Casebook: Who’s in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Who Should Be In, and Who Should Pack Their Plaques

Ron Kaplan, author of Hank Greenberg in 1938: Hatred and Home Runs in the Shadow of War

• MLB.com executive reporter Mark Feinsand, author of The New York Yankees Fans’ Bucket List

• Faith and Fear in Flushing blogger Greg Prince, author of Piazza: Catcher, Slugger, Icon, Star

Graphics by Mister Lister.

Event Details:

The Gallery at LPR (Official site, map)
158 Bleecker St. (between Sullivan St. and Thompson St.)
New York, NY 10012
Blocks from ACE/BDF/MNR/1/6 trains

Doors open at 7.
Event starts at 7:30.
There is no admission charge.
Attendees must be 21 or older, as per Le Poisson Rouge rules. (Email varsityletters@gmail.com if you are under 21 and would like to attend. The farther in advance, the better; no guarantees.)

Baseball Hall of FameThen, on August 16 at 1 p.m., I’ll be serving as “closer” for the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Annual “Author’s Series.” From the Hall’s announcement:

Our Authors Series brings noted baseball authors to Cooperstown for special lectures and book signings during the summer months. These programs are included with the cost of admission.

On Wednesday, August 16th at 1pm, the Hall of Fame will welcome author Ron Kaplan as he talks about his new book, Hank Greenberg in 1938: Hatred and Home Runs in the Shadow of War.

From his first day in the big leagues, Hank Greenberg dealt with persecution for being Jewish. The Hall of Famer always did his best to shut out the bigotry, but in 1938, that would prove more difficult then he could have imagined.

Author Ron Kaplan examines Greenberg’s 1938 season in incredible detail. While Greenberg was battling at the plate, the Jewish people overseas were dealing with a humanitarian crisis. Adolf Hitler had taken direct control of the country’s military in February of 1938 and then began a methodic takeover of all neighboring countries, spreading Nazism and the Holocaust.

Hank Greenberg in 1938 chronicles the events of 1938, both on the diamond and in the streets of Europe. As Greenberg took aim at Babe Ruth’s home run record, Hitler’s “Final Solution” was beginning to take shape. Jews across the United States, worried about the issues overseas, looked to Greenberg as a symbol of hope. Though normally hesitant to speak about the anti-Semitism he dealt with, Greenberg knew that he was batting for so many of his own people, particularly those living with life and death on the European continent.

The program includes a presentation in the Bullpen Theater, followed by a book signing in the Library Atrium. Presentation at 1 pm. Book signing at 1:30 pm.

For more information call (607) 547-0362.

Honorable Menschen: My night at the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse

Posted on: May 23rd, 2017 by Ron Kaplan

For me, it’s like being a two-time MVP. I had the chance to speak again at the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse in Manhattan on May 3 to talk about Hank Greenberg in 1938: Hatred and Home Runs in the Shadow of War. Jay Goldberg is a true friend of baseball writers, giving them a chance to discuss their work with an audience that is always welcoming and whip smart when it comes to the game.

It’s also nice to reconnect with old friends and Bergino regulars like author and educator Lee Lowenfish and Perry Barber, a professional umpire and former Jeopardy winner. Perry presented me with t-shirts she had made bearing the book’s cover, a very sweet gesture. And Jay gave me a goodie bag that rivaled those handed out at the Academy Awards as far as I’m concerned. Oscars are a dime a dozen, but I’m willing to bet cash money that none of those people has an official Bergino bobblehead, so there.

Meeting and greeting

With Jay, left, and Lee

With Perry


World Baseball Classic update, March 2

Posted on: March 2nd, 2017 by Ron Kaplan

As the various teams start to get together in preparation for the World Baseball Classic, here’s what’s doing with Team Israel, as well as the JMLs who have plighted their trough elsewhere.

  • Ian Kinsler wants to win, just not for the Israeli team apparently.
  • Lincoln Mitchell, author of Will Big League Baseball Survive?: Globalization, the End of Television, Youth Sports, and the Future of Major League Baseball, contributed this piece to the Forward, asking “Is The World Baseball Classic An Error For The Jews?” While I enjoyed his book, I take issue with some of his assertions which seem to be based on his claim that “there happen to be no Jewish players on the American team,” which is simply not true. In addition to Kinsler, Houston Astros’ sophomore Alex Bregman is on the USA roster. I also take exception to his statement that “because the US team is much better than the Israeli team, the WBC will give some credence to the tired and offensive notion that Jews stink at sports or other physical activities.” On the other hand, there is merit to his concern that allowing American Jews to play for Israel “provides fodder for those who believe that Jews are not quite true Americans and are more loyal to Israel than to the US. During a time when the President of the United States promotes the old anti-Semitic slogan, ‘America First,’ this is something that cannot be ignored.” There are lots of players in the WBC who will be playing for the countries of their ancestry but only Israel seems to bring up that loyalty issue. Can you imagine a Major Leaguer on Team Jamaica being accused of dual loyalties?
  • Team Israel held a mini-camp in Scottsdale recently.


Kicking up their heels for Maccabiah

Posted on: January 5th, 2017 by Ron Kaplan

Hard to believe the 2017 Maccabiah is just a few months away. And because these are the 20th games, you know it’s going to be a major deal.

Fundraisers and tryouts are already under way. Here’s a piece about an octet of athletes from a dojo in New York that are already gearing up for the competitions.

Black belt members of the Warren Levi Martial Arts dojo in Cedarhurst. Levi is at far right.

For those looking to catch up with the story behind the quadrennial event, I humbly offer The Jewish Olympics: The History of the Maccabiah Games. Who knows, maybe I’ll be updating it after July.

The History of the Maccabiah Games

Lest we forget: Peter Horvitz

Posted on: December 30th, 2016 by Ron Kaplan

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/516HCTBTKGL._SX318_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThe teacher and lecturer who published The Big Book of Jewish Baseball with his son Joachim, died in Raleigh, NC, last Saturday at the age of 71.

This was one of those Jewish “reference books” I’m betting a lot of kids received as a bar mitzva or Hanukka present.

Horvitz also wrote The Big Book of Jewish Sports Heros: An Illustrated Compendium of Sports History & The 150 Greatest Jewish Sports Stars.

JNS used him as the main source for a story on “Forgotten Jewish baseball players” in 2012.

HT to Bob Wechsler for the sad news.

Do the ‘write’ thing, Zach Hyman

Posted on: December 13th, 2016 by Ron Kaplan

Knowing how brief a professional sports career can be, you have to say good on him for preparing for his next act.

while plenty of athletes figure they can be a school coach or private instructor, it’s refreshing to see someone like Hyman — a center for the surprising Toronto Maple Leafs — look outside the both. I can’t say for sure since I’ve never met any, but the word is that despite the violence and “thuggery” of ice hockey, the players are the nicest, generally speaking, in any of the major professional sports. Considering Hyman’s work, I’m inclined t give that the benefit of the doubt.

People of the book: The Dykstra debacle

Posted on: July 18th, 2016 by Ron Kaplan

As you might have noticed from my weekly posting about baseball best-sellers, I’m not overly happy that Lenny Dykstra’s new memoir, House of Nails, is doing well. It came in at No. 11 on the most recent New York Times best-seller list for non-fiction.

This isn’t a case of schadenfreude. It’s that people are more interested in dirt from someone who many wouldn’t even consider a celebrity than more important issues from writers who toil so hard for such little return. As landsman Richard Sandomir, the Times‘ sports media columnist observes in his recent review, several interviewers — mostly, it seems, of the low-brow sports-talk radio shows, dote on Dykstra as if he was some sort of hero, kissing his butt with bro-praise, ignoring the terrible things he claims to have done to get ahead, including hiring private detectives to get dirt on umpires as possible blackmail material.

This is what holds our interest at a time when citizens and polic offers are being killed with sad regularity and the November elections portend such dire results?

In Sandomir’s considered opinion, House of Nails

… is not an eloquent autobiography, like Andre Agassi’s Open, and is more in keeping with the spirit of Jose Canseco’s Juiced. It is not explosive, unless his accusation that the former Mets manager Davey Johnson drank a lot is big news. It is rather a narcissist’s delight, so relentlessly focused on Dykstra’s ego and antics that you need to rest occasionally from the Lenniness of it all.

At least Canesco’s book served a purpose in bringing to light the reach of PED, even though many in the baseball hierarchy sought to turn a blind eye to the situation. What life lesson is Dykstra offering?

Add to that his firing of veteran author Peter Golenbock (another landsman) as his co-writer because, as Sandomir writes, “Dykstra said he had needed to take control of the book to preserve his singular voice, which is notably profane and blustery and as obsessed with sex as a pubescent boy.”

Arrested development (pick whichever meaning you will)?

(I’ve also lost some respect for Stephen King, whose blurb is featured on the cover. Unless it’s one of those situations where the publisher cobbled together words that King included in his assessment, although not necessarily in the order in which it appears.)

I often link the books in these entries to the Amazon page, hoping to earn a few coins if some of you readers decided to order the various merchandise. Not this time.

People of the book, starring Howard Megdal

Posted on: March 4th, 2016 by Ron Kaplan

Took one of my rare trips into the jungles of Manhattan to see Howard Megdal, he of the new book The Cardinals Way: How One Team Embraced Tradition and Moneyball at the Same Time at the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse.

It’s always great to reconnect with old friends. Jay Goldberg, Bergino’s congenial owner/event host is always kind to his guests, taking the time to note authors that have had events in his establishment who might be in attendance. Last night’s group included Lee Lowenfish, winner of Spitball’s Casey Award for his 2007 biography Branch Rickey: Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman; Greg Prince, whose  new book —  Amazin’ Again: How the 2015 New York Mets Brought the Magic Back to Queenscomes out March 15; and myself.

In addition to Cardinals, Megdal1Megdal — the busiest man in journalism (he writes for more print and on-line publications than I can track) — is also author of all The Baseball Talmud: The Definitive Position-by-Position Ranking of Baseball’s Chosen Players; Taking the Field: A Fan’s Quest to Run the Team He Loves; and the e-book Wilpon’s Folly: The Story of a Man, His Fortune, and the New York Mets.

On a more personal note, Megdal was responsible for my gig as a talking head on the PBS screening of Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story a few years back and Skyhorse asking me to do my book on the Maccabiah Games.

If my wife and I had another kid, I might have had to make Megdal the godfather.


A learning experience

Posted on: January 8th, 2016 by Ron Kaplan

HallCredsI was surprised when I saw the invitation from the Baseball Hall of Fame to attend their press conference introducing Mike Piazza and Ken Girffey Jr. as their newest members-elect. By my way of thinking, the ranking goes something like this:

The MLB Network
Sports Illustrated
New York Times
Wire services
TV Networks
Local TV
Local print media
Everyone else
New Jersey Jewish News

But I was sure going to take advantage of the opportunity. I emailed back the credential request and was personally approved within minutes.

The event was held yesterday at the New York Athletic Club and the dress requirements, of all things,  were quite explicit:

STRICTLY PROHIBITED: Denim (of any color), pants that resemble jeans (of any color), tennis shoes, t-shirts, flip flops, untucked shirts, spandex, cargo pants, capris, culottes, open midriffs, halter tops and leggings.”

So much for individual expression. Oh well, small price to pay.

HallClubThe NYAC — site of the annual Heisman Trophy ceremony — reminded me of the ritzy men’s clubs of a bygone era. Old wood, quiet ambiance. All that was missing was the attendant offering cigars and whiskey. I felt like a kid on his first day at a new school where everyone else had known each other for years. Would I fit in? Is there a hierarchy? Where do I sit? In the back? Up front?

I ran into some familiar landsmen there, such as Bruce Beck of WNBC-TV and Marc Ernay, sports director of 1010 WINS, and Marty Appel, former NY Yankees PR director and still a major presence in the baseball scene, so that was a touch reassuring.

The procedure was incredibly well-organized. Shortly before the appointed hour of 3 p.m., a hush fell over the 100+ journalists, photographers, and camera people (the only sound was the clicking of shutters). Piazza and Griffey entered, accompanied by Jeff Idelson and  Jane Forbes Clark, the Hall’s president and chair of the board of directors, respectively, and Jack O’Connell, secretary of the Baseball Writers of America, whose job it is to tally the votes. After introductions, Idelson and Clark helped the Griffey and Piazza on with their ceremonial Hall of Fame jerseys and caps. In perhaps the most anticipated news, Griffey announced his plaque would have him wearing a Seattle Mariners cap, while Piazza chose to go with the Mets, a popular decision given the environment.


HallDais1There were the usual expressions of humility, appreciation, and gratitude.  Griffey’s father (right) was in the audience (in fact he was sitting right in front of me). The most touching comments recalled the two players’ experiences in the minors. Even though Griffey was the No. 1 draft pick in 1987 and Piazza was selected by the Dodgers as basically a favor (62nd round in 1988), it was the same slog for both: low wages, long uncomfortable bus rides, bad food. Griffey said he had to work just as hard as everyone else; there was no special treatment and nothing was guaranteed for him.

Here’s what they said, as per the transcript of the conference:

Q. You both came in from opposite ends of the draft obviously. Reflect what happened after that, starting your pro careers, in Albuquerque, Bakersfield, how that prepared you for what ended up being a Hall-of-Fame career.

MIKE PIAZZA: I think those moments, as much as they were difficult, were some of the more innocent times and the fun with the guys; Musketeers against the world. Once you get to the big leagues sometimes it’s a lot more pressure and it’s different.


But those are the times that you have to kind of cut your teeth and go through those struggles, especially for me. I remember just my short story about having to run back to the backstop, and pitchers that came from good colleges. They’re like, ‘Who is this guy catching?’ He’s terrible. We need to get another guy back there.

Fortunately I was able to get better and work harder and at least, as I said, improve to where I was able to be a pretty good Major League catcher.

KEN GRIFFEY, JR.: Wow, I just remember those bus rides. You touched it all with having roommates and things like that, people you don’t know.

PIAZZA: No money.

GRIFFEY, JR.: Mine was 700 bucks a month.

PIAZZA: My first contract was $850 a month. Tommy Lasorda always has a great expression. When I played in the Minor Leagues, you couldn’t even get a hot shower. He always used to say, ‘Good, I don’t want it to be comfortable here, I want you to work to get to the big leagues.’

Now you go to the Minor League stadiums, it’s great, you have baby changing rooms in the clubhouse. This is comfortable, I don’t know if I ever want to leave here.

GRIFFEY, JR.: It’s changed.

PIAZZA: Yeah, it’s crazy. I’m happy for the players today. They’re incredible nonetheless, they’re talented. But, man, I think it’s harder in a way. We wanted to get the hell out of there. It was tough conditions sometimes.

GRIFFEY, JR.: Playing in ballparks.

PIAZZA: Bad lights, bugs. That’s part of the fun about this. It puts everything in panorama from the start to the beginning.

GRIFFEY, JR.: There’s always a No. 1 pick. Each year there’s going to be a No. 1 pick. There’s going to be a first-round pick. But you got to go out and play. Once you get drafted, that number doesn’t really mean anything. You may have one more chance than everybody else, but you’ve got to go out there and play.

I knew that when I got drafted. You’re a No. 1 pick. So what? You still got to go out there and play like everybody else. We’re not going to treat you any different than anybody else. From Rick Sweet being my first-year manager. He actually fined me for missing curfew. Only reason I missed curfew is I’m allergic to fish, I went to eat after a seven-hour bus ride. He doesn’t care. You missed curfew, here is a hundred. When I got to Cincinnati, I asked for my money back. He said he didn’t have it. That was good (laughter).

But when you have guys who have been in the Major Leagues and now they’re coaching, they’re riding the bus along with you, they’ve got 10, 15 years in the big leagues, you sort of listen to them. They’re teaching you how to be a pro from A ball. It’s not like high school. It’s not like college. These guys are teaching you what it’s going to take to get to the next level. Then you have another coach that’s going to try to get you to the next level.

They’re not going to sugarcoat things. They’re going to treat you like young men. You better do the right thing or they’re going to get you out of there.

I’ve watched plenty of players throughout my career get released and stuff like that. I was like, ‘He could play.’

But they said, ‘We don’t deal with attitudes like that.’

Like I said, doesn’t matter when you get drafted, you still got to go out and perform. We’re still playing on the same field.

PIAZZA: Everyone matures differently, too. I remember watching him play. The pressures that he had were different than mine in a sense that obviously expectations were high. For him, everybody was watching. For me, nobody was. I had to kind of cut my teeth and do a different route.

For me, I’ve seen so many guys that were a lot more talented than me that didn’t make it because it’s not easy. It’s a tough road. Guys get injured. Life is sometimes not what happens but how you deal with it. This game is a true test. The conditions we mentioned really separate the guys that can play and the guys that can’t.

I wonder if anyone else asked that in the breakout session that followed. I almost felt badly for Griffey: most of the attention went to Piazza, who played for the local team.


Time ran out before I could ask Piazza a question: “Players often say they know when they hit the ball that it’s going out. What were your thoughts when you hit your homer in the first game back after 9/11?” (I must admit, I thought it would be neat to see that on the transcript.)

Since I behaved so well, I hope they invite me back next year.


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