Archive for the ‘Jewish sports books’ Category


Now hear this: Larry Ruttman

Posted on: March 31st, 2013 by Ron Kaplan

I usually don’t post on a weekend, but I just found out that Larry Rutman, author of American Jews and America’s Game: Voices of a Growing Legacy in Baseball, will be speaking tomorrow evening at 7 p.m. at the Barnes and Noble at 86th and Lexington in Manhattan, which used to be my favorite lunchtime haunt when I was working at the American Jewish Congress, way back when. So I wanted to post this and maybe get some of you local folks to get out there and say hi. The program follows a discussion format with Marty Appel, author of Pinstripe Empire and very involved in Jewish baseball topics.

Larry Ruttman, center, flanked by Dr. Martin Abramowitz, who wrote the intro to 'American Jews and America's Game,' and yours truly at the 2012 'Jews and Baseball' retreat.

I met Larry last year at the Jewish Baseball Retreat at the Isabella Freedman Center in Falls Village, Connecticut and learned that among many things we shared was a publisher. His book will also be officially released tomorrow by the University of Nebraska Press, just like my 501 project.

Larry was nice enough to spend some quality time talking about his new project. Enjoy.



People of the book: Jewish Jocks wins award

Posted on: February 8th, 2013 by Ron Kaplan

Franklin Foer, left, and Marc Tracy.

Congratulations to Franklin Foer, Marc Tracy, and all the contributors to Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame, which is among the award-winners as selected by the Jewish Book Council.

The book, a collection of appreciations for Jewish athletes by an eclectic group of writers, won as best anthology.

The JBC will hold an award ceremony on Thursday, March 14 at 8 p.m. at the Center for Jewish History, 15 W. 16th Street, in Manhattan. The event is open to the public.

For more information, visit JewishBookCouncil.org.

People of the (baseball) book, continued

Posted on: January 16th, 2013 by Ron Kaplan

With Martin Abramowitz, left, and Lawrence Ruttman at the "Judaism & Baseball" retreat.

Some recent news about Jewish authors and their baseball output.

Lawrence Ruttman publishes American Jews and America’s Game:Voices of a Growing Legacy in Baseball, from University of Nebraska Press, this spring. UNP is the same outfit that’s releasing my (shameless plug) 501 Baseball Books Fans Must Read before They Die.

I met Ruttman, a New England attorney, at last year’s Judaism & Baseball weekend program at the Isabelle Freedman Retreat Center. He’s a marvelous storyteller and I’m looking forward to reading his work.


With Rabbi Rebcca Alpert at the Retreat.

Also that retreat was Rabbi Rebecca Alpert, author of Out of Left Field: Jews and Black Baseball, published in 2011 by Oxford University Press. She recently discussed her book at the Germantown Jewish Center.

Another Jewish-oriented book about to hit the stores and to which I’m greatly looking forward: John Rosengren’s new bio, Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes (NAL, March).

Finally, as part of my (shameless self-promotion) 501 Baseball Book website, I have posted audio interviews with Marty Appel (Now Pitching for the Yankees and Pinstripe Empire) and Jonathan Mayo (Facing Clemens). They appear on the Author Q&A page, which you can access here.

Alpert’s Out of Left Field is also included in 501, and I hope to be speaking with her at some point soon.


Let the games begin: The Hall of Fame and the "Steroids Ballot" / Shawn Green

Posted on: November 28th, 2012 by Ron Kaplan

The Baseball Hall of Fame ballots were released today. This promises to be perhaps the most controversial elections ever. Of the first time players, several have had the words “performing enhancing drugs” (and juicer) associated with their names, to greater or lesser degrees, including:

  • Barry Bonds, the all-time home run leader with 762.
  • Roger Clemens, 354 wins.
  • Sammy Sosa, the only slugger to bash more than 60 homers in three different seasons and who totaled 609.
  • Mike Piazza, who hit 396 of his 427 homers as a catcher — the most of any player at that position in Major League history.
  • Curt Schilling, winner of 216 regular-season games and 11 more in the postseason.

In addition, there are several “repeat” players who are under the steroids cloud, including Mark McGuire, Raphael Palmiero, and Jeff Bagwell. (You can see all the stats for the first-timers here, courtesy of the Hall of Fame.)

Each of the aforementioned rookie candidates has had at least one book written about him (Piazza has a new memoir about to come out that has raised some eyebrows over the possible revelations as well as the timing of its release).

With little else to talk about in the off-season other than the standard rumor-mongering, you can bet the election will fuel the MLB network even more than most years in the weeks leading up to the results, which will be announced on Jan. 9.

One debut name that has not been whispered when it comes to PEDs is Shawn Green. Green ranks towards the top among JMLs in several offensive categories , including home runs (328, three behind Hank Greenberg), RBIs (second to Greenberg  with 1,070), and hits (second behind Buddy Myer with 2,003). In addition, Green holds the Major league record for most total bases in a game: he hit four home runs, a double, and a single for the Los Angeles Dodgers in a 16-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers in 2002.

Here’s a video he did in which he discusses his 2011 memoir, The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph.


Book Review: Jewish Jocks

Posted on: November 26th, 2012 by Ron Kaplan

A Unorthodox Hall of Fame, Edited by Franklin Foer and Mark Tracy
Twelve Books, 304 pages, $26.99.

By Dave Hollander

“It’s gotten thicker” said a colleague when I flashed him my review copy of Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame. He was, of course, referencing the old joke, told in some variation or another:  Q “What’s the thinnest book ever written? “ A “Jewish sports heroes. “ There lies some historic truth in the jest.  In 1948 (hard to believe the annum was coincidental) when Harold Ribalow convinced Bloch Publishing to print  The Jew in American Sports, Hebraic boxing legend Barney Ross (included in Jewish Jocks) wrote in the book’s preface  that he “wonder[ed] that any publisher should consider [the book] sufficiently salable to risk the publications costs.” Ribalow’s compendium provided glorious sketches of twenty-eight athletes. Sixty-four years,  later Jewish Jocks offers fifty different writers on fifty  different sports figures.  I guess it has gotten thicker.

Or is pro-sports finally post-Semitic? When I grew up, it used to be that anytime anyone in our family noticed a potentially Jewish sounding name in a sports page – Cohen, Shapiro, Grossman or a last name suffixed  with a -stein, -berg, -taub, etc.  —  we’d postulate with cautious optimism:  “Is he Jewish?” But since then, haven’t enough sons and daughters of Abraham come along that it’s not a really a big deal any more if someone in the NFL, NBA or MLB is Jewish?   To wit, I offer a tipping point.  During an August 16, 2006 Red Sox telecast  ( I urge you to YouTube this now) , actor/comedian  Denis Leary joined the broadcast booth for some banter at which time he was informed that Kevin Youkilis, the Sox first baseman, was Jewish.  On cue, Youkilis made a defensive gem; a diving stop of a hard ground ball in the hole on the second base side, then neatly tossing  to Curt Schilling covering first base to complete the out.  Leary erupted in a hilarious tirade against Mel Gibson, whose inebriated Jew-hate  rant toward a California police officer only two weeks earlier conclusively  bestowed the rank of anti-Semite upon the Aussie actor.  “Where’s Mel Gibson now, huh?” crowed Leary, channeling a little Sam Kinison.  “He’s in rehab, and Youkilis is at first base! Alright, Mel?  You happy Braveheart? You see that grab, Mel?”  It goes on for a good several minutes .  The sight of the hulking , hyper-competent, World Series champion Youkilis set against the sounds of the honest, edgy, Irish Leary’s riff said clearly to me:  it’s over.  Jews in sports are no longer a surprise

So when I heard about Jewish Jocks, I hoped for a book that took us beyond retributive footnotes like the Leary-Youkilis-Gibson incident, or the mournful athletic-less linkage to the Munich Games, or the lame taunting canard that Jews don’t play sports.  For this, Jewish Jocks gets my brucha.  Editors Franklin Foer and Mark Tracy do an admirable job, earning automatic inclusion in any Judaic collection and a respectable place in any sports bibliography.

At first, the Introduction by the editors (Foer, the once former now current editor of The New Republic and Tracy, staff writer for The New Republic, formerly at Tablet) put me off.  “Our pantheon includes people who in some cases, couldn’t even run the bases.”  In fact, almost one third of the fifty entries are not “jocks” but sports “figures” who did not distinguish on any fields of play.  “So,” Foer and Tracy further disclaim  “we went ahead and made Howard Cosell a Jewish Jock.  If you want to blast that out of the park, be warned: it’s our curveball, the only kind we know how to throw — in part because , when we were kids, we never did learn the traditional kind.”  They sound like a stereotype of the stereotype. It recalls to mind an August 2005 piece in Slate by Neal Pollack (a Jew) “The Cult of the General Manager” where Pollack lamented that we are living in a time where “sports fans” idolize non-athletes instead of athletes.  “We’re in a sports age in which Executive of the Year is an award on par with the MVP. “ he declared. “Heroes don’t analyze spreadsheets. Really, who would you rather be, Tom Brady or the guy who signed Tom Brady to a long-term deal? This may be the age of the general manager. But the quarterback still has more fun. “  I’m in Pollock’s camp, but alas this is the world we live in and if you don’t let the non-jocks get in the way, you’ll enjoy Jewish Jocks a lot more.

It’s not easy to put together a book like this. When one creates any “hall of fame” — particularly sports related —  debate follows. As you read Jewish Jocks, you may quibble with omissions. Is it too early for Ryan Braun? Why include Bud Selig and not David Stern?  Care to make an argument for Sue Bird?  I would.  And speaking of arguments, Rod Carew due to the technical absence of a formal religious conversion has been kept out of every Jewish sports hall of fame, despite the fact that he has been living more Jewishly than most Jews in this book and elsewhere.  Such sports talk fodder aside, there can be no arguing that Jewish Jocks delivers hall of fame writers and writing. It’s a staggering collection of awards winners; Pulitzers, Mann Bookers, bestsellers, Editors in Chief.   Behold household literati like Buzz Bissinger, David Brooks, Stephen Dubner, Jonathan Safran Foer, Jane Leavy, Deborah Lisptadt, George Packer, David Remnick, and Lawrence Summers, to name-drop a few; each members of the tribe reflecting on their own.  Some wax with love, some with skepticism, some with awe, some with derision, and all with ample research . Really, for sheer literary and journalistic power in 2013, it doesn’t get much better.

The very first essay by Simon Schama on the 16th century British pugilists Daniel Mendoza reads lyrically  like an elegiac ballad.  Timothy Snyder educates us on Max Nordau’s “muscular Judaism” of the late 1800’s.  Rebecca Newberger Goldstein meditates humorously on “heightism” while recalling the diminutive basketball star from the Lower East Side, Barney Sedran. We stunningly learn in “Fencing for Hitler,”  Joshua Cohen’s section on Helen Mayer, the “strange and inexplicable fact that more Jewish Fencers were murdered in Nazi camps, then were accomplished athletes of any other sport.”  Judith Shulevitz writes insightfully but none too kindly of Olympic swimming icon Mark Spitz.  I was a little weirded out by Sam Lipstyte’s onanistic focus in the chapter he handed in on his father, sports writer Robert.  And I laughed out loud reading  Jeffrey Goldberg’s line regarding wrestler Bill Goldberg’s crossover appeal:  “In addition to believing the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Hezbollah gunmen believe that professional wrestling isn’t staged.”  If I had to choose a personal favorite, it’s  Kevin Arnovitz’s short, sharp, vivid tale of Nancy Lieberman , the pioneering women’s basketball player, who took the A train from Far Rockaway to Rucker Park on a regular basis, accompanied by boys you don’t meet in Hebrew School — boys who became lifelong friends — who were welcomed, kind of, by Nancy’s mother for some kitchen table hospitality knowing that these guys assured her daughter’s safe passage.  I wonder if that house in the Rockaways still stands, after Sandy.

What’s compelling  about a book like this is that ultimately it’s a book about us.   Sports marketers call it “basking in reflected glory.” (see:  Cialdini, Robert, et. al., “Basking in Reflected Glory: Three (Football) Field Studies”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1976. )  By publicly identifying with the accomplishments of others, particularly others like us in some way, we feel better about ourselves and hope everyone else does too.   Now that that book of Jewish sports heroes has indeed gotten thicker, maybe in sports we should take more credit more often.   Like Linsanity did for Asian-Americans, we could use a little more Jew-sanity.  Let’s do it not only when gymnast Aly Raisman chooses Hava Nagila for her floor exercise in proud defiance at the 2012 Summer Olympics. That was beautiful.  But see it everywhere in sports.  See it like Michael Phelps does.  He knows that there’s no way he gets his record eight gold medals in the 2008 games, passing  Mark Spitz, if not for the super-mensch effort in the anchor leg of 4x100m freestyle relay from  Jason Lezak, a Jew.

Dave Hollander is a clinical assistant professor at New York University’s SCPS Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management.  He is the author of three books and currently working on his fourth.

Now hear this: Marc Tracy

Posted on: November 19th, 2012 by Ron Kaplan

Marc Tracy, right, with Franklin Foer, co-edited "Jewish Jocks."

Continuing our discussion on Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame, here’s an interview I did recently with Marc Tracy, who along with Franklin Foer, served as co-editor of the book. Click on the arrow below to listen in on the conversation.


'Freaking' out over Adam Greenberg (Jewish Jocks)

Posted on: November 16th, 2012 by Ron Kaplan

Remember when I warned about the motives of Jeffrey Loria and the Miami Marlins when they signed Adam Greenberg to a one-game contract so he could get that first official at-bat? So much for the good-will he engendered with that act of kindness.

Stephen J. Dubner, coauthor of one of my favorite book series (and its companion website/blog), wrote an essay on Greenberg for Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame. At the time he submitted the profile, Dubner couldn’t have known about the never-give-up, never-surrender ballplayer. He was kind enough to share his thoughts on why Greenberg should be included in the pantheon of notable Jewish athletes.

* * * *

KK: Did you pick Adam Greenberg or was he assigned to you?

Stephen Dubner: Oh, I picked him all right. While there were a lot of fascinating people to choose from — as evidenced by the final roster in the book — I’ve always been drawn to quieter and undertold stories. And to his credit, Frank Foer was enthusiastic about having Adam in the book even though he didn’t know anything about him at that point.

KK: Why did you choose him then?

Dubner: A few summers ago, my family (wife and two young kids) were spending some time out in Connecticut, and we started going to Bridgeport Bluefish games. They’re an unaffiliated professional baseball team — in other words, not part of the minor-league system that typically feeds the majors. So while most of the players were very good, they weren’t your typical minor leaguers. A lot were older  — late 20s, early 30s. Many of them had already played in the majors and were hoping to claw their way back up. We first noticed Adam because he was such a dynamic player — great center fielder, smart batter, aggressive baserunner.

Also, he was Jewish, as are we, so of course that made us pay a little extra attention. Then we read a thumbnail bio in the Bluefish program and were very taken with the poignance of his story, which of course made us root for him extra hard. Then, at a Bluefish fan-appreciation day, where the kids get to run the bases and get autographs from players, my kids gravitated toward Adam, so we did meet him quickly then.

I hadn’t planned to write about him — Barry Bearak had already written an excellent profile in the Times Magazine, where I used to work — but fortunately Jewish Jocks gave me an opportunity to do so.

Anya and Solomon Dubner visit with Adam Greenberg. Photo courtesy Stephen Dubner

KK: Did you have to do a lot of research? Was there anything that surprised you on your project?

Dubner: I spent some time with Adam in Connecticut and then we stayed in touch through the months. The biggest surprise was his attitude, which I essentially used as the through-line in my chapter: his indomitable optimism.

KK: Was your initial opinion of Greenberg altered by the time you finished?

Dubner: Well, I found him to be an impressive human being, but I can’t say I walked into it thinking he wouldn’t be.

KK: Of course, when you submitted the essay, you had know way of knowing the turn his life would take at the end  of the season. What are your thoughts about that? (I wonder, given the deal the Marlins just made, if they might consider inviting him to spring training.)

Dubner: His salary requirements would certainly seem to fit the Marlins’ absurd new payroll plans. In any case, no, the “One At-Bat” campaign took me totally by surprise, and while I e-mailed with Adam throughout it, I’m not sure either of us thought it would turn out as dramatically as it did.

In a way it would have been better had he gotten his at-bat with his original team, the Cubs. On the other hand, there was something sweeter about it happening as a member of the team whose pitcher hit him in the head. By the way, one of the strangest parts of the story is that Adam did face that pitcher one more time, in 2011, while Adam was playing for the Bluefish and the pitcher, Valerio de los Santos, was playing for the Long Island Ducks. Adam got a base hit.


High-profile writers lend expertise, affection to Jewish Jocks compilation

Posted on: November 15th, 2012 by Ron Kaplan

Raise your hand if you, like me, are tired to the cliche about the thinnest publication being a treatise on Jewish sports heroes (or some riff thereon).

It is therefore with an understandable sense of pride that I recommend Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame.

While this collection of 50 essays isn’t just about baseball, there are several entries, both consisting of “the usual suspects” and a few surprises about the national pastime. I corresponded with some of the contributors, who were nice enough to share their thoughts about their subjects.

Jane Leavy, who wrote Sandy Koufax : A Lefty’s Legacy, considered by many (including me) to be the best bio of the Hall of Famer, continues to kvell about her favorite Jewish player in her essay, “The Best Bar Mitzvah Guest Ever.”

Some of the writer’s in Jewish Jocks were given their athlete as an assignment but as Leavy wrote in an e-mail,

It was my choice.  I guess, honestly, I felt a bit proprietary and I felt I had one more thing to say about what a mensch he is. Also enough time had passed that I felt it was okay to divulge this personal anecdote, which illustrates his ability to do what so many celebrities wouldn’t dream of doing.  First he shows up at her Bat Mitzvah, knowing how much his presence meant.  Then, he graciously slips away, driving home — five hours each way — rather than upstage my daughter at her party.  How elegant, how classy:  the reluctant star who would not interfere with her star turn.

On the other hand, Marc Tracy, who co-edited JJ with Franklin Foer, reached out to Robert Weintraub, author of The House That Ruth Built: A New Stadium, the First Yankees Championship, and the Redemption of 1923 for his topic, Mose Solomon, who played barely a few months for the old NY Giants (“Mose Solomon: The Hunt for the Hebrew Ruth”).

In my case, it was pretty straightforward.  Marc … had read my book….  In the narrative, which concerns the building of Yankee Stadium and the Giants-Yankees rivalry that informed the sequence of events that led to it, I write about John McGraw’s search for a Jewish player to goose attendance (which was suffering thanks to the Babe and his new digs across the Harlem River), the discovery of Mose, and his all-too-brief career.  Marc was a fan of the book and the Mose story, so he asked me to adopt his chapter of the book as an essay for JJ.

So I had already done the research long before the project.  While doing it, I discovered much I didn’t know about Mose.  All I really knew about him was his nickname, “The Rabbi Of Swat,” which I think was drummed into my head in Hebrew school when I was eight-years-old.  But I didn’t have any idea about the cynical nature of his being brought to New York, nor his instant popularity, despite the fact he hardly played.

Mark Leibovich, a reporter for The New York Times, contributed an essay on Cubs’ GM Theo Epstein (“The Baseball Genius Who Didn’t Save the World”):

Frank let me choose between Theo and Kevin Youkilis, who was then with the Red Sox, because he knew I grew up near Boston and loved the team. I picked Theo, who has always interested me as a local kid who achieved his dream job, and became a hero in the process. I only knew the basics of his background: that he grew up in Brookline, came from an accomplished Jewish family (dad a novelist, grandfather wrote Casablanca), went to Yale and loved the Red Sox. I had never met him before.

I did a fair amount of research in that I spent some time talking to Theo and his family. My biggest surprise is that Theo agreed to talk to me at all, given how guarded he typically is with his public profile. I was also surprised at how self-aware he was about his own choices, or at least how open he was about them: particularly vis-a-vis his angst over not having done anything more “substantial” with his life.

I was pre-disposed to liking him, partly out of gratitude (he helped end the Red Sox World Series drought!) and partly from watching how he conducted himself in such a high-scrutiny/high-hysteria job over many years. I came away liking him even more.

David Margolick, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and author of Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling , and a World on the Brink offered his thoughts on Al Rosen in “I’m Not Greenberg.”

I think I was probably given a choice of several people, and since baseball interests me more than other sports, I chose Rosen. Happily, because, though I was dimly aware that he’d been a great player, I didn’t know the details — I’m not an Indians fan, and he played before my time — and I was happy to learn them.

I’m always pleased to break new ground rather than plow over all the familiar stuff, so Rosen’s relative obscurity was an additional inducement. Also, Rosen is still alive, so I had the chance to speak with him, which was a great treat. I did a fair amount of work; I had my former colleague at The New York Times pull the clips on Rosen from the Times‘ morgue, and read over many of them. I read an oral history he’d given many years ago, and spoke to him at considerable length. He’s a wonderful story teller with a crystal-clear and precise memory. He’s also extremely intelligent and well-spoken, which one doesn’t always get writing about this world. Ditto that he didn’t only go through the motions or tell the same old stories. I got the feeling that he was interested in our discussion and dug deep to come up with his answers. He was a perfect gentleman. That might have been the greatest and most pleasant surprise, along with his numbers, and how spectacular a career he’d have had had he not gotten hurt.

As you can tell, I very much enjoyed the experience and left it convinced Rosen was exemplary for more than his statistics.

Dahlia Litwick, who covers law and the courts for Slate.com, took up Marvin Miller, the first head of the Players Union, in “Three Strikes and a Walkout.”

Actually Miller was assigned to me and despite a lifelong love of baseball (Montreal Expos!) and a background in the law I didn’t know much about Miller at all. I actually did a bunch of research including reading up on Curt Flood and reading the court opinions.

I think for me the big surprise was the contrast between this kind of dandy-looking, self-confident Miller and the fear he instilled, the way he was characterized as a thug and a bully. I thought that was fascinating and spoke to something interesting about powerful Jews.I also can’t believe the passion the fight over his place in the baseball Hall of Fame engenders — that fight is en fuego.

I loved writing this because it made me think a lot about the role of law and lawyers in convincing those who are being exploited that they are — in fact — being exploited.

Other baseball contributors include:

  • Ron Rosenbaum on Arnold Rothstein
  • Ira Berkow on Hank Greenberg
  • Jonathan Mahler on Daniel Okrent (one of the founding figures of fantasy baseball)
  • David Leonhardt on Bud Selig
  • Stephen J. Dubner on Adam Greenberg

I’ll add their thoughts as they arrive, as well as a select group of contributors on other sports personalities.

In addition, I’ll be posting a “Korner Konvesration” with coeditor Marc Tracy shortly, as well as a review by David Hollander, author of 52 Weeks: Interviews with Champions! Hollander has a special place in the Korner: he was the subject of the first story which launched the sports section in the Jewish News in 2006 which eventually led to this blog. So you can blame him.

Let the Jewish Jocks buzz begin

Posted on: October 25th, 2012 by Ron Kaplan

David Plotz of Slate.com stole my assessment that this excellent new collection, edited by Marc Tracey and Franklin Foer, will become the year’s hot new b’nei mitzva gift.

This piece — an interview with Foer — is the opening salvo for the next few days’ worth of excerpts taken from the book, starting of with brother Jonathan Safran’s profile of chess bad boy Bobby Fischer.

Also on the horizon…

Posted on: October 12th, 2012 by Ron Kaplan

Received notification after I posted the previous piece…

New American Library will publish John Rosengren’s Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes in March.  But according to an e-mail from the author, “you don’t have to wait until then to get a sneak peak at the definitive biography.

“You can read excerpts, see photos, browse extended footnotes, watch videos and take the Jewish baseball player trivia quiz at the book’s official website.

“You can also like Hank on Facebook, where I’ve set up a page with additional photos, milestones and places to post comments.  Soon, you’ll be able to vote for the All-Time Jewish All-Star team.”

Rosengren has previously written about baseball in his 2008 publication, Hammerin’ Hank, George Almighty and the Say Hey Kid.


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