Jews and Baseball
Author digs deep to connect America’s pastime with Judaism
Larry Ruttman is an attorney by profession.
But the 82-year-old Massachusetts lawyer is also a history buff. His love of sports history led him on a search into Jewish baseball history, and the results can be found in his book, “American Jews & America’s Game: Voices of a Growing Legacy in Baseball.”
At 510 pages, the book includes more than 50 interviews with some of the most influential Jewish contributors to America’s pastime, including players, writers, owners and even Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.
Ruttman spoke with the Baltimore Jewish Times about his motivation for the book.
JT: What inspired you?
Ruttman: I’ve seen a lot of books about Jews and baseball, and they are almost all about just the players. … There were two things I wanted to do: … [First], go beyond batting averages and statistics and their play on the field. I wanted to get into their character and how they grew up to be the person they are. [Second], I wanted to explore their Judaism. So this book is really [using] baseball as a backdrop for an examination of Jewish life in America over the last 80 years.
Judaism influenced baseball?
[Jewish impact] goes back further than people think. … There has always been a Jewish influence that runs much deeper than Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax. … One can go all the way back to the turn of the 20th century and look at Barney Dreyfuss, the former owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who is credited by many with developing the concept of the World Series. … Today, there are more owners and players that are
Jewish than ever before. … Jews have always been drawn to baseball. … They like the game, but also the business.
Does this alleviate any of the stereotype that Jews are more likely to be owners than players?
Back in the 1930s, Jews were thought to only be successful in areas that involved mental attributes; they wouldn’t make good soldiers or be able to do anything physical. Then, along comes a guy like Hank Greenberg who was a big, tall handsome guy who played well on the field and wasn’t afraid to back things up with his fists because there was anti-Semitism at the time.
Then when Israel was founded [in 1948] and The War of Independence showed Jews can fight, that changed the perception of some here in the U.S. Then there were great Jewish players who came up and showed we were more than just intellectuals, and [our] people that can be as tough as anyone else.
Then there was Sandy Koufax, who has not thrown a pitch in nearly 50 years but who is as well-known as ever. This was a guy who decided not to pitch in the Dodgers’ World Series opener on Yom Kippur [against the Minnesota Twins in 1965], then pitched on only two days of rest [in Game 7] to help his team win the whole thing. He has a level of respect that has left him as an icon in American culture. He’s a great example of what being Jewish is all about.
What’s next for Jews and baseball?
The impact of Jews in baseball is growing all the time. From the players on the field to Commissioner Bud Selig, the influence is there. Selig has helped keep labor peace in baseball since the mid-1990s. There are executives like the [Yankees’] Randy Levine. There is the Baltimore boy who is now president of the Indians, Mark Shapiro. On the field, there are players like the Brewers’ Ryan Braun; he is one of the best players in the game. I think Jews are here to stay in Major League Baseball.