Reviewed by Joshua Platt
Authors: Burton A. Boxerman and Benita W. Boxerman, with a
foreword by Ron Kaplan
Publisher: McFarland & Company, Inc., www.mcfarlandpub.com, 800.253.2187
Genre/Market: Sports (Baseball), Religion
Publication Date: January 2010
Book Length: 330 pages, including notes,
Format: Hardcover (7 x 10)
The release of Burton A. and Benita W. Boxerman’s Jews and Baseball: Volume 2, The Post-Greenberg Years, 1949-2008 coincides with
the start of the 2010 baseball season.
The book is the companion to the Boxerman’s 2007
publication, Jews and Baseball: Volume 1, Entering the American Mainstream, 1871–1948.
As its title implies, Jews And Baseball: Volume 2
covers the history of Jews in baseball following the retirement of the game’s
first Jewish superstar, Detroit Tigers slugger and Hall of Famer Hank
Considering the limited number of lantzmen from 1949
to 2008 (a mere 87), Jewish players have impacted the game on numerous levels.
On the pitching mound, Jews have shined. Hall of Famer and
Dodgers great Sandy Koufax dominated his era, hurling four no-hitters
(including a perfect game), capturing regular season and World Series Most
Valuable Player honors, and winning three Cy Young Awards. Koufax’s teammate, Larry
Sherry, who won just 53 games during an 11-year career, made the most of his
post-season appearances, pitching his way to the 1959 World Series MVP award.
Ken Holtzman tossed two no-nos while winning 174 career games. And, Steve Stone
won 25 games for the Orioles in 1980 en route to capturing the American League
Cy Young Award.
Jews have also left their mark in the batter’s box and on
the field. Indians legend Al Rosen won the 1953 American League MVP Award and
earned MVP honors in the 1954 All-Star Game. Ron Blomberg made history as
baseball’s first-ever designated hitter. And, modern stars Shawn Green, Ryan
Braun, Ian Kinsler and Kevin Youkilis have delighted fans of the long ball with
their home run feats and nifty glove work.
The Boxermans cover the vast majority of the players’
careers in shorter profiles, ranging from a few paragraphs to several pages in
length. They detail the contributions of stars Koufax, Rosen, Holtzman,
Blomberg, Stone and Green, broadcaster Mel Allen, “master statistician” Allan
Roth, Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Marvin
Miller, and Commissioner Allen H. “Bud” Selig in chapter-length biographies.
The husband and wife duo have credibility as historians,
researchers and baseball writers. Burton holds a Ph.D. in history, taught for
30 years and is a longtime member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). Benita, a veteran writer and public relations professional, is also a
SABR member. In addition to Jews And Baseball: Volume 1, the Boxermans
are the authors of Ebbets to Veeck to Busch: Eight Owners Who Shaped Baseball (McFarland, 2003).
The Boxermans’ comfortable writing style combines a mix of
detailed statistics, history, and on- and off-the-field anecdotes.
While not the central focus of the Jews And Baseball:
Volume 2, the Boxermans do a solid job of contextualizing and conveying
facts about Jews’ place in American society and history at large. They weave
into the book details about anti-Semitism, Jews’ military service, business and
educational opportunities, rising rates of intermarriage between Jews and
gentiles, and Jews’ trend toward less Orthodox observances and increasing
identification with “secular Judaism.”
The book features a bevy of fascinating baseball minutiae. A
chapter devoted to the seven “Jews by Choice,” players who converted to
Judaism, is one such example, providing interesting stories of a niche within a
niche. The story of Adam Greenberg is another. Greenberg had the shortest
career of any Jewish major leaguer. Similar to W.P. Kinsella’s “Moonlight”
Graham, Greenberg had just one major league at bat. He was hit in the head by
the very first pitch he saw and forced out of the game due to injury.
Others abound. For example, Norm Miller scored the game
winning run in the Astros six-hour-six-minute, 24-inning game against the Mets
on April 15, 1968, the longest night game on record. Mets catcher Joe Ginsberg
(who played just two games with the New York expansion team and is better know
for having caught Virgil Truck’s 1952 no hitter with the Tigers) was the first
player to take the field at the newly opened Shea Stadium in 1962. And, Mike
Epstein proudly bore the nickname “Super Jew” and Ron Blomberg played with a chai
drawn on his glove.
The book also includes moments of levity. Consider the story
of Angels manager Norm Sherry, who having been drilled in the head with a line
drive foul ball, was moaning, “My temple, my temple!” Sherry’s pitching coach,
the Boxermans write, told him: “Norm today is Sunday. Temple is on Saturday.”
The Boxermans also include several laughers relating to
Koufax. Richie Ashburn, the Boxermans report, said of Koufax: “Either he throws
the fastest ball I’ve ever seen, or I’m going blind.” The Boxermans also relay
pitcher Bob Tufts response to his rabbi, upon converting and being asked if he
wished to select a Jewish name. His reply: “Yes. Sandy Koufax.”
The Boxermans deserve high praise, indeed, for their most
recent effort. The publication of the Jews And Baseball series is,
obviously, a labor of love. One to which the Boxermans say they committed more
than six years of research and writing.
With that said, Jews And Baseball: Volume 2 comes up
short of its full potential. Perhaps the book’s hefty price tag of $45 (though
not out of line with the pricing for publisher McFarland & Company, Inc.’s
other offerings) and the tome’s lofty title, set unfair expectations. While
most certainly a noble effort, the book may leave advanced readers slightly
disappointed, like watching a close game shortened by rain.
In a review of Jews And Baseball: Volume 1 for SABR
newsletter, The Inside Game (Volume 7, Number 4), veteran Jewish
baseball enthusiast and game-used memorabilia collector Howard Goldstein wrote:
“While the book offers a trove of detail, it has a number of shortcomings which
cause it to be less than the fascinating study which it could have been.”
Goldstein’s criticisms of Volume 1 were fair, and
apply equally to Volume 2. The Boxermans rely heavily on statistics and
draw from well-established facts. At the same time, they omit several important
personalities, and overlook items of interest that could have added additional
color to the book.
In their acknowledgments, for example, the Boxermans credit
Martin Abramowitz, publisher of the Jewish Major Leaguers baseball card series,
as their “authority for determining who was Jewish.” Yet, the book makes no
mention, of Topps executive Sy Berger, “the father of the modern baseball
card,” although he boasts a card in the 2009 JML edition and was, perhaps, the
most influential post-war figures in the marketing of baseball.
Inexplicably, six modern era players are not even mentioned
by the Boxermans. The book includes no mention of Tony Cogan, Matt Ford, Bill
Hurst, Jeff Stember, Steve Wapnick and Josh Whitesell, all of who are featured
in the various Jewish Major Leaguers card sets and included on the
JewishMajorLeaguers.org all-time roster.
The authors also offer no details on Art Shamsky, who served
as the inspiration for Robert’s dog, “Shamsky,” on the popular sitcom Everybody
Loves Raymond. While this omission might appear as a picayune pop
document Shamsky’s post-baseball broadcasting career, and the former Mets
star’s TV fame is no secret. Shamsky himself references his Raymond
cameo on his Web site. The Boxermans appear completely unaware of
the site’s existence, however. ArtShamsky.com is not included in their
otherwise extensive list of Internet references.
Similarly, despite having had “personal communications” with
19 former Jewish players, sportswriters and executives, the Boxermans
interviewed only Gabe Kapler among the group of more than a dozen active
players. This omission, however, is not for lack of effort.
“We wrote, and in some cases, called and or e-mailed
virtually every living player, past and current,” the Boxermans explained.
“Only those cited replied to our requests.” It’s a shande that more of
the living players didn’t consent to be interviewed, but it does provide an opportunity
for future researchers and writers. Clearly there are all sorts of wonderful
stories concerning the world of Jews and baseball that are still left untold.
The book would also have been richer with the inclusion of
additional information about the legion of Jewish sports writers and novelists
who wrote about baseball. The Boxermans spend a highly informative, but scant,
five paragraphs on the topic in their prologue. Additional nuggets on the
subject are sprinkled throughout the book. An entire chapter would have been
more satisfying. The same can be said on the topic of team owners and
executives, two categories in which Jewish personalities abound.
While Jews And Baseball might have been that much
better with such additions, the Boxermans clearly could not have done so in
their manageable 330 pages. And, to be fair, the Boxermans never intended to
publish a Talmudic work.
“We had neither the space nor the expertise to go into
greater detail,” they explained via email. “We tried to produce a book that
would appeal to a broad readership – both the statistical-minded baseball
aficionado and the reader looking for interesting biographies.”
The Boxerman’s expansive bibliography and detailed end notes
provide a solid jumping off point for additional research. Readers seeking
additional information can also consult the growing field of Jewish baseball
There have been numerous biographical and autobiographical
books released in recent years – including Curt Smith’s The Voice: Mel Allen’s Untold Story, Jane Levey’s Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy,
Ron Blomberg’s Designated Hebrew, Marty Appel’s Now Pitching For The Yankees, and
Norm Miller’s To All My Fans … From Norm Who?
For “stat geeks,” Howard Megdal’s The Baseball Talmud, a
humorously written, advanced statistical analysis of Jewish major leaguers
throughout the game’s history, is an excellent read.
There also exist numerous Web sites devoted to this niche
interest. Kaplan’s Korner on Jews and Sports, a blog devoted to
reporting on Jewish athletes in all sports, published by New Jersey Jewish News sportswriter (and author of the Jews And Baseball: Volume 2
foreword) Ron Kaplan, for example, provides updates daily. All help fill gaps
omitted by the Boxermans.
Jews And Baseball: Volume 2 is, in
baseball terms, a solid double, despite any shortcomings. The book,
individually or with its earlier companion, is a worthy addition to baseball
fans’ libraries, and would make a wonderful bar mitzvah, confirmation or
While no national book tour, per say, is planed, the
Boxermans say they “love speaking to groups” and have some (tentative)
appearances scheduled. Should readers desire to book the authors, the couple
says they are “open to, and eager for, additional requests,” including
appearances at synagogues and JCC book fairs.
Baseball cover. Image courtesy of McFarland & Company, Inc., used with