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Jackie and the Jews: Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg

Jackie Robinson 2013 Gypsey Queen
Jackie Robinson
Topps 2013
 Gypsy Queen.
Photo courtesy of JSC.com.

Throughout his career, Jackie Robinson played with and against numerous Jewish Major Leaguers in the late 1940s and 1950s.

Burt and Benita Boxerman's two-volume series Jews And Baseball, Larry Rutman's American Jews and America's Game: Voices of a Growing Legacy in BaseballHoward Megdal's The Baseball TalmudPeter Ephross and Martin Abramowitz's Jewish Major Leaguers in Their Own Words, and The Big Book of Jewish Baseball by Peter and Joachim Horvitz are all excellent resources for learning more about Jewish Major Leaguers on the era.

The most notable, however, of Robinson's Jewish opponents was Hank Greenberg.

Robinson faced Greenberg during Robinson's 1947 rookie season and Greenberg's last season as a player.

42 Pee Wee Reese
Pee Wee Reese puts an arm around Jackie Robinson in 42. Photo courtesy of IMDB.com.
A touching scene in 42 shows Dodger captain Pee Wee Reese placing an arm around Robinson on May 13, 1947 at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, comforting Robinson while fans hurled racial epitaphs. The tear-jerking scene is given the full Hollywood treatment, and is a high point of the movie. According to ESPN.com, however, it may not have happened as depicted in the film.

What happened on May 15, when Brooklyn played against Pittsburgh -- Greenberg's team -- that year is clear.

As described by Stephen Norword and Harold Brackman in their SABR award-winning research paper, "Going to Bat for Jackie Robinson: The Jewish Role in Breaking Baseball's Color Line."

"The most dramatic display of Jewish solidarity with Jackie Robinson came from Hank Greenberg. The legendary Detroit Tiger slugger who hit 58 home runs in 1938, then with the Pittsburgh Pirates in his last season, was the first opposing player to offer Robinson encouragement. Probably no major leaguer before Robinson had been more abused by opposing players and fans than Greenberg, who was continually taunted for being Jewish.

"On May 15, 1947, in a game between the Pirates and the Dodgers, Robinson laid down a perfect bunt and streaked down the line to first. The pitcher’s throw pulled first baseman Greenberg off the bag. Reaching for the throw, he collided with Robinson, who was able to get up and reach second. The next inning Greenberg walked, and asked Robinson, who was playing first base, if he had been hurt in the collision. Assured by Robinson that he hadn’t been, Greenberg said to him, 'Don’t pay any attention to these guys who are trying to make it hard for you. Stick in there ... . I hope you and I can get together for a talk. There are a few things I’ve learned down through the years that might help you and make it easier.'"

Despite wide coverage of the episode at the time it took place -- Robinson old the New York Times, “Class tells. It sticks out all over Mr. Greenberg.” -- the conversation between Robinson and Greenberg is given scant attention by Robinson's biographers.

Hank Greenberg: The Story of My Life.
Hank Greenberg: The Story of My Life. Photo courtesy of Amazon.com.
Both Robinson and Greenberg, however, mention it in their autobiographies; Robinson in Jackie Robinson: My Own Story (co-written by African-American sportswriter Wendell Smith, who chronicled Robinson's rookie season for the Pittsburgh Courier), and Greenberg in Hank Greenberg: The Story of My Life (co-authored by Ira Bekow).

Recalls Greenberg:

"Here were our guys, a bunch of ignorant, stupid Southerners who couldn't speak properly ... and all they could do was make jokes about Jackie. The couldn't recognize that they had a special person in front of them. ... I identified with Jackie Robinson. I had feelings for him because they had treated me the same way. Not as bad, but they made remarks about my being a sheenie and a Jew all the time."

Hank Greenberg Hero of Heroes
Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes. Photo courtesy of Amazon.com.
John Rosengren's new biography of Greenberg, Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes, also recounts the episode (drawing on The Story of My Life as a source).

"The moment held lasting significance for Robinson," writes Rosengren. "It also burnished Hank's reputation as a hero for the way he conducted himself."

The books Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn't Want to Be One, Hammerin' Hank Greenberg, Two Pioneers: How Hank Greenberg and Jackie Robinson Transformed Baseball - and America and When Jackie and Hank Met also touch, to varying extents, on Greenberg and Robinson's interaction.

Life And Times of Hank Greenberg DVD.
The Life And Times of Hank Greenberg. Photo courtesy of Amazon.com.
Aviva Kempner's documentary, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, the more recent Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story and the YouTube documentary, Jewish Activism in Baseball Part 5: Life Long Friendship, one of a series of short documentary vignettes on the topic of Jews in baseball, also detail the encounter.

"My Dad said, many times, that he didn't know what having it bad was until he saw what Jackie Robinson went through in 1947," recounts Steve Greenberg, Hank's son, in Life and Times. 

Two baseball cards also commemorate Robinson and Greenberg's infamous interaction.

2002 Fleer Hank Greenberg Jackie Robinson card.
2002 Fleer Hank Greenberg Jackie Robinson card. Photo courtesy of FindFreeGraphics.com.
These include a 2002 Fleer "Rival Factions" card and a 2008 Jewish Major Leaguers issue.

The Fleer card includes standard and limited edition variations.

The later include cards featuring swatches of Robinson's game used pants, slices of Greenberg's bats, or both.

Beckett.com offers a checklist of the various issues.

As of the time of this posting, no Beckett Marketplace seller is offering the card. Prices, when collectors can find the Fleer cards on eBay or Amazon, range from $10-$100 or more, depending on the scarcity of the particular issue.

While potentitally difficult and costly to obtain, the Robinson pants/Greenberg bat variation (which saw a limited production of just 50 cards) would represent a jewel in the crown of any Jewish baseball card collector, in my opinion.

The only problem with the card is that it depicts Greenberg in his Detroit Tigers uniform. Greenberg, of course, played for the Pirates when he faced Robinson, and for the Tigers for years prior to Robinson's major league debut. As such, Greenberg as a Tiger was never a "rival" of Robinson's.

Even with this historical inaccuracy, I think the card is a terrific addition to any Jewish baseball collection.

Jewish Major Leaguers Hank Greenberg Jackie Robinson card
Hank Greenberg Jackie Robinson JML card. Photo courtesy of JSC.
The Jewish Major Leaguers card is much more accessible to buyers who don't have deep pockets.

Card #50 in the 2008 "Hank Greenberg 75th Anniversary Edition of the JML series, titled "An Encounter," can be found on Amazon for $4.

At the time of this posting, no Beckett Marketplace or eBay sellers were offering the 2008 JML card.

Collectors interested in purchasing the card, however, can follow this link to search for it on eBay and this link to search Beckett.

Do JewishSportsCollectibles.com readers know of other Hank Greenberg and Jackie Robinson memorabilia? Let JSC know by commenting below.

We'll look at the ties between, and collectibles associated with, Robinson and his Brooklyn Dodgers teammate Sandy Koufax in the next posting in this series. Stay tuned.

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Jackie and the Jews: A Preview

Jackie Robinson 42 movie poster
42 movie poster. Photo courtesy of 42movie.com.
With the recent release of 42, the movie detailing Jackie Robinson's breaking of the Major League Baseball's "color line" in modern era (April 15 marked the 66th anniversary of Robinson's 1947 debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers), I've been thinking a great deal about Robinson, whom I've long admired for his courage and grace.

The connections between Jackie Robinson and the Jewish people, are broader, deeper and more intimate than I knew when I started my research for this series of postings.

"Robinson’s breaking of baseball’s color line in 1947, one of the most important civil rights advances of the first half of the twentieth century, benefited very significantly from such Jewish cooperation and support," write Stephen Norword and Harold Brackman in their SABR award-winning research paper, "Going to Bat for Jackie Robinson: The Jewish Role in Breaking Baseball's Color Line," originally published in the Spring 1999 issue of the Journal of Sport History.

Throughout his career, Robinson played with and against numerous Jewish major leaguers in the late 1940s and 1950s, including Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax, to name but a few.

He also enjoyed the support of some renowned Jewish sportswriters and journalists, and was assisted in his personal life by a variety of Jewish friends and business associates.

The number of collectibles showcasing the relationship between Robinson and the Jews includes baseball cards, books and movies, among other items.

Over the coming days, JewishSportsCollectibles.com will explore each of these connections in a series of upcoming postings about Jackie Robinson and the the Jews.

Watch JSC for additional postings.


Jewish Gymnast Aly Raisman 'Dancing With the Stars'

Raisman Montage eBay
Aly Raisman Olympic montage photo. Photo courtesy of eBay.
Aly Raisman – the Jewish gymnast who captained the 2012 U.S. Women's Gymnastics Olympics team in London, earned a gold medal for her floor routine choreographed to Hava Nagilia (the celebratory Hebrew song that is a staple at bar mitzvahs and weddings), and honored the Israeli Olympians slain at the 1972 Munich Olympics – is currently competing on ABC's Dancing With the Stars.

As captain of the “Fierce Five,” Raisman was a media darling before the start of The Games, and her star rose further with each metal-winning performance.

In addition to her gold medal for floor exercises at the London Games, the first ever gold in the event for an American female gymnast in the event in Olympic history, Raisman earned gold with the U.S. Team in the all-around competition, the first for the U.S. Women since 1996, and a bronze metal for her individual performance on the balance beam.

Collectors of Jewish Olympic memorabilia have access to a wide range of Raisman collectibles.

Her cards (visit Beckett.com for a more inclusive checklist) include:

  • A 2012 Topps Olympics issue, including parallel, autograph and memorabilia cards;
  • An ACEO trading card;
  • A limited edition FA Productions Olympic preview card;
  • and, a 1/1 artist sketch card by an illustrator known as "Q."

Aly Raisman Sketch Card  FA Productions Raisman Card  ACEO Card  Aly Raisman Topps Olympics

Aly Raisman Topps Olympics Memorabilia Card
Aly Raisman Topps Olympics memorabilia card. Photo courtesy
of eBay.
Raisman's 2012 Topps Olympic autographed editions offer a variety of different limited edition printings. The Rainbow (one-of-a-kind) Gold (limited to 15), Silver (30) and Bronze (50) versions. The Topps memorabilia cards include feature Olympic pins, American flag patches and swatches of fabric from competition-worn leotards.

Raisman's cards sell for a little as a few dollars to as much as $200 in the Beckett Marketplace, Amazon and eBay, depending on the variation and scarcity of the card a collector is seeking. 

Other Raisman memorabilia includes a variety of unsigned and autographed photos, available on eBay and Amazon.com. These include group and individual photos, candid and action shots. As always, buyer beware when purchasing signed items from the auction or retail giants.

Aly Raisman SI Cover
"Fierce Five" SI Cover. Photo courtesy of Amazon.com.

Raisman and her Olympic teammates are featured on the cover of the July 23, 2012 issue of Sports Illustrated (see JSC.com's previous posting for a list of other Jews to grace the cover of SI).

Back issues of SI can be purchased on eBay and Amazon.com. Reproduction covers were not available for purchase on SI.com as of this posting, but should be in the near future.

Raisman Daily News Cover Haaretz
Aly Raisman NY Post Cover. Photo courtesy of NYPost.com.

The Jewish gymnast also graces the cover of the August 8, 2012 issue of the New York Post. The paper carries the headline "Star of David: Jewish girl wins gold, honors slain Israeli Olympians.

eBay or Amazon.com are the most likely source of back issues of the newspaper. eBay or Amazon are likely your best source for finding back issues.

Named as a "Bostonian of the Year" in 2012 by the Boston Globe, Raisman was honored at a Red Sox game last year, where she threw out the first pitch. Raisman autographed baseballs sell for between $100 and $200 on eBay.

A wide variety of other Olympic memorabilia, including a "Got Milk ad" picturing Raisman and other Olympians, tickets, programs, books (including The Fab Five) and DVDs are also available.

Raisman participated in the 2012 Kellogg's Tour of Gymnastics Champions. Tickets and programs from the tour are no doubt obtainable, and Raisman and her fellow Olympians were featured on Corn Flakes box put out by the cereal company. Boxes featuring Raisman can be found on eBay occassionally. 

Aly Raisman Pandora Ad
Aly Raisman Pandora ad. Photo courtesy of Aly Raisman/
Facebook.com.

Raisman has endorsement deals with, among others, Pandora. She is featured in the jewelry company ads, which some Jewish Olympics enthusiasts might want to add to their ephemera collections.

An active social media user, anyone wanting to "collect" bits and bytes in the forms of posts and tweets can follow Raisman on Facebook and Twitter.  

Do you have any Raisman memorabilia in your Jewish Olympics collection? What's your favorite piece? Have any JewishSportsCollectibles.com readers had a chance to meet the Olympic star or obtain her autograph? 

Let JSC know by commenting below.

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AJHS 'Night of Jewish Baseball' Recap

AJHS Night of Jewish Baseball Panel DiscussionThe American Jewish Historical Society recently hosted “A Night Of Jewish Baseball.

A sell-out, the February 27 event featured Jewish sportswriter and broadcaster Len Berman moderating a panel discussion that include three renowned Jewish baseball authors and two former Jewish Major Leaguers.

Ira Berkow, author of Hank Greenberg: The Story of My LifeFranklin Foer, editor of Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame, and Jane Leavy, author of Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy made up the panel of authors. 

Baseball historian and author John Thorn was scheduled to appear, but was ill and unable to take part.

Former Yankees media relations representative and sports publicist Marty Appel, himself a Jew and the author of several baseball books, handled PR for the event.

In an email following the festivities, Appel told JewishSportsCollectibles.com that Leavy shared with the crowd the story of Sandy Koufax attending her daughter's bat mitzvah.  

"He doesn't like those sorts of things because when he enters, 250 people come at him, it detracts from the event, and engulfs him," Appel said, relaying Leavy's account of the day. "But he did this for Jane, who quickly hustled [Sandy] into a private study for peace and quiet prior to the ceremony.

"In the study was Emma, the bat mitzvah girl, and a friend of hers, a boy. The boy asked Sandy how to throw a curve ball, and Sandy demonstrated. The boy insisted he was wrong, that this is the way you throw it.

"Amused, Sandy made the point that he had some success with his style. The boy refused to budge and said Sandy was not doing it right, he should do it his way.

"Finally, Sandy said, 'Look, this is how you $%^$E throw it!' The profanity was ballplayer-talk, and brought the house down."

Ron Blomberg and Art ShamskyFormer Jewish Major Leaguers Ron Blomberg and Art Shamsky also headlined the affair. Blomberg shared with attendees some of the stories contained in his autobiography, Designated Hebrew.

Appel tells JSC that Blomberg "talked about growing up Jewish in Atlanta, surrounded by KKK, but always a Yankee fan."

IBL Players at the AJHS Night of Jewish BaseballBoth Shamsky and Blomberg managed in the short-lived Israel Baseball League.

Several IBL veterans, including Nate Fish and Shlomo Lipetz, who coached and pitched with Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic qualifiers, and Secretary-General, Israel Association of Baseball Peter Kurz attended the function. 



Team Israel signed World Baseball Classic jersey Sandy Koufax Jerseys on Display At the AJHS Night of Jewish BaseballThe event featured a display of Jewish baseball memorabilia, including autographed uniforms from Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax and a team signed Team Israel WBC jersey.

Also on display was an autographed, limited edition All Jewish Baseball Players lithograph by artist Ron Lewis and Greg Harris.

The artwork was auctioned during the event, with proceed benefiting AJHS. 


Jewish Major Leaguers Baseball Cards Jews In Baseball lithographThe first 100 attendees who purchased $150 “reserved seats” received a gold-trimmed, limited edition set of the 2003 edition of Jewish Major Leaguers baseball cards, and attendees could also purchase JML card sets during the event.

I only wish I could have attended the AJHS Night of Jewish Baseball, instead of blogging about it from afar. Alas, I'm in Ohio and the event was held in New York City.

Did you attend the Night of Jewish Baseball? Tell JSC readers about your experience by commenting below. Share your photos from the event by emailing JewishSportsCollectibles.com at jsportscollctr@gmail.com

All event photos used above are by Melanie Einzig, courtesy of the American Jewish Historical Society. Additional photos can be found on the AJHS web site and Facebook page.

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AJHS Hosting Night of Jewish Baseball

AJHS_Jewish_Baseball_InvitationThe American Jewish Historical Society is hosting “A Night Of Jewish Baseball” on Wednesday, February 27. Unfortunately, as of this posting, the event is sold out and no additional tickets are available for purchase.

But, for Jewish baseball enthusiasts and collectors fortunate enough to be able to go, the event promises to be exciting.

Author and sportscaster Len Berman is moderating a panel discussion that is scheduled to include four renowned authors and two former Jewish Major Leaguers, both of whom are also published authors.

The Jewish sportswriters and authors schedule to appear include:

Former baseball players Ron Blomberg and Art Shamsky are also scheduled to participate.

Ron Blomber 2003 Upper Deck Yankees
Ron Blomber 2003 Upper Deck card. Photo courtesy of JSC.
Blomberg, famed as baseball's first designated hitter, is the co-author of Designated Hebrew: The Ron Blomberg Story. Blomberg is also a veteran of the Israel Baseball League, where he managed the Bet Shemesh Blue Sox. 

He is the subject of numerous cards, including including Upper Deck's Yankees history card (pictured left) and the Jewish Major Leaguers sets. Beckett.com offers a complete checklist

A frequent signer, Blomberg items -- including signed and inscribed baseballs, photos, bats, jerseys and cards -- are plentiful on Beckett.comeBay and Amazon.com. Collectors can also purchase memorabilia directly from Blomberg, via his website.

Art Shamsky JML Card
Art Shamsky Jewish Major Leaguers card. Photo courtesy of JSC.

Shamsky, a member of the 1969 "Miracle Mets" is the author of The Magnificent Seasons: How the Jets, Mets, and Knicks Made Sports HIstory and Uplifted a City and the Country. Shamsky also managed in the Israel Baseball League, as the skipper for the Modi'in Miracle. 

Collectors have access to dozens of Shamsky cards (see Beckett.com for a checklist). His cards and other collectibles, including autographed memorabilia, are plentiful on eBay and Amazon.com. Jewish baseball enthusiasts can also purchase memorabilia from Shamsky's web site.

AJHS will have a display of Jewish baseball memorabilia, including autographed uniforms from Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax and the World Baseball Classic Team Israel during the event.

Jewish Baseball Lithograph
Ron Lewis Jewish Baseball lithograph. Photo courtesy of JewishBaseballPlayer.com and AJHS.

An autographed, limited edition All Jewish Baseball Players lithograph by artist Ron Lewis will also be on display.

The lithograph will be available for bid at silent auction.

The first 100 attendees who purchased $150 “reserved seats” will receive a gold-trimmed, limited edition set of the 2003 edition of Jewish Major Leaguers baseball cards. 

Are any JewishSportsCollectibles.com readers planning to attend the AJHS Night of Jewish Baseball? Share your experiences from the evening by commenting below, or by emailing jsportscollctr@gmail.com. And, stay tuned to JSC for pictures from the event in a future posting.

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