Hank Greenberg Feed

Obituary: Marv Rotblatt

Marv Rotblatt 1951 Bowman
Marv Rotblatt 1951 Bowman. Photo courtesy of eBay.
Former Jewish Major Leaguer Marvin "Marv" Rotblatt died July 16, 2013, at age 85, according to this obituary from the Weinstein Funeral Home in Wilmette, IL and this remembrance from the New York Times.

Rotblatt pitched for the University of Illinois while in college. In 1948, he struck out 18 Purdue batters, a Big Ten conference record, according to Day by Day in Jewish Sports History

The strikeout record stood until 1965, according to Matt Wille, assistant sports information director at University of Illinois. Rotblatt remains among the Illini's top pitchers, according to the school's 2013 media guide.

Standing just 5'6" tall, Rotblatt was "one of major league baseball’s shortest pitchers," according to the NY Times. Tim Wiles, The National Baseball Hall of Fame's director of research, states that both Lee Viau and Dinty Gearin were shorter, with each measuring just 5'4" (the Weinstein obituary states that Rotblatt was "the shortest pitcher to ever play major league baseball").

Rotblatt's height, or lack of it, earned him same infamy. He pitched as "Little David" for the House of David exhibition team while in college and once struck out 17 in a game against the Harlem Globetrotters, according to The Big Book of Jewish Baseball

Playing three seasons with the Chicago White Sox, Rotblatt pitched in 35 games, tallying a 4-3 record and notching two saves during the 1948, 1950 and 1951 campaigns. Rotblatt also initiated a triple play during his time in The Bigs, according to the obituary from the funeral home.

Rotblatt's New York Times obituary notes that students at Carleton College in Minnesota play a nearly 150-inning, alcohol-fueled intramural softball game named after the pitcher.

According to the Weinstein obituary, Rotblatt is a member of the The Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. The organization's web site, however, does not include him among its inductees.

The same obituary says that Rotblatt is a member of the University of Illinois Hall of Fame. While Rotblatt remains a leader among Illini pitchers 50+ years after he took the mound for the school, University of Illinois Assistant SID Matt Wille tells JewishSportsCollectibles.com that no hall of fame exists for U of I Athletics.

My purpose in pointing out these inconsitencies is not to detract from Rotblatt's on the field accomplishments. It is, merely, to set the record straight.

Perhaps fittingly, considering Rotblatt's short stature and brief career,Jewish baseball collectors have a limited number of trading cards depicting Rotblatt.

Beckett.com lists only the 1951 Bowman (#303 in the beautiful series) and card #73 in the 2003 edition of the Jewish Major Leaguers card set among Rotblatt's pasteboard. 

The Bowman card, pictured above right, sells for between $5 and $75 on the Beckett MarketplaceeBay and Amazon.com, depending on condition.

Marv Rotblatt 1950 Hages Dairy card
Marv Rotblatt 1950 Hages Dairy card. Photo courtesy of Amazon.com.
Amazon.com lists another Rotblatt baseball card, a 1950 Sacramento Solons Hages Dairy card (#73), available for $210.

A few Rotblatt signed index cards are available on both eBayand Amazon.com as of this listing. As always, buyer beware.

Determined collectors may also find memorabilia associated with Rotblatt's distinguished minor league career, including vintage programs, on eBay.

Collectors of Jewish baseball books can find Rotblatt featured in The Baseball Talmud: The Definitive Position-by-Position Ranking of Baseball's Chosen PlayersThe Big Book of Jewish Baseball, Day by Day in Jewish Sports History, Jewish Major Leaguers in Their Own Words: Oral Histories of 23 Players and Jews and Baseball: Volume 2, The Post-Greenberg Years, 1949-2008, all of which are available on Amazon.com.

Rotblatt also appears in the documentary film Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story. In the movie, Rotblatt described how he idolized Hank Greenberg.

What other Marv Rotblatt memorabilia is available? What do you have in your Jewish baseball collection? Did you ever have the opportunity to meet Mr. Rotblatt.

Share your thoughts with JSC.com readers by commenting below.


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.

***


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.