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.
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 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.
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.
"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. Photo courtesy of Amazon.com.
"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: The Hero of Heroes. Photo courtesy of Amazon.com.
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.
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
At the time of this posting, no Beckett Marketplace or eBay sellers were offering the 2008 JML card.
42, American Jews and America's Game: Voices of a Growing Legacy in Baseball, Going to Bat for Jackie Robinson: The Jewish Role in Breaking Baseball's Color Line, Hammerin' Hank Greenberg, Hank Greenberg, Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes, Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn't Want to Be One, Hank Greenberg: The Story of My Life, Jackie Robinson, Jewish baseball, Jewish Major Leaguers in Their Own Words, JewishSportsCollectibles.com, Jews And Baseball, Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story, Life And Times of Hank Greenberg, Pee Wee Reese, The Baseball Talmud, The Big Book of Jewish Baseball, Two Pioneers: How Hank Greenberg and Jackie Robinson Transformed Baseball - and America, When Jackie and Hank Met
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.