The Israel Baseball League was plagued with problems and folded after just one season.
Despite its host of philosophical, logistical and financial challenges, producing branded merchandise was something the IBL did well.
As a result, Jewish baseball collectors have access to a variety of memorabilia associated with the Israel Baseball League, in addition to Aaron Pribble's Pitching in the Promised Land and baseball cards.
Martin Abramowitz's Jewish Major Leaguers produced a limited edition, IBL trading card set. The English-Hebrew edition contains 19 cards (18 player cards and a set “cover” card). The set offers 16 cards containing photos and brief bios of 42 of the IBL's “highest-impact players” (most cards feature two and three players), as well as a league management card and one featuring the IBL execs and founder, the Boston Bagel Baron, Larry Baras.
Abramowitz tells JSC that the IBL cards were limited to a printing of 3,000 total sets. According to the JML web site, the IBL cards are long sold out. Patient eBay trawlers may find IBL sets on eBay, but expect to pay far more for the set than its initial release price of $15.
JML also offered uncut IBL sheets for $50 each, or two for $85. Each sheet contained two full IBL sets, with a total of 38 cards on each sheet. These, too, are sold out, says Abramowitz.
Unlike Pribble, who had a college baseball card, for many of the Israel Baseball League's Jewish players (only about 40% of the league was Jewish) – even those with previous college, minor or independent league experience – the JML IBL cards represent their first and only time being immortalized on cardboard.
In this way, the IBL card set represents a unique opportunity for both Jewish baseball card collectors and autograph hounds. It is, however, likely impossible to assemble a completely-autographed card set. One of the league's manager has died and the league's international players are now scattered anonymously around the globe.
One IBL alumnus, however, put together what may be the only completely-autographed IBL card set.
Former Cleveland Indians farmhand and Netanya Tigers veteran Leon Feingold (whose first professional card can be found in the IBL set) tells JewishSportsCollectibles.com that he purchased two sets of cards when they were released and sold at the IBL ballparks.
“I bought them in Israel from the guy who sold them at the stadiums,” says Feingold. He then sought out player autographs during the season.
Feingold says his sets include cards signed by Reynaldo Cruz. The Dominican played outfield for the Petach Tikva Pioneers. He sustained a severe concussion part way through the season and was forced to return home. Feingold obtained Cruz's signature after his injury but before his departure. “He left the afternoon the sets came out,” says Feingold, “and I got him to sign two cards before he left.”
The former pitcher's IBL card set also includes a card signed by replacement Petach Tikva manager Ferrarra, who managed the team for the last week of the season, after Ken Holtzman resigned. Ferrarra died December 6, 2009.
Holy Land Hard Ball, which can occasionally be found airing on the MLB Network and at Jewish film festivals, is an award-winning documentary about the IBL. The movie – from the 24/6 Studios duo of Brett Rapkin and Erik Kesten's – is a touching look at the league.
The documentary follows several players and IBL officials throughout the season, offering viewers a wider window into the world of the IBL than Pribble does in Pitching. Beside the DVD itself (which is available for $15 from the film's web site), collectibles associated with Holy Land Hardball include promotional postcards and posters from the various Jewish film festivals at which the documentary has been shown.
Rapkin has proven himself willing to respond to emails in the past, and I count myself lucky to have corresponded with him. I'm pleased to have two signed Hardball promotional postcards in my personal collection of Jewish baseball memorabilia.
IBL tickets can occasionally be found on eBay. I purchased one several years ago for a few bucks from Leon Feingold. I also bought a group of tickets from the father of a former player.
I later wrote to IBL commissioner Daniel Kurtzer. The former United States Ambassador to Israel is now a professor at Princeton University, and he gladly added his autograph to the ticket in response to my request via email and later mailing of it to his office. The ticket is now a unique and treasured piece in my collection.
Baseballs, cards and photos signed by Art Shamsky, Ken Holtzman and Ron Blomberg – the former Jewish major leaguers who managed in the IBL – will occasionally crop up in a search for IBL memorabilia on eBay. Blomberg, in particular, is known to inscribe signed baseballs with Bet Shemesh Blue Sox. This type of ball is regularly available on eBay for $20 or less, and is sure to make a nice addition to any IBL collection.
Feingold tells me he has an IBL bat and his regular season and IBL All-Star game hats. In April I purchased IBL tickets from the father of player Shuki Friedman, some of which the IBL veteran autographed (if you're interested in owning one, please email me). Friedman's father emailed me a photo of Shuki signing the tickets while wearing his Petach Tikvah Pioneers jersey and hat. Pribble says he has his Lightning jersey, a semi-cracked bat, team and IBL All-Star hats, and a few programs.
I've never seen any game worn IBL memorabilia offered for sale. I expect that some of the these items will come available, at some point in the future. My guess is that they will be attainable only to collectors with deep pockets who are willing to look long and hard. Am I wrong? Do any JSC readers own IBL game-worn memorabilia?
I have even seen a Rawlings glove, purported to be an IBL model, listed by an Israeli seller on eBay. It is unclear to me from the listing whether the glove is an IBL model, or game used leather. What are your thoughts?
The IBL at one point sold all manner of promotional merchandise – including t-shirts, replica jerseys, hats, yearbooks, miniature bats, logo baseballs, and a DVD commemorating the league's Opening Day – via its now-defunct web site.
While the league's e-store is no longer functional, patient collectors can prowl eBay for IBL goodies. They are listed only occasionally, but prices seem to be reasonable.
There exists one particularly rare collectible associated with the Israel Baseball League: a limited-edition Israel Baseball League Photo Display Box.
According to an IBL press release, contributors of $5,000 or more to the Jewish National Fund's “Project Baseball” were to have received the display box in recognition of their generosity
The display is a “solid walnut box with an acrylic lid [that] contains an IBL mini bat, glove, and poster, as well as a full-sized baseball, single game ticket, and a wooden plaque inscribed with the words '2007-5767 Inaugural Season' signed by IBL commissioner Dan Kurtzer.”
Today, collectors can buy the IBL display directly from JNF's web site store for $500.
JNF spokeswoman Amanda Levine tells JewishSportsCollectibles.com that the organization originally acquired roughly 100 IBL display boxes in 2007. Levin says approximately 80 of the Israel Baseball League displays remain available for purchase. Click here to make your purchase.
Do any JSC readers have this holy grail in their IBL memorabilia collections?