Up Front: Game Boys

Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

Ask an American Jew in his 40s or older to name his most memorable Jewish experience, and there’s a good chance he’ll say Sandy Koufax sitting out the first game of the 1965 World Series on Yom Kippur. Ask the same man how many Jews have ever played Major League baseball and he’ll have a hard time filling the fingers of one hand. He’ll instantly name Koufax, Hank Greenberg and maybe Moe Berg, and might come up with Ken Holzman and Shawn Green.

And yet, 142 Jews played in the Major Leagues between 1871 and the 2003 All-Star break. Remembering their names is one thing; finding baseball cards to teach your kids about them is another.

Like many American boys, Martin Abramowitz, Boston Jewish community professional and baseball fan, collected baseball cards as he followed the New York Yankees and Brooklyn and L.A. Dodgers in the 40s and 50s. At some point, he stopped collecting, starting again only when his youngest son became interested. When Abramowitz dug out his dusty cards, he couldn’t stop thinking of those 142 Jews.

Abramowitz did his homework: He learned that Jews make up 0.8 percent of the 16,700 men who have ever played major league baseball; they’ve had 22,246 hits, 2,032 home runs and 10,602 RBIs, and they boast a combined.265 batting average (three points higher than the averages of all players in the same time period). The pitchers compiled a win-loss record of 1,134-1,114 with 810 complete games (164 shutouts) and 11,632 strikeouts. Sandy Koufax and Ken Holtzman account for five of the 230 all-time no-hitters (Koufax: 3; Holtzman: 2).

And 42 of the 142 have never appeared on a baseball card. Who, Abramowitz thought, would tell the story of Reuben Ewing? Ewing was born Reuben Cohen in Odessa in 1899, and emigrated to Connecticut in 1901. He joined the St. Louis Cardinals in 1921 and appeared in three games at shortstop; he was flawless in his one fielding opportunity and hitless in his only at-bat.

Or Henry William Scheer, a part-time infielder who played in 120 games. “Heine” served as a second baseman for the 1925 Reading Keystones of the International League, where he combined with then- shortstop Moe Berg as the only documented Jewish double-play combination in the history of professional baseball.

To give all these guys their due, Martin and his 11-year-old son, Jacob, decided to create a set of Jewish baseball cards. Harrison Grass, a Camp Ramah buddy of Jacob’s, had amazed bunkmates with his extensive card collection – and with the fact that his father Roger was president of Fleer Trading Cards. After the two dads found a few minutes to schmooze on Visitors Day, Grass was hooked.
Fleer offered to produce the set for the American Jewish Historical Association and to work with Major League Baseball and with the Major League Baseball Players Association to make it happen. The agreement was to produce 15,000 sets of cards. (Full sets can be ordered, for $100 and up, at http://www.ajhs.org) Abramowitz loves the sepia-colored photo of Moses H. (Moe) Solomon, standing on the field in his Giants uniform, his right glove hand extended in the air. “He’s in an obvious Statue of Liberty pose, looking longingly in the distance, symbolizing for me aspiration and the American Dream,” says Abramowitz. While Solomon appeared in only two games as an outfielder for the Giants in 1923, he had 3 hits in 8 at- bats – an impressive.375 average. And his 49 home runs as minor leaguer earned him the twin nicknames, “The Jewish Babe Ruth” and “The Rabbi of Swat.”

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