The Vanishing Jewish Ballplayer

I really enjoyed reading this article. It made me smile as I thought back to my childhood and remembered my dreams of becoming a professional baseball player. As a child I was a very good player. I played left or center field and had a very strong arm. I once threw a player out at the plate with a bullet throw from left field.

That same season I led our league in homeruns and extrabase hits. I was 12 years-old and convinced that no one could stop the inevitable march to the big leagues. It made me a little crazy that I could find few Jewish ballplayers to identify with, Koufax, Rosen and Greenberg had long since retired.

Life has a way of throwing curveballs at you and my career was cut short by a lack of money and time spent in Hebrew school. Anyway, here is a nice excerpt from the story.

“It`s impossible to know the precise number of Jewish players of that era since not a few of them operated incognito for fear of anti-Semitism. Ford Frick, who would go on to serve as commissioner of baseball, said in 1925 that “there must have been at least half a hundred Jews in the game but we`ll never know their real names. During the early days… Jewish boys had tough sledding in the majors and many of them changed their name.”

Those name changes could even catch other Jews unawares. In an indispensable essay on Jewish ballplayers that appeared in the 1997 edition of Total Baseball: The Official Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball, David Spaner tells a story concerning Jimmie Reese, who would go on to a long career in the majors, mostly as a coach but also as a player for the Yankees from 1930 to 1932 (rooming for a spell with someone named Babe Ruth).

While playing in the minors, Reese once took part in a celebrity game in which the opposing team used a Jewish battery of pitcher-songwriter Harry uby and catcher Ike Danning (whose brother Harry starred for the New York Giants). Rather than use conventional hand signals, Danning called the game in Yiddish, certain that nobody on the other team would understand. Reese collected four hits, and after the game a surprised Ruby remarked to him, “I didn`t know you were that good a hitter, Jimmie.”

“You also didn`t know,” Reese responded, “that my name was Hymie Solomon.”

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