You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story

Helmer Peter Miller's docu charts the presence of prominent Jewish major leaguers in every decade.

With: Al Rosen, Sandy Koufax, Larry King, Maury Allen, Michael Paley, Peter Levine, Roger Kahn. Narrator: Dustin Hoffman.

Confronted with nine Jews, most people would probably guess “Supreme Court” rather than “ball club,” but that’s precisely the kind of bias that “Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story” successfully sends to the showers. Charting the presence of prominent Jewish major leaguers in every decade, their relationship to the world of big-time ball and the careers of such greats as Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax, helmer Peter Miller’s historical docu strikes out a stadium-load of assumptions and, after a modest theatrical season, should enjoy a hearty afterlife in the educational and DVD divisions.

Although he covers much of the same ground (unavoidably) as does Aviva Kempner’s 1998 “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg,” and includes info covered in TV docus about some of this film’s other most famous subjects, Miller takes a much broader view of the relationship of Jews to the major leagues, stressing how important an embrace of baseball was to an embrace of America: Immigrant Jews at the turn of the 19th century knew it was through baseball that one became American. Eventually, baseball realized how important Jews could be to the sport: As Miller tells us, it wasn’t benevolence but business that led the New York Giants’ John McGraw to sign Andy Cohen, the first real Jewish star, a player who got Jews flocking to the Polo Grounds (and buying ballpark food like “ice cream Cohens”).

It was Greenberg, though, who was the pivotal figure in Jewish baseball, and possibly “the most important American Jew” in history, according to one of Miller’s commentators, Rabbi Michael Paley. This was not just because of his playing (Greenberg hit 58 home runs in 1938, was a five-time All-Star and two-time American League MVP). When the 6-foot-4-inch first-baseman refused to play on Yom Kippur — just as the Detroit Tigers were closing in on the 1934 pennant — it was “transformational,” Paley says; baseball was important, but not that important.

With terrific narration by Dustin Hoffman, “Jews and Baseball” makes effective use of archival footage and interviews, the most spectacular of which is a lengthy sequence featuring the usually reclusive Koufax, who reminisces about his career and its relationship to his religion. It’s debatable who is the most important Jew in the history of the major leagues; Koufax was a three-time Cy Young Award winner and the first pitcher to throw four no-hitters. He, too, declined to pitch on Yom Kippur, but in Koufax’s case, the game in question was the first of the 1965 World Series.

Greenberg may have had a tougher time of it — his era, the ’30s, was a period of fierce bigotry and anti-Semitism, the weekly broadcasts of the scurrilous Father Coughlin and conflicted American opinion over the situation in Europe. But almost every player featured in “Jews and Baseball” had his difficulties (even Elliott Maddox, who was African-American and converted). Most also have good, if oft-told, stories: Moe Berg, who caught for several American League teams and became a lawyer in the off-season, supposedly spoke seven languages (“and couldn’t hit in any of them,” as the saying went) and became a spy for the OSS during World War II. Al Rosen was hard-slugging star for the Indians who retired rather than be traded (by Hank Greenberg, ironically, who had become Cleveland’s general manager). Marv Rotblatt may have been the shortest pitcher (at just 5-foot-6) in Major League history.

Production values are very good, with clever music cues (“Short People” for Rotblatt), and a warm, intelligent text by the first-rate sportswriter Ira Berkow.

Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story


Production: A 7th Releasing release of a Clear Lake Historical Prods. presentation. Produced by Will Hechter, Peter Miller. Executive producer, Hechter. Co-executive producers, Linda Selig, Lynda Walker. Directed by Peter Miller. Written by Ira Berkow.

Crew: Camera (color/B&W), Antonio Rossi, Stephen McCarthy, Allen Moore; editor, Amy Linton; music, Michael Roth; sound, Miller; associate producers, Caroline Berler, Linton, Anne-Marie Smith. Reviewed on DVD, New York, Oct. 27, 2010. (In Jerusalem, San Francisco Jewish film festivals.) Running time: 90 MIN.

With: With: Al Rosen, Sandy Koufax, Larry King, Maury Allen, Michael Paley, Peter Levine, Roger Kahn. Narrator: Dustin Hoffman.

More Film

  • 'Who Will Write Our History' Review:

    Film Review: 'Who Will Write Our History'

    The most famous diarist of the Holocaust, Anne Frank, began to write down the drama of her daily life with no ulterior motive (apart from her teenage ambition to write fiction). But in March 1944, the year before she died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, she heard a radio broadcast by a member of the [...]

  • Spider-Man: Far From Home trailer

    Film News Roundup: 'Spider-Man: Far From Home' Trailer Sets Sony Pictures Record

    In today’s film news roundup, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” sets a studio record, Chris Meledandri and Glenn Close are honored, an art-house streaming service is unveiled, and “Cliffs of Freedom” gets a release. TRAILER STATS More Reviews Film Review: 'Who Will Write Our History' Album Review: Mike Posner's 'A Real Good Kid' The first “Spider-Man: [...]

  • Frank Grillo Hell on the Border

    Frank Grillo to Star in the Thriller 'Hell on the Border'

    Frank Grillo is set to star in the action-thriller “Hell on the Border” with Wes Miller directing. Miller also penned the script with Curtis Nichouls, Henry Penzi, and Sasha Yelaun producing. Ron Perlman is also on board to co-star. More Reviews Film Review: 'Who Will Write Our History' Album Review: Mike Posner's 'A Real Good [...]

  • Lee Unkrich Variety Oscars Nominees Lunch

    'Toy Story 3,' 'Coco' Director Lee Unkrich to Exit Pixar After 25 Years

    Lee Unkrich, who won Academy Awards for “Toy Story 3” and “Coco,” is departing Pixar Animation Studios after 25 years to spend more time with his family. Unkrich joined Pixar in 1994 after working as an assistant editor in television on “Silk Stalkings” and “Renegade.” He served as editor on Pixar’s first feature, 1995’s “Toy [...]

  • Velvet Buzzsaw trailer

    Netflix Original Movies: What to Look Forward To in 2019

    Following the biggest fourth-quarter worldwide subscriber gain ever and some controversy around increased prices in the U.S., Netflix looks to keep its momentum going into 2019. From Jan. 18 through March, the streaming site will release 10 original films, including action-packed thrillers, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi, quirky comedies, inspirational dramas, an artistic horror movie and a viral [...]

  • Third 'Fantastic Beasts' Production Start Pushed

    Third 'Fantastic Beasts' Production Start Pushed Back Several Months

    Warner Bros. is pushing back the production start date of its third “Fantastic Beasts” movie several months from July to the late fall, a spokesperson said Friday. Actors have been notified about the change in dates. The untitled third “Fantastic Beasts” movie has not yet set a release date. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find [...]

  • The Beatles Eight Days a Week

    Imagine's Documentary Arm Sets First-Look Pact With Apple (EXCLUSIVE)

    Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Documentaries has set a first-look pact with Apple to develop non-fiction features and series. The deal comes as Imagine is investing heavily in the premium non-fiction arena. The company in June recruited RadicalMedia veteran Justin Wilkes to head Imagine Documentaries as president. More Reviews Film Review: 'Who Will Write [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content