Faith in The Game

A new film illuminates the Jewish contribution to the national pastime
December 13, 2010

Sandy Speaks! Much like "Garbo Talks!" the selling point for the 1930 film Anna Christie, the appearance of interview-averse Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax is the draw for the thoughtful new documentary Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story. The greatest living Jewish ballplayer doesn't say anything earth-shaking but it is wonderful to see him, dapper and handsome as he nears his 75th birthday on Dec. 30. As my people say every Passover: Dayenu. It would have been enough.

Otherwise, the film, narrated by Dustin Hoffman and written by former New York Times columnist Ira Berkow, covers its subject matter as adroitly as Rangers All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler (one of 15 Jewish players in the majors in 2010) fields his position. The key figures, including such off-field luminaries as labor leader Marvin Miller and commissioner Bud Selig, roll by. Players—Andy Cohen, Ken Holtzman, Kevin Youkilis—are given their due, as are records and milestones. In a gritty interview, 1953 AL MVP Al Rosen is frank about how he dealt with anti-Semitic foes: "There's a time that you let it be known that enough is enough.... You flatten [them]."

At the film's center is the issue of whether a Jew should play on Yom Kippur. At crucial moments (the 1934 pennant race for Greenberg, 1965 World Series for Koufax) the stars sat out, providing examples that enhanced Jews' self-image. Thus, one interviewee, Rabbi Michael Paley, says that Greenberg might be "the most important American Jew to have ever been."