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Arts & Culture

Jews And Baseball: An American Love Story

Hank Greenberg at bat
Courtesy of American Public Television
Hank Greenberg at bat

Airs Monday, March 26, 2012 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Narrated by Dustin Hoffman, "Jews And Baseball: An American Love Story" explores the connection between Jewish Americans and America's national pastime. The captivating documentary, directed by the award-winning filmmaker Peter Miller, a long-time associate of Ken Burns, is a story of immigration, assimilation, bigotry, heroism, and the passing on of tradition.

Of the more than 16,700 Major League Baseball players in the 140-year history of the sport, the documentary catalogs those Jewish athletes who not only made it to the pinnacle of their sport but also helped shatter stereotypes and bring Jewish culture to the forefront of America.

It all started with Lipman Pike in 1871. The first professional Jewish baseball player, Pike made his major league debut with the Troy Haymakers and boosted the popularity of the sport among Jewish American immigrants. This new audience took to the game – immigrant parents taught baseball to their children and bonded over favorite teams.


Nearly 60 years later, America found its “first Jewish baseball superstar” in Hank Greenberg. Historian Marty Abramowitz says in the film: “More than anyone else, [Greenberg] is the person who is historically responsible for the attachment of American Jews to America’s game.”

Greenberg, who was named the American League MVP in 1935, was not only admired for his athleticism, but also for his courage. A victim of anti- Semitic comments from players and fans across the country, Greenberg never backed down to prejudice and was one of the first white players to embrace the integration of the sport in 1947.

While Lipman Pike and Hank Greenberg were among the first groundbreaking Jewish ball players, they are certainly not the last. In 1955, the league was introduced to a young dominant pitcher of the Jewish faith, Sandy Koufax. A pitcher for the Brooklyn/LA Dodgers, Koufax was a three-time winner of the Cy Young Award and the first pitcher to throw four no-hitters.

Dick Friedman of Sports Illustrated commented: “The selling point [of the documentary] is the appearance of interview-averse Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax.”


"Jews And Baseball" is thrilled to have internationally renowned jazz artist Sophie Milman singing "Take Me Out To The Ball Game." Listen now

In "Jews And Baseball," Koufax discusses his religion’s relationship with his career, including the time he opted out of pitching the opening game of the 1965 World Series because it fell on the same day as Yom Kippur.

In addition to segments with baseball legends and their families, the documentary interviews historians and notable baseball fans. Ron Howard and Larry King share their childhood baseball memories and reminiscence about the magic that followed every time Koufax stepped on the mound.

The documentary includes additional interviews with Maury Allen, Yogi Berra, Elliot Maddox, Fred Wilpon and others. The film also pays tribute to the Jewish baseball stars of the ’90s and today such as Shawn Green and Kevin Youkilis.

"Jews And Baseball" is on Facebook.

Trailer: Jews And Baseball: An American Love Story