Happy holiday reads

The baseball book perfect for Chanukah

By Marc Katz

I’ve made my decision. I’m going to throw a little chutzpah out there, realizing many of you don’t know how to pronounce chutzpah, let alone what it means.

Chutzpah is audacity, or the state of mind of a person who would burn down his home, then complain he has nowhere to live.

Chutzpah might even be me, of the Jewish persuasion, asking you, the community majority, to buy, The Jewish Baseball Card book for Christmas. (You could also buy it for Chanukah, birthday, wedding anniversary, or other festive occasion.)

I’m reminded of an old rye bread advertisement, featuring Native Americans, Asians, blacks, choir boys, and others holding or chomping sandwiches with the tagline, “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levi’s real Jewish Rye.”

I’m paraphrasing: you don’t have to be Jewish to love this baseball card book. In fact, after turning only a page or two of this coffee table-sized volume, you quickly forget all the faces staring back at you are Jewish. The book doubles as a short history of baseball cards, and anyone’s childhood comes back to life by searching through the pages of Topps, Donruss, Fleer, various tobacco and candy company cards, and more.

(Glendale Meats put out a 1953 set of Detroit Tigers cards with packages of hot dogs, but stained cards became a problem.)

So here’s a funny story that isn’t in the book but features three people who are—confirmed to me by one of them a few years ago at spring training.

In 1999, in the American League, Jesse Levis is catching for Cleveland and Shawn Green is playing outfield for Toronto. They’re both Jewish, as is, ironically, home plate umpire Al Clark, who at one time was part of an umpire’s baseball card set.

It is just a few days prior to the High Holy Days (Look it up. You‘re already on the internet all day anyway).

As Green digs in to hit, he glances at Levis and Clark, wishes them a good holiday season and says, “This might be the first time in major league history all three people standing at home plate are Jewish.”

Levis, kind of a jokester, waits for the next time Green steps in to hit, and says,  “You know, this might be the second time in major league history where all three men standing at home plate are Jewish.”

Levis later had a brief tryout with the Reds, and he confirmed the gist of the story.

Another story. As a haphazard collector of baseball cards, I discovered the 1914 Cracker Jack cards many years ago, but was a few coins short of the $30,000 value placed on the 176-card set. I found a reprint set for $25 and thought, this isn’t like comparing an original Picasso with a poster. It’s cardboard vs. cardboard. It’s a beautiful set, so I don’t know why my wife doesn’t love it.

My favorite part of the book is the section dedicated to non-Jewish players whose names suggest they might be.

Bob Katz wasn’t Jewish? Really?

Pitcher Sandy Koufax and first baseman Hank Greenberg are obviously proximately displayed as the only two Jewish players in Baseball’s Hall of Fame, and on beautifully-made cards as well, especially Koufax’s 1955 and 1956 Brooklyn editions.

The Jewish Baseball Card Book is the follow up of collector Martin Abramowitz of Boston, who launched the first Jewish Baseball Card set in 2003, an oral history of the players shortly after, and the virtual Jewish Baseball Museum, an on-line site where you can not only find out about Jewish baseball players, but how to purchase this book, edited by former sports editor Bob Wechsler with help from Abramowitz and Peter McDonald.

As long as we’re on books, let me push one I helped birth—Chic—published by Orange Frazer Press in 2008 and written mostly by Columbus columnist Bob Hunter.

I never felt this book was pushed hard enough in Dayton, but if you want to know how Ohio State football became what it is, Chic is the read that lays out the whole story, and it’s timeless.

Chic Harley never played in Ohio Stadium, but he is the reason that edifice was built, opening in 1922.

Harley did play in the first game OSU beat Michigan, in 1919, causing athletics director Lynn St. John to think he could replace 12,000-seat Ohio Field with a stadium that, at the time, approached 70,000 in capacity.

“From the press box of Ohio Stadium, a small patch of trees is visible a half-mile to the east. It looks to be about where Ohio Field stood almost ninety years ago, back when overflow crowds of 12,000 seemed gigantic and players such as Harley, Stinchcomb and Yerges were creating wonder for those raised in a slower, simpler time,” Hunter writes.

“The mind drifts. Does Ohio Field still exist in some mysterious time warp? Could it be that those players are out there somewhere, running and tackling and rousing all those deafening cheers?

“The eyes begin to contract in a reflexive squint, trying to see something that’s not there, trying to peer through the decades at a relatively small path of green….

“What happened over there, what may still be happening over there, created this incredible sight in front of you now.

“You are as sure of that as you have ever been of anything.”

Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah.

The views and opinions expressed in On Your Marc are the views and/or opinions of the author and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Dayton City Paper or Dayton City Media and are published strictly for entertainment purposes.

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Marc Katz
Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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