Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story

The film is bookended by mentions of our own Kevin Youkilis (Photo courtesy of Kelly O'Connor and used with permission)

I’m in the process of turning my brain back on to baseball full-time. I’ve been working on a project that has me going through photos of Red Sox games from 2005 up to last season and it’s getting me excited for the 2012 season. With this frame of mind, I decided to sit down (thanks to streaming Netflix) and watch Ken Burns’ “Baseball”. (I’ve seen probably the majority of this series but not all of it and not in order.) So I turn on the Netflix and type in the word “baseball” and I get three options: I can watch “Baseball”, “Talking Baseball with Ed Randall, the Tom Selleck film “Mr. Baseball” or, most interesting to me since I hadn’t heard of it, “Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story”.

So Ken Burns got put on the back burner because there is no way I could turn away from a film with that title, right?

Narrated by Dustin Hoffman, it’s a wonderful history of Jews in baseball, how they were treated in the beginning, and how they have been a continuous presence in Major League Baseball throughout its history yet people still look upon them as an anomaly. I’m genuinely surprised I hadn’t heard of this film before now. It was released in 2010 yet somehow it escaped my eager eyes. I know I’m late to the party but I’m here to tell you the film is certainly worth watching. It gets bonus points for following its opening scene (which is Julie Haggerty in the film “Airplane!” offering an older woman ‘light reading’ in the form of a leaflet called “Famous Jewish Sports Legends”) with a clip of Denis Leary saying to Jerry Remy and Don Orsillo, about Kevin Youkilis, “We got a Jewish first baseman? I didn’t know that! This is fabulous!” (Leaving out the infamous “We have two Jews, Mel!” ranting he and Lenny Clarke followed with.)  We also get a few comments by Kevin Youkilis (and Larry King telling us that every Jewish baseball fan roots for the Red Sox player) saying how he thinks his impact as a Jewish athlete will hit him more after he’s finished playing.

Two of the things I share with my dad are our love of baseball and our love of historical documentaries. I was fortunate enough to get to watch this with my dad who gave his own narration about each of the players as we watched. Honestly, I need to tap his knowledge and create my own narrative of the history of baseball as seen through his memory. I’ve honestly never met someone who knows as much about baseball’s history as my dad…and I fact check him at every turn. So far, he’s always right! Impressive for a guy who’s never seen Baseball!

Having more than a little of my dad in me, I’ll point out one mistake I found. One of the people interviewed states that Shawn Green had his four homeruns game in May of 2003 and I immediately yelled “No! It was 2002!” For whatever reasons, it’s one of those games that sticks out in my mind and I’ve always remembered it. Point Cyn. 🙂

If you’re looking for something to add to your list of baseball movies to watch, I highly recommend this one. It certainly helped me in my quest to get that baseball excitement back.

While the historical value is great (and fascinating), my favorite part of the film was how they ended it, with a line spoken by Dustin Hoffman that really sums up how I think every baseball fan feels:

“There are times when baseball is just baseball. It doesn’t have any symbolic value, it’s just a beautiful game”

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