“Now that we’re heading toward the All Star game, here’s a quick quiz: Who wrote the unofficial anthem of America’s favorite pastime, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame’? (A) 1920s Brooklyn Dodgers fan; (B) Cole Porter; (C) a Jewish guy named Albert Von Tilzer who had never been inside a baseball stadium.” Andree Seu Peterson
Now that we’re heading toward the All-Star game, here’s a quick quiz: Who wrote the unofficial anthem of America’s favorite pastime, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”? (A) A 1920s Brooklyn Dodgers fan; (B) Cole Porter; (C) a Jewish guy named Albert Von Tilzer who had never been inside a baseball stadium.
If you guessed “C,” you have a clue to the fascination of “Chasing Dreams,” this spring’s exhibit at the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) on 5th and Market Streets in Philadelphia. An installation featuring Jews in baseball is not an oxymoron but, honestly, baseball has to be 45th or 50th on the list of things Jews excel at—not because they’re bad at it but because they’re so good at so many things (if one may say this without being censured for reverse racism). Even boxing and basketball would have been richer veins to mine.
You want to talk about Nobel Prizes? Jews have garnered 22 percent of them. (They make up less than 0.2 percent of the global population.) A “Greatest Jewish Ballplayer” bracket on one wall, designed by father of fantasy ball Daniel Okrent—a Jew—diagrams “great, good, decent, or barely adequate major league Jews,” and in parenthesis Okrent notes, “it’s not as if there were thousands to choose from.” (This nimble blend of chutzpah and humility marks the NMAJH presentation.)
In the late 19th century Cubans passionately took to baseball, but the love of Jews and the sport was more like the Hapsburg marriages of royal mutual advantage. The YMHA (Young Men’s Hebrew Association), started in 1854 to help Jewish immigrants, took a decidedly practical and cerebral approach to Americanizing their children through athletics. It’s great fun to read in the Aug. 27, 1909, Yiddish language daily newspaper, The Jewish Daily Forward, excerpts of “The Fundamentals of the Base-Ball Game Described for Non-Sports Fans”: Continue reading