110 Years of Sports in the Forward

From baseball to boxing to football, Jews have been shining stars on American sports teams for generations. Two-time American League MVP Hank Greenberg hit 58 homeruns in 1938, just two shy of Babe Ruth’s single season record. Featherweight champion Abe Attell, who won his first fight in 1900 at the age of 16 when he knocked out Kid Lennett in two rounds, defended his title with a record-setting streak of 18 wins. Innovative quarterback Sid Luckman led the Chicago Bears to four NFL championships between 1939 and 1950; he was a pioneer in the implementation of the T-formation and central to the Bears’ 1940 record-setting win of 73-0 against the Washington Redskins. But the intellectuals who oversaw the Forward in the early 20th century were not interested in sports, and the paper didn’t begin including coverage until the 1920s. Part of the Forward’s mission was to help the acculturation of Jewish immigrants in America, and by omitting sports from its pages the paper inadvertently contributed to this cause. Jews turned to other English-language tabloids to get their sports fix. The Daily Mirror was a popular choice among sports fanatics, and on occasion the paper printed messages in Yiddish.

‘Whitechapel Windmill’ in the Ring

The entire sports world is talking about Jewish pugilist Jackie “Kid” Berg’s sensational victory over Cuban fighter Kid Chocolate, whose record previously had been an unblemished 156-0. This accomplishment has catapulted Berg to great heights in the esteem of fight fans. The fight’s ethnic flavor was particularly interesting, with a cross in Kid Chocolate’s corner and a tallit in Kid Berg’s. Berg’s manager was heard yelling from the corner, “Yidl, gib klep!” (“Hit him, Yidl!”), and the boxer’s father wrote a letter to the Forward, asking the paper to write about the fight so that he could read about it in Yiddish.— 1930 in the Forward

A Hakoah Legend

More than 20,000 Jewish soccer fans and at least as many gentiles filled the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan to watch the famed Austrian Jewish soccer team Hakoah-Vienna beat the American All-Star team 4-0. Hakoah-Vienna created a sensation immediately after arriving in New York from Europe. Thousands of Jews greeted the team’s ship at the pier, and Mayor Jimmy Walker gave the members an official welcome on the steps of City Hall. When the team appeared at a Second Avenue Yiddish theater, the police had to rescue the players from a throng of enthusiastic fans. Jews are used to seeing famous Jewish pianists, violinists and chess players, but a famous soccer team — and, what’s more, one of Europe’s best — is something new.’— 1926 in the Forward

A Golden Arm

The most popular man in America today is the 27-year-old pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Sandy Koufax, alias “the Golden Arm.” Not only did he help the Dodgers win the first game of the World Series in front of 69,000 fans in Yankee Stadium, but he also broke the record for the number of strikeouts in a World Series game. Jews who didn’t usually pay attention to baseball began to take notice, and watched the Dodgers and their Jewish pitcher; even embittered “ex-Dodger-fans” from Brooklyn began to cheer for Koufax and the L.A. team. After breaking the record in game one, Koufax was pleased to see a reporter from the Forward. Although he was surrounded by a phalanx of journalists and photographers, Koufax went out of his way to shake hands with the reporter and to give Rosh Hashanah greetings.— 1963 in the Forward

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110 Years of Sports in the Forward

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