Originally published in the Forverts August 6, 1903
Research and translation by Pollack and Mniewski
A father writes to ask advice about baseball. He thinks that baseball is a foolish and wild game. But his boy, who is already in the upper grades is very eager to play. He’s not the only one. The majority of our immigrants have the same idea about it. They express it in such a way that it’s possible to see how the parents in the Yiddish neighborhood generally feel about baseball.
“It is said the one should teach their child how to play chess or checkers or goat & wolf [tsig un volf] or at least a game that sharpens the mind. That would be appreciated,” writes the father in his letter. “But what value does a game like baseball have? Nothing more than becoming crippled comes out of it. When I was a young boy we used to play ‘rabbits’ chasing and catching one another. But when we got older we stopped playing. Imagine a big boy in Russia playing tag, we would have treated him like he was crazy. And here in this highly educated America, adults play baseball! They run after the stupid ball made of hide and are as excited about it as little boys. I want my boy to grow up to be a mentsh not a wild American runner. He’s making me miserable, I can’t take it anymore.”
This part of the letter captures the point of the question posed by the boy’s father. And the writer of this article has but one answer:
Let your boys play baseball and even become outstanding players as long as it doesn’t interfere with their studies and doesn’t put them in bad company.
This issue arises for nearly half the families of the Jewish neighborhood. And this is the writer’s advice to all of them. Think this issue over carefully.
The father who wrote this aforementioned letter spoke about educational games like chess. But to only be occupied with academic work is also not good! One also needs to develop one’s physique. Jews are the most intellectual people in the world. There’s no doubt about that. When child development is discussed especially in the big cities of New York or Chicago, Mr. Reynolds, Mayor Lowe’s current secretary, (while he was head of the University Settlement on Delancey Street and then on Eldridge Street) in a published article of his said the following as paraphrased:
It is remarkable to compare the Jewish boys to the Irish boys. The Irish boys are attracted to boxing gloves, (gloves used to fight). And the Jewish boys are drawn to debating.
Much has been written in the American newspapers and journals about the debating clubs and all manner of literary societies of the Jewish quarter. You can find this enthusiasm in these things all over America. And naturally this is very good. But just developing the mind is not enough. Baseball is a good way to develop the body. It’s better than gymnastics. First of all it’s out in the fresh air. Secondly it develops the hand and feet and the reflex responses of the limbs and eyes. Why shouldn’t the children play this these days? Football, the “aristocratic” sport of the colleges, now there is a wild game. You fight with each other like Indians and often one is left with a broken foot or hand or gets wounded. But there is no danger in baseball.
Most importantly it’s a mistake to keep the children confined at home. Therein lies the difference between a Jewish and a Christian boy in Russia or Poland. The Christian goes out looking for birds, climbs trees and other such activities whereas the Jewish boy is cloistered. The only critical issue here is the make sure the Jewish boy doesn’t get keep bad company such as thieves or similar street gangs. Here in New York such gangs are just as horrible as everywhere else. If you know that your boy is going to play baseball with other upstanding youths why wouldn’t you let him? Let him, in a genteel way, go and have his “sport.” As long as he doesn’t become an athlete as a result.
A young man who was the best student in college but who spent his entire life squeezing a bench at home, isn’t so well prepared for life as he could be if he had also been strong and agile. The Jewish young man who recently was awarded the Cecil Rhoades prize was the best student not only in all intellectual endeavors, but also in such things as baseball and crew. “A healthy mind lives in a healthy body” In an agile body — an agile mind.
Let’s not raise our children to be foreigners in their own country. An American who isn’t agile and strong in hands, feet and his entire body is not an American. Unfortunately these qualities have more value than the true assets of a citizen. Raise your children as educated and thoughtful; as people filled with the true heritage of humanity and fellowship for which they are ready to fight. They should also be healthy and agile youth who shouldn’t feel inferior to others.