The Little-Known Stars of Jewish Baseball

Book Tells Forgotten Tales of 'Yiddish Curver' and Moe Berg

By James Sullivan

Published April 06, 2013, issue of April 12, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page
The Catcher Was A Jew: Moe Berg, immortalized in Nicholas Dawidoff’s book “The Catcher Was A Spy,” is one of many Jewish players found in Larry Ruttman’s new book.
Courtesy of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library
The Catcher Was A Jew: Moe Berg, immortalized in Nicholas Dawidoff’s book “The Catcher Was A Spy,” is one of many Jewish players found in Larry Ruttman’s new book.

Known as the “Iron Batter,” Lipman Pike was one of the earliest baseball stars. Playing for the Philadelphia Athletics in the 1860s, Pike was a power hitter at a time when home runs were rare. And he was one of the first paid players — $20 a week. He is also widely noted as the first prominent player from a Jewish background.

Another Jewish player, turn-of-the-century pitcher Barney Pelty, earned the nickname the “Yiddish Curver” for his confounding breaking ball, which helped him compile a career earned run average lower than Sandy Koufax’s.

Pelty was not an overwhelming presence on the mound, but he was particularly skilled at locating his pitches. “I think a brain goes a long way,” baseball historian Larry Ruttman said.

Ruttman, a Boston lawyer, is celebrating the publication of his second book, “American Jews & America’s Game: Voices of a Growing Legacy in Baseball.” He, too, is pitching to spots — specifically, the place where American Judaism meets the national pastime.

Yes, the book is about Koufax, Hank Greenberg and Al Rosen, the great players who have been featured in other books on the subject as well as in the 2010 documentary “Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story.” But it’s also about those who, though they never played professionally, have been emblematic of the Jewish community’s longtime affinity for the great American game.

Among Ruttman’s subjects are the late Marvin Miller, whose commitment to justice as a union organizer led to free agency, making him perhaps the most influential nonplayer of all time; Roger Kahn, author of the classic Brooklyn Dodgers reminiscence “The Boys of Summer,” and Marty Abramowitz, who created a line of baseball cards devoted to Jewish major leaguers.

That ampersand, Ruttman said, is the key to the book’s title. If the book were called “American Jews in America’s Game,” he notes, he would have been limited to the few hundred players and executives who identified as Jewish. (By his count, there are presently 17 Jewish major leaguers, including Kevin Youkilis and Ian Kinsler.)


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.