LOS ANGELES (JTA) — Sure, San Francisco Giants fans are happy. But what about everyone else — how are they supposed to ease the heartbreak between now and spring training?
To revive your spirits (or, if your Giants fans, to keep the good times rolling), check out “Jews and Baseball, An American Love Story ,” a new documentary in special engagements across the country that at its heart is a relationship film — about Jews and the game.
Narrated by the Academy Award-winning actor Dustin Hoffman, the feature-length production combines archival footage and more recent interviews to supply a decade-by-decade look at the contributions of Jewish players, coaches and owners, as well as the game-changing players’ union president Marvin Miller.
Highlights include a rare interview with Sandy Koufax, the greatest Jewish hurler of all time, and interviews with celebrities like talk show host Larry King and director Ron Howard.
Generations of immigrant Jews struggling with their American identity is an underlying theme of the film. Sportswriter Maury Allen sums it up best when he observes that “baseball was the American game … and you identified yourself as an American by your intensity of the love of baseball.”
Moving beyond a story of generational assimilation to that of multi-level integration, the major league season that ended Tuesday with the Giants’ victory over the Rangers in the World Series added more chapters to the Jews and baseball story. They include the outstanding postseason play of the Rangers’ Ian Kinsler and, on the business side, the Rangers’ Jewish owner, Chuck Greenberg, and the Giants’ Jewish president, Lawrence Baer.
College baseball had its moments, too, notably the 56-game hitting streak by Garrett Wittels, a Florida International University infielder who needs to hit in three straight games to start his junior season to break the NCAA Div. I mark.
Many ballparks today have institutionalized a day celebrating the Jewish community or heritage, and the film directed by Peter Miller and written by Ira Berkow shows the historic Jewish fans’ attachment to their home teams.
The film makes the point, especially in the segment about the Dodgers abandoning Brooklyn, that the story of Jews and baseball is not just about the players, like Koufax, Hank Greenberg, Mo Berg and Al Rosen, or those who made their mark in the front office or owner’s suite. It’s also about generations of lovestruck Jewish fans.
“Jews and Baseball” producer Will Hechter is just such a fan.
“I wanted a project that I felt a strong passion about,” he answered when asked how he decided on his first film project.
Fans apparently are responding to his passion — Hechter says the film “is doing better than I expected.”
“It was held over in Montreal for three weeks,” he said. “And it will be on Public TV in late 2011.”
Asked if he identified with the stories of any of the Jewish ballplayers interviewed in the film, Hechter responded, “I can’t identify with their skills, but I can with their pride.”
(Edmon J. Rodman, a JTA columnist who writes on Jewish life from Los Angeles, is the author of “Nomo, the Tornado Who Took America By Storm.” Contact him at [email protected])