Local authors hit home run with new book


The husband-wife team of Burton A. and Benita W. Boxerman have hit another one out of the park with the publication of “Jews and Baseball, Volume 2: The Post-Greenberg Years, 1949-2008” (McFarland & Co.). Just as was the case in 2007 with “Volume 1, Entering the American Mainstream, 1871-1948,” the Boxermans combine their true love of baseball with the rigorous standards of a widely published historian and an experienced publicist. So we can add another question to the traditional four this Passover: “Why is this baseball season different from all but the 2007 season?” The publication of the second volume of the definitive books on Jews and the National Pastime has been published during spring training and on the eve of Passover, one of the most universally celebrated of all Jewish holidays and festivals.

The first volume of the Boxermans’ comprehensive and engagingly written book made it clear that “Hammerin’ Hank” Greenberg was the predominant Jewish baseball superstar, having come close to breaking Babe Ruth’s 60-home runs in a season record, attaining membership in the Baseball Hall of Fame and having been a perfect role model of how a Jewish mega-athlete should respect both the sport in which he excelled and the Jewish people of which he was a proud member. During Greenberg’s championship seasons with the Detroit Tigers, he declined to play on Yom Kippur, even though Detroit rabbis had given him a “dispensation” to play if necessary on Rosh Hashanah.


Fast forward to the second volume’s description of St. Louis’s own Ken Holtzman: “With 174 wins, southpaw Ken Holtzman won more major-league games than any other Jewish pitcher (including the legendary Sandy Koufax).

Holtzman also tossed two no-hitters during his 15-year career while pitching for five different teams. In addition to his prowess on the mound, Holtzman was known for his strong religious convictions; he never pitched on a Jewish holiday. Holtzman, by the way, along with another St. Louis former major leaguer, Art Shamsky is in the St. Louis Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. The plaques are now installed in the beautiful new Staenberg Family Complex of the Jewish Community Center, which sponsors the Hall.

The credentials that Burton and Benita Boxerman brought to their successful undertaking of the first comprehensive and definitive history of Jews and Baseball are indeed solid. In 2003, they published “Ebbets to Veeck to Busch: Eight Owners Who Shaped Baseball.” Burton Boxerman has a doctorate degree in history and taught that subject for three decades at Ritenour High School. Benita Boxerman has had a long association with one of the largest public relations firms in the world, Fleishman-Hillard.

No detail in the long history of Jews in baseball has been left out.

Hugely significant players like Sandy Koufax and Holtzman have their careers described comprehensively, but so do players like Richie Scheinblum, who played for several major league teams, including the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1974 season. Scheinblum’s brief career as a Redbird was the subject of the first ever article in the St. Louis Jewish Light by an 11-year-old student at Epstein Hebrew Academy, David Makovsky, who has become one of the leading experts on Israel and the Middle East at a Washington think tank.

The Boxermans report “St. Louis was Scheinblum’s last major league team. He hit .333 in the six games in which he appeared.” He later became the first Jewish player to play professional baseball in Japan. He played two seasons in Japan and had hoped to return to the Big Leagues, but “he tore an Achilles tendon playing basketball in the off-season and was incapacitated for eight months. Scheinblum finally retired from baseball.” That torn tendon cut short a promising career.

Following the example set by Hank Greenberg and Ken Holtzman and others, Scheinblum sat out a game on Yom Kippur while playing in Japan. “During his career in the majors, he never had to make that choice,” the Boxermans note.

“But he indicated he would not have played on Yom Kippur even if it had become an issue.” Scheinblum in 1992 was honored by Denver for the records he had set there in 1971. “He had never lost his enthusiasm for the game,” the Boxermans say. Scheinblum told them, “I think I could have played in the era behind me and the era ahead of me. I had fun. I would have done it again.”

As their book attests, the Boxermans obviously love baseball and have lovingly and painstakingly compiled a two-volume treasure trove on Jews and America’s pastime. Both volumes should be on the shelves of every Jewish sports fan. They would also make a neat hiding place for the Afikomen in the upcoming Passover season.