Dir. Peter Miller (2010, Canada/USA, 91 mins.)
In 1934, following Hank Greenburg’s decision not to play baseball on Yom Kippur, in a time when there weren’t many Jewish baseball players and when most baseball fans did not really understand Judaism, a poem appeared in the Detroit Free Press that ends like this: “We’ll miss him in the infield, we’ll miss him at the bat. / But he’s true to his religion, and we honour him for that.” This is perhaps the most charming moment (though there are many to choose from) in Peter Miller’s surprisingly moving documentary Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story.
The scope of Jews and Baseball is expansive. It starts all the way back at baseball’s beginning in the 1870s, it looks at how early twentieth century Jewish immigrants became American by understanding baseball, it charts the turbulence and anti-Semitism of the thirties and forties, it explains the prominence of Jewish athletes in the post-war period, and finally it examines the role of Jews in the modern game. More impressive than this fairly tall order is the fact that Miller is successful. Multi-generational, decade-spanning narratives require a certain thoroughness and attention to detail that this film has in spades.
Narrated by Dustin Hoffman, Jews and Baseball tracks the careers of some of the most notable Jews to play the sport: HankGreenburg, Andy Cohen, Moe Berg, Shawn Green, and of course, Sandy Koufax. The latter is interviewed for the film, as are ball players Adam Greenberg, Kevin Youkilis, Norm Sherry, and Yogi Berra, as well as a handful of Rabbis, sports journalists, and media personalities such as Steve Greenberg, Peter Levine, Michael Paley, and Larry King. Rounding out the film is a rather extensive collection of beautiful archival footage that captures something special about the early days of baseball.
This film will speak to baseball fans in general and Jews in particular, though I suspect that if you are neither, you will still find it fascinating, impressive, and charming.
– Dave Robson
(Jews and Baseball will be opening on October the first in Montreal and Toronto at the Cineplex Odeon Cavendish Mall and the Cineplex Odeon Sheppard, respectively.)