If you’re Jewish and a baseball fan, “Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story,” which will be screened at the annual JFilm Festival is a must-see picture.
If you’re Jewish, a baseball fan and a Pittsburgher, this documentary of the history of Jews and their impact on the national pastime makes a glaring omission: nowhere does it mention Barney Dreyfuss, the late great owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1900 to 1932.
This is hardly a parochial statement. Dreyfus’ contribution to the game is immeasurable. He advocated early for a single commissioner of baseball. He arranged for the first World Series in 1903. He built one of the first steel and concrete ballparks (Forbes Field) in 1909. He worked to outlaw the spitball and ban gambling from the games. His Pirates won six pennants, two World Series and finished in third place or better 21 times while he ran the team.
And, oh yes, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.
One can argue that baseball would not be the game it is today if not for the efforts of Barney Dreyfuss.
Yet while the documentary, which, as usual, heavily favors the stories of New York players and fans (didn’t Jews in other cities like the game?), it devotes an entire section to contemporary Jewish owners in major league baseball, Dreyfuss’ name is conspicuously absent.
Sorry, Barney, you were just too ahead of your time for these filmmakers.
Not that director Peter Miller and producer Will Hechter have made a bad film. To the contrary, “Jews and Baseball” is informative, illuminating, nostalgic and downright entertaining.
Here are rare film clips of Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax and Al Rosen describing their stories in their own words. Plus we gain insight into the abuse the earliest Jewish big leaguers worked through. Greenberg, who almost broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run record, drew taunts and anti-Semitic slurs from the fans, though he later said they were nothing compared to what Jackie Robinson endured when he broke the color barrier in 1947.
We learn about the Jewish influence in breaking the Reserve Clause in baseball, which led to free agency.
And you know that little ditty we sing every seventh inning — “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”? It was written by Jews.
This is a great film, and worth the price of a ticket. But as long as Dreyfuss is excluded, it can never be described as an authoritative history of Jews and baseball. That pitch has already hit the catcher’s mitt.
Want to go?
JFilm Festival presents “Jews and Baseball:
An American Love Story”
April 3, 1 p.m.
SouthSide Works Cinema
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)