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Giving Baseball Signals|
By Mark Benson
During the annual convention of the Society for American
Baseball Research in Boston last summer, Martin
of Newton, Massachusetts, invited attendees to his home
for brunch and a discussion on baseball players from
past with names like Greenberg, Koufax, and Reese.
However, the Reese mentioned was not Brooklyn Dodger shortstop Pee Wee Reese, but Jimmy Reese, another middle infielder, who played some 70 years ago.
The lesser-known Reese shares a special distinction with Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax — he is one of just 140 Jews ever to play major league baseball and is featured in set of baseball cards Abramowitz created to celebrate this fascinating aspect of the Jewish experience in America.
Abramowitz is the founder of Jewish Major Leaguers, a nonprofit organization based in Newton (actually, in Abramowitz’s home) that in collaboration with the American Jewish Historical Society has produced a set of Jewish baseball cards that bring attention to men like Reese, a second baseman for the Yankees during the 1930 and 1931 seasons who roomed on road trips with none other than Babe Ruth. (Though, as Reese often quipped, he spent more time in the hotel with the Babe’s luggage than the Bambino himself.)
During baseball’s early years, Reese and other Jews sometimes concealed their religion. The story of how Reese revealed his Jewish identity is quite amusing.
"Reese changed his given name to Jimmy Reese, and no one knew that he was Jewish when he broke in with the Yankees in 1930," says Abramowitz. Reese batted .346 in his rookie year with the Bronx Bombers, and was an astounding 10 for 20 that season as a pinch-hitter. "One day, in an exhibition game, Reese stepped into the batter’s box against a Jewish pitcher and Jewish catcher who communicated their signs in Yiddish. Reese feasted on this pitcher in the past, and the catcher was perplexed."
"You are hitting the ball extremely well against us — it’s as if you know what we’re going to throw before the ball comes to the plate" the catcher said to Reese, according to Abramowitz. "We’re giving each other signs in Yiddish — there is no way that you could know that."
Then, says Abramowitz, "Reese paused, then he told the catcher, ‘My name is Hymie Solomon.’"
This is just one of the stories Abramowitz has compiled. The process of documenting player achievements, learning their stories, and locating pictures has significantly advanced scholarship on Jews in baseball. In a letter to the historical society, Timothy Wiles, director of research at the Baseball Hall of Fame, wrote glowingly of the Jewish card series.
The cards highlight for fans how being a Jewish baseball player has changed through the years and calls attention to many athletes who have never been recognized before — they are the first major league card for about 50 of the players and the first card of any kind for about 40 players. The Jews who made it to the major leagues are only about one tenth of one percent of all the people who made it to "the show."
Each set contains baseball cards includes every identifi- able Jewish Major League baseball player from 1871 to the 2003 All-Star break and have been professionally printed for AJHS by the Fleer Trading Card Company. This limited edition, gift boxed set, documents the history of Jewish players in professional baseball.
AJHS has printed a limited number of sets as a fund-raiser and the cards will not be sold commercially. The cards are only available as a token of the Society’s gratitude to new and existing members and are not available otherwise or sold separately.
If you would like to view sample cards or order the set, you can visit the AJHS online at: http://www.ajhs.org/ and click on gift shop and then under categories click on "baseball cards."
This article is excerpted and reprinted from the Boston Jewish Advocate with their kind permission.