While the film "Jews and Baseball" would, at first glance, seem to target a very specific demographic--it has surprisingly widespread appeal. This entertaining sports documentary charts the progression of Jewish baseball players through the decades and it's clear that the filmmakers have a true love of the game! Assembling sports figures, their heirs and relatives, historians, Jewish authorities, and celebrity fans (Ron Howard, Larry King)--the film has a pleasing sense of completeness in showcasing how vital the national pastime was in integrating the Jewish culture into mainstream America. Fighting prejudice and ignorance, early Jewish stars of the game helped pave the way for future trailblazers such as Jackie Robinson. Today, players are not defined by these cultural and religious signifiers, they are judged on how well they field the ball--and that's certainly a move in the right direction.
The film is structured along a chronological timeline and features just about every Jewish player you would expect. In the earliest days, it even incorporates fun facts like the creators of the song "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" were Jewish. The documentary spends the most time with two of the sport's biggest legends--Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax. Greenberg is easily the film's most fascinating and pivotal character, and his story is impressive and inspiring. The impact of World War II and the rise of Hitler is especially poignant in the historical accounting of a player trying to balance career with social pressures and religious obligations. While Greenberg broke down barriers, much later Koufax pushes firmly into mainstream acceptance. The other contributors to the film are too countless to enumerate, but these two are definitely highlighted in detail.
Narrated by Dustin Hoffman, the film is an easy recommendation to people with an interest in Jewish history and/or baseball enthusiasts. However, any sport's fan or documentary lover will likely appreciate the polish and emotion of this fascinating tale. Highlighting the enduring appeal of our national pastime, "Jews and Baseball" might give you a different perspective about how a game can help to change society and popular opinion. Check it out. KGHarris, 3/11.