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Original Issue

Faith in The Game

A new film illuminates the Jewish contribution to the national pastime

Sandy Speaks! Much like "Garbo Talks!" the selling point for the 1930 film Anna Christie, the appearance of interview-averse Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax is the draw for the thoughtful new documentary Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story. The greatest living Jewish ballplayer doesn't say anything earth-shaking but it is wonderful to see him, dapper and handsome as he nears his 75th birthday on Dec. 30. As my people say every Passover: Dayenu. It would have been enough.

Otherwise, the film, narrated by Dustin Hoffman and written by former New York Times columnist Ira Berkow, covers its subject matter as adroitly as Rangers All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler (one of 15 Jewish players in the majors in 2010) fields his position. The key figures, including such off-field luminaries as labor leader Marvin Miller and commissioner Bud Selig, roll by. Players—Andy Cohen, Ken Holtzman, Kevin Youkilis—are given their due, as are records and milestones. In a gritty interview, 1953 AL MVP Al Rosen is frank about how he dealt with anti-Semitic foes: "There's a time that you let it be known that enough is enough.... You flatten [them]."

At the film's center is the issue of whether a Jew should play on Yom Kippur. At crucial moments (the 1934 pennant race for Greenberg, 1965 World Series for Koufax) the stars sat out, providing examples that enhanced Jews' self-image. Thus, one interviewee, Rabbi Michael Paley, says that Greenberg might be "the most important American Jew to have ever been."