Trade You a Jutze For a Koufax

Just when baseball fans were denied the miracle of a Cubs-Red Sox World Series, another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity comes up to bat. The American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) has commissioned the printing of 15,000 sets of “America’s Jews in America’s Game” baseball cards. Featuring all 142 Jews who played in the major leagues from 1871 through the 2003 All-Star break, this collector’s edition is as rare as — well, as rare as a Jewish professional athlete.

The brainchild of Martin Abramowitz and his then 11-year-old son, Jacob, the cards were born out of the collector’s unquenchable thirst for a complete set of Jewish ballplayer cards. Four years ago, Abramowitz lamented aloud that he had only 90 of the 100 existing baseball cards that featured Jewish players, and that some 40-plus Jewish players never even had a card.

“Why don’t you make your own cards?” suggested Jacob, who then sketched the set’s logo, a baseball inside a Star of David, on a napkin.

“There are many paths to Jewish identity and Jewish engagement. Sports are one such path, and I realized the cards could enrich that path for youngsters,” said Abramowitz, who lives in the Boston area. “Plus, I loved the idea of a father-son project.”

So Abramowitz and son set out to compile a definitive roster, uncover missing photos and locate minor league records. And what would baseball cards be without bios and elaborate stats? Of the 142 players included in the set, 123 had two Jewish parents, six had Jewish mothers, seven had Jewish fathers (but practiced only Judaism) and six were converts. And the stats don’t stop there. The Jewish players’ .265 collective batting average is three points higher than the collective average of all players from 1871-2002. Jewish players hit 2,032 home runs, 10,602 RBI’s, and pitched five of the 230 no-hitters. There were three descendants of rabbis, six pairs of brothers, 12 players with one-game careers and 10 players who changed their names.

With the help of MLB photographer George Brace, Abramowitz’s tireless research, and a little Jewish geography (Jacob’s Camp Ramah cabin-mate happened to be the son of Fleer Trading Card Company owner Roger Grass), the cards rounded third. Then the AJHS donated $25,000 to cover the licensing and publishing fees, and one collector’s dream became a cultural reality.

“The cards exemplify the AJHS’s mission of fostering an appreciation of the Jewish contribution to American life,” said Michael Feldberg, AJHS executive director .

A contribution that often goes unnoticed. Sure you’ve heard of Shawn Green and Sandy Koufax, but what about Ike Danning and Alfred Jutze? “The cards give a richness and texture and reality to the memory of these oft-overlooked players,” Abramowitz said.

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