Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story -- Film Review

You'll kvell over this documentary detailing the contributions of Jewish Americans to our national pastime.

Delivering what its title explicitly promises, Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story is a comprehensive portrait of the roles that Jews have played in America's national pastime.

Covering all the important, pardon the pun, bases -- Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax, et al. -- but also delivering plenty of less well-known but fascinating historical tidbits, Peter Miller's documentary should become a staple in sports-loving DVD collections after its theatrical release.

If for nothing else, the film is notable for its inclusion of a rare on-camera interview by the reclusive Koufax, who discusses such topics as his controversial refusal to pitch the first game of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur.

But, as the film reminds us, Koufax had a precedent. Greenberg, the first Jewish baseball superstar, took a similar stand more than three decades earlier during an era that was marked by particularly virulent anti-Semitism.

Featuring a plethora of archival footage, the film proceeds in chronological order to tell the stories of Lipman Pike, the first baseball player to receive a professional salary (insert stereotype joke here) to such modern-day stars as Shawn Green and Kevin Youkilis.

Along the way, there are sections devoted to such intriguing figures as catcher Moe Berg, who became a spy for the OSS during World War II; Al Rosen, the Cleveland Indians star player who felt mistreated by his fellow Jew Greenberg, the team's GM at the time; and Elliott Maddox, an African-American who converted to Judaism while he was playing for the Yankees.

Written in episodic but never less than coherent fashion by sports columnist Ira Berkow and narrated by Dustin Hoffman, the film also includes vintage and current interviews from figures like Bud Selig, Marvin Miller, Yogi Berra and Bob Feller as well as such fans of the sport as Larry King and Ron Howard.

The latter provides one of the film's more amusing moments when he notes that he was appalled to discover as a child actor that his salary for playing Opie on The Andy Griffith Show exceeded that of his idol, Koufax.

Opens Nov. 5 (7th Art Releasing)
Production: Clear Lake Historical Prods.
Director: Peter Miller
Screenwriter: Ira Berkow
Producers: Will Hechter, Peter Miller
Executive producer: Will Hechter
Directors of photography: Antonio Rossi, Stephen McCarthy, Allen Moore
Editor: Amy Linton
Music: Michael Roth
Not rated, 91 min.

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