Delivering exactly what its dry truth-in-advertising title promises, Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story provides a dutiful history lesson on the contributions to the national pastime by 20th-century Jewish immigrants. Blandly narrated by Dustin Hoffman, Peter Miller’s nonfiction film posits baseball as a vehicle for personal and societal transformation, in that it helped Jews not only overcome the traditional stereotype that they were unathletic, but also allowed them to identify with, and become a part of, their new American homeland. Such ethnographic concerns run throughout this reverential account, which chronologically celebrates the game’s premier Jewish luminaries, from Lipman Pike (the first ballplayer to ever receive a professional wage), to the legendary Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax (both of whom missed crucial games to observe religious holidays), to modern stars Shawn Green and Kevin Youkilis. Sportswriters, celebrity fans, and fellow players alike herald these players’ achievements for creating an overarching sense of Jewish pride and belonging. Miller’s doc skews PBS-stuffy, recounting its tale through archival clips and photos assembled with Ken Burns–ian tastefulness. Nevertheless, if not as stirring as the similar The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, it remains a reasonably comprehensive tribute to athletics as the great melting pot.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 3, 2010