The William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History holds an abundance of baseball stories and reports.
It is mid-summer. We know this because of hot days, the sun shining (well, not always in Michigan) and Major League Baseball in full swing (to use a baseball metaphor).
This year, after a strange 2020 season, truncated by COVID-19, baseball fans have returned to the stadiums. The annual MLB All-Star Game was held last week, a sure mark of mid-summer.
On a cruise into the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History, I ran across an interesting story about two Jewish baseball fans — more on that later — and I wondered about baseball stories held in the Archive.
Well, the Archives holds an abundance of baseball stories and reports. From 1916 to 2018, baseball is mentioned on more than 7,000 pages in the Archive. Many more can be found if one searched for the names of teams like the Detroit Tigers or teams from local high schools. Include the names of baseball stars like Hank Greenberg in a search or for “Steve Stein,” the JN’s longtime sportswriter. and there are even more pages of baseball lore.
The earliest baseball story was in the June 23, 1916, issue of the Chronicle. It was an announcement that the baseball team of Detroit’s Young Men’s Hebrew Association was going to play the team from the YMHA of Toledo. Although most of the stories are about boy’s or men’s teams, one can also find stories beginning in the early 1920s about baseball games organized for girls.
One lesson I learned a long time ago is that, when discussing baseball with Jewish fans, one cannot go wrong by telling stories of Henry “Hank” Greenberg. Many a story in the Chronicle and JN focused on “Hammering Hank.” On the front page of the Sept. 21, 1934, Chronicle, he was already being “Hailed as the Greatest Player Jews have Contributed to Base Ball.” The front page of the first issue of the JN (March 27, 1942) featured a photograph of Sgt. Henry Greenberg in the Army during WWII.
Stories about lesser-known baseball participants and events really intrigued me. “Play Ball” is about the beginnings of Little League baseball in Israel, which debuted in 1987. It also cited forthcoming contributions to the league from Detroit (Sept. 16, 1988, JN). Images of its inaugural game were captured by Detroit photographer David Dombey (July 24, 1987, JN).
“On the Ball” is a story about retired MLB umpire Dave Dashow of Huntington Woods and his impressive sports collecting (March 23, 1989, JN).
“On Some Days, the Rabbi Plays Baseball” tells the story of Rabbi Bruce Aft, “Southpaw Principal of UHS High School.” Not only does Rabbi Aft make a “pitch” for Torah education, he was also a semi-professional baseball player in his spare time.
As I mentioned above, one story led to my decision to explore baseball in the Archive: “Round-Trippers” from the Oct. 6, 2011, issue of the JN. It is about a local Jewish couple, Bev and Stuart Feldheim, who had just completed an eight-year quest to visit all 30 Major League stadiums. It’s a pretty darn cool adventure. Unfortunately, they did not take me with them.
So, want to read some great stories about baseball and Jewish Detroit? The Davidson Archive is the place to go.
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.