Melanie Einzig
Staten Island Yankees mascot Scooter the Holy Cow (M) and Brooklyn Cyclones mascot Pee Wee (R) post with an employee of the Staten Island Yankees at the Center for Jewish History, June 15, 2016. Melanie Einzig
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Baseball, Beer, Cornhole, Art Shamsky, and Scooter the Holy Cow

A night to celebrate the relationship between Jews and baseball at the American Jewish Historical Society in New York City

by
Jesse Bernstein
June 15, 2016
Melanie Einzig
Staten Island Yankees mascot Scooter the Holy Cow (M) and Brooklyn Cyclones mascot Pee Wee (R) post with an employee of the Staten Island Yankees at the Center for Jewish History, June 15, 2016. Melanie Einzig

From Al Rosen and Phillip Roth, to Marvin Miller to Ryan Braun, Jews have had an outsized influence on America’s pastime. The story of Jews, baseball, and American assimilation is, of course, a well-mined one, rich with legendary names both on and off the diamond. And on Tuesday evening, baseball fans young and old gathered at the American Jewish Historical Society in Manhattan to celebrate another telling of the story at an event called “A Family Fun Night of Baseball.”

Tuesday’s event ran in conjunction with the latest pop-up exhibition at the American Jewish Historical Society, called Chasing Dreams: Baseball and Becoming American, on loan from the National Museum of Jewish History in Philadelphia. Featuring testimony from Jewish baseball insiders like Fred Wilpon (owner of the New York Mets) and Larry Baer (CEO of the San Francisco Giants), and some rare Hank Greenberg memorabilia, the exhibit provides a nice starting point for anyone interested in the history of Jews and baseball, and served as a nice backdrop to a family night out.

On this night, attendees were treated to a bevy of ballpark food, including not one but three different types of hot dogs, an open-ish bar (beers for all!), as well as cotton candy, peanuts, popcorn, and more. Though billed as a family affair, the room was probably 5:1 adults to kids, making it more of a “people forget Willie McCovey, y’know?”-type crowd. This contrast was also made painfully clear by the scolding looks a few adults shot at the gaggle of 10-year-olds getting a little rowdy with the cornhole bean bags, courtesy of the Staten Island Yankees.

Rachel Lithgow, executive director of the American Jewish Historical Society (L) and Mets great Art Shamsky (Image: Melanie Einzig)

Rachel Lithgow, executive director of the American Jewish Historical Society (L) and Mets great Art Shamsky (Image: Melanie Einzig)

The Brooklyn Cyclones were represented as well, as each New York minor league squad hosted their own raffles and giveaways while promoting their respective Jewish Heritage Nights. I myself was the recipient of a truly garish Cyclones hat, which I won for naming one measly fact about Coney Island (“Uh, parts of He Got Game were filmed there?”) Rachel Lithgow, executive director of the American Jewish Historical Society, spoke to the crowd about the organization’s ongoing efforts to be “the future of the Jewish past.” Then, she introduced the one and only Art Shamsky.

Yes, Art Shamsky, half of the Shamsky/Swodoba right field platoon that helped propel the 1969 Miracle Mets to an improbable World Series victory. Shamsky, who reminisced with old fans about the miraculous success of New York professional sports in the late ’60s, was gracious in his remarks to the crowd, thanking them all for their continued support and reminding them, of course, to check out his book.

For a good portion of the room, Shamsky was an early sports hero, a fellow Jew that could also mash against righties. “For me, it’s great to meet fans,”said Shamsky, a frequent attraction at events like these, a role that he said he’s come to enjoy. “A lot of [are] people still around who were around back in those years.”

Shamsky remarked that when he was still in the big leagues, he considered himself to be “a baseball player who happened to be Jewish.” About 15 years ago, however, Shamksy said the way he viewed his Jewish identity began to change, when younger fans who had heard about his decision to sit out on Jewish holidays during the Mets’ 1969 World Series run started to ask him about those days. Shamsky, for his part, said that he hopes people remember him for his skills on the diamond as well as his Jewish heritage.

As we finished talking, the winners of the raffle giveaways were announced. Grown men threw their hands up with joy and practically ran to collect their prizes, the greatest of which was four Yankees tickets in the Legends Section (“a $3,000 value!”). If you squinted, you could see a few of the cornhole culprits there, too.

Chasing Dreams: Baseball and Becoming American is on display through July 31.

Jesse Bernstein is a former Intern at Tablet.

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