It may be time to retire the old joke about one of the slimmest books in the library being Jewish Sports Heroes — thanks to a new set of baseball cards designed for the fans who have made trading facts and figures about the sport’s ever-expanding Stars of David a league of their own.
Previous editions of Jewish Major Leaguer Baseball Cards proved to be such a hit that they precipitated the launch of the series’ seventh edition (Jewishmajorleaguers.org), which has just arrived with an expanded lineup of players.
Attesting to the cards’ popularity, Martin Abramowitz, the creator of the series, quipped: “We are the first candidate for 2014 Comeback of the Year.”
And they’ve come back in a big way. First started in 2003, last released in 2010, the card set — expanded to 50 in the new edition — will be released on March 15.
Why the grand slam in interest now? “I wouldn’t say there is a renewed interest in Jewish baseball cards,” mused Abramowitz. “It’s been there for years, but we didn't have the resources to produce another set until a donor came along with a generous gift.
“The larger phenomenon, of course, is the renaissance of interest in Jews in baseball, which has been gaining steam for about 15 years.”
The 2014 edition has updated information on such key figures as Ian Kinsler of the Detroit Tigers; Kevin Youkilis, now playing in Japan; and Scott Feldman and Josh Zeid, both of the Houston Astros.
The cards also contain pictures of objets d’baseball currently being shown in “Chasing Dreams,” the new exhibit at the National Museum of American Jewish History, where the seventh edition of the set is available in the gift shop.
So why exactly has there been a sudden spurt in Jewish players?
“In a way it’s a reflection of our society,” posited Marty Appel, the cards’ publicist. More and more kids are coming from intermarried families, he said, giving rise to a growing number of kids playing sports who may be identifying as Jewish.
But even the creator of the cards wonders the same thing. “Your guess is as good as mine.” said Abramowitz. “I suspect it has something to do with the fact that this is an extremely lucrative sport,” in contrast to the way it used to be.
“When I was a kid, players like Phil Rizzuto and Roy Campanella worked in clothing or liquor stores during the off-season,” he said.
“Also, college is now the major recruitment source for MLB, and our guys are more likely to go to college.”
As for the fan base of the cards, Abramowitz predicted that the biggest buyers won’t be kids, but rather adults who still have a keen interest in the game and memories of Jewish stars from long ago.
“The cards have always appealed essentially to older adults more than kids,” he said, as he reflected on the evolution of the connection between Jews and baseball.
“You know, it used to be that baseball was the way for Jews to become American,” Abramowitz said. “In more recent years, however — and this is a paradox — I think it’s become a way for American Jews to be more Jewish!”