Published Sep 30, 2010Structured with the complexity of a VH1: Behind the Music special, only without the excitement of music videos to interrupt the prosaic, droning narration, Jews and Baseball is as it sounds: an insular documentary appealing only to the pieties proposed in the title. One can only hope that its mostly arbitrary existence is followed up with similar linkages like Baptists & Ping Pong or Communists & Super Mario Bros.
Opening with a bit of context, elaborating on American Jewish immigration patterns and tossing out population percentages, this documentary mixes archival footage and modern-day interviews with rabbis, relevant baseball players and fans, giving a broad, linear history of players in the sport. Unsurprisingly, they start out with Hank Greenberg, noting the 58 home runs he hit in 1938 with a tad of vitriol, suggesting, then retracting, that there was a conspiracy to keep him from beating Babe Ruth's record of 60 homers in a single season. However, they fail to mention Jimmie Foxx's similar feat in 1932.
Discussing Andy Cohen's contribution in name and his popularity with Jewish spectators, Dustin Hoffman's narration speeds through a list of names before settling on Sandy Koufax, the famed left-handed pitcher whose decision not to pitch on Yom Kippur brought attention to the Jewish faith and observance of different religious holidays.
The bulk of the documentary covers the history of these two men, featuring interviews with Greenberg's children and Mr. Koufax. Occasionally, someone like Ron Howard will pop in to say something ignorant about baseball players deserving more money, but mostly it's archive footage, dry history and blasé conjecture.
If it weren't all so self-satisfied and panegyric it would be easier to stomach, existing as medicinal education for future generations of baseball playing Jews. But an overall humourlessness and a theme stretched to its limits make for irksome viewing. (Clear Lake)