Monday, June 20, 2011

Rebecca T. Alpert's "Out of Left Field"

Rebecca Alpert is Associate Professor of Religion and Women's Studies at Temple University and the author of Whose Torah?: A Concise Guide to Progressive Judaism.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Out of Left Field: Jews and Black Baseball, and reported the following:
If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, then page 99 reveals a lot about the story I’m telling in Out of Left Field. The photograph on that page is of Max Patkin, one of two Jewish entertainers who were known as “The Clown Prince of Baseball.” Patkin, dressed in a baggy Chicago White Sox uniform, stands in a wide, goofy pose, his face contorted and cap askew, with an oversized glove on his hand. Under the photo, I describe Patkin’s routines and his feelings about comedy baseball:
He smelled his own shoe and pretended to faint from the odor. He also went into the stands to kiss women and snatch purses. His best-known routine was filling his mouth with a vast amount of water and spraying it out for an extended time. For most of his career, Patkin worked primarily in the minor leagues, as growing disdain for baseball comedy kept him out of major league baseball entirely. He was bitter that…there were too many “baseball purists” who disliked clowning, tried to make baseball a “religious experience,” and couldn’t laugh at the game.1
Patkin’s routines were not unique, nor were his feelings about comedy in baseball, which while not tolerated in the majors formed the financial backbone of the world of barnstorming baseball, white and black. My goal in writing Out of Left Field was to highlight the experiences of some Jewish entrepreneurs, sportswriters, and players who came “out of left field” into the world of black baseball. With more social and economic opportunities than their black counterparts they were able to serve as bridges to the white world during the Depression Era and World War II even though they were not fully welcome there.

Patkin was not one of the men whose story I tell in Out of Left Field. He was not associated with the black Jewish team, the Belleville Grays. He was not one of the Jewish sports entrepreneurs (like Abe Saperstein) who owned or promoted Negro League baseball teams. He was not a Jewish communist sportswriter who passionately fought for baseball's integration for over a decade before Jackie Robinson. But Patkin’s pose in this photograph exemplifies how the men I studied were tied to segregated baseball, caught in an awkward pose in a world where Jews had enough power to succeed in "the minors" but not "the majors."
Learn more about Out of Left Field at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue