Growing up in Brookline in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Larry Ruttman used to play stickball behind the Devotion School. Now, at 82 years old, Ruttman is making the jump to the major leagues.
As shouts of “play ball” announced a new baseball season at parks around the country last
week, Ruttman began making his pitch to fans in a tour promoting his new book, “American Jews & America’s Game: Voices of a Growing Legacy in Baseball.”
A retired lawyer turned writer, Ruttman is hitting the road for book readings from Manhattan to Miami before heading back to Brookline for a home game of sorts, appearing at the public library’s main branch on April 18.
“I want to get it out there,” Ruttman said of his book, which features interviews with dozens of Jewish baseball players, executives, and fans. “I feel it is a little tiny contribution to American history and American Jewish history.”
The book, officially released by the University of Nebraska Press on Monday, includes a foreword by Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, and features Ruttman’s conversations with some of the best Jewish players in the history of the game, from pitching great Sandy Koufax to the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1953, Al Rosen, and former Boston Red Sox star Kevin Youkilis (now with the New York Yankees).
The book tour will reunite Ruttman with some of the famous subjects of his book, and allow him to continue rubbing elbows with some of the biggest names in baseball, whom he began interviewing in 2007.
While sitting in his office on Cypress Street in Brookline for a recent interview, the author said he doesn’t get star-struck easily.
But he confesses in his writing that his heart began to race when Koufax called him about the book. Ruttman considered putting the Hall of Fame pitcher on the book’s cover, but Koufax deferred to the trail-blazing of the late Hank Greenberg, perhaps the first Jewish baseball superstar.
“He said: ‘Look, Hank started it all, let him be on the cover,’ ” Ruttman said of Koufax.
Greenberg died in 1986, but his children spoke with Ruttman about their lives growing up with the Hall of Fame slugger, and how he dealt with anti-Semitism in the big leagues.
Ruttman also interviewed fans of the game, from former congressman Barney Frank of Newton to Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, who will appear with Ruttman at a reading for the new book at the 92d Street YMCA in New York City on May 13.
While baseball is the backdrop for the book, Ruttman said, it is really about America and American Jews.
“I didn’t talk to them just about baseball,” he said. “I talked to them about growing up, and anti-Semitism, and Israel, and the future viability of Jews with everything melding into America, and people moving away from religion and marrying out of their faith.”
Newton resident Martin Abramowitz, president of the Boston-based Jewish Major Leaguers, wrote the introduction to Ruttman’s book, and he said he’s been pleased by the final product.
“I think he had a full range of interviewees that represent the spectrum of Jewish observance, heavily tilted toward a more ethnic identification, which is probably more of what America is right now, anyway,” said Abramowitz.
Ambramowitz will join Ruttman at a reading for the book at the Newton Free Library on May 7, one stop on a local promotion tour that will also take Ruttman to the Harvard Coop and the Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, and the Needham Free Public Library this spring.
He’ll be in Miami on Tuesday for a reading with Florida Marlins vice chairman Joel Mael, who was interviewed for the book. Ruttman said several baseball stars, including Andre Dawson, Tony Pérez, and Jeff Conine, will also be there.
Ruttman said he’s also planning some readings on Cape Cod and the Islands this summer, and he’s started thinking about writing another book — though it likely won’t be about Jews or baseball.
The active octogenarian, who likes to walk around the Brookline Reservoir, said he’s been busy preparing for the bright lights of the book tour.
“I’ve lost maybe seven or eight pounds getting ready for this, because I don’t want to sort of roll onto the stage.”