Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax are already in the Hall of Fame. The other 141 Jewish major leaguers will get their due this month. The Cooperstown, N.Y., shrine will host "A celebration of Jews in baseball" Aug. 29-30. It will be the first kosher dinner in the Hall.
"It's a small group and it's an honor to be among them," said Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Shawn Green, the most accomplished of 10 active Jewish players.
"There's been some great ones. Obviously, Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax are the two that people know the most . . . but there's been a lot of others that aren't as well known that have had good careers."
Jewish kids in the United States have never had many athletic role models to follow. Greenberg battled anti-Semitism that came from the stands and opposing dugouts; Koufax's refusal to pitch in the World Series on Yom Kippur is a story told in every temple.
But it gets pretty thin after that. In fact, since Jakob Pike suited up for Hartford, a charter member of the National League, in 1877, just 143 Jews have played major league baseball. (Sorry, Adam Sandler: Hall of Famer Rod Carew isn't one of them.)
"When I played, I was the only one," said Mark Gilbert, a Chicago White Sox outfielder in 1985 who went on to become the president of his synagogue after leaving the game. "It was easy to keep track."
The Hall of Fame event is partly the work of Martin Abramowitz, an executive of a Jewish charity in Boston. Abramowitz was trying to collect baseball cards of every Jew who made it to the majors when he found that there were no cards for some of the old-timers.
His son, Jacob, suggested that he make his own cards, sketching out a logo with a baseball inside a six-pointed star. So the elder Abramowitz sorted through newspaper obituaries and libraries and tracked down team photographers for the rest.
When it came time to produce the cards, Jacob helped out again: The boy in the next bunk at summer camp was the son of Fleer CEO Roger Grass, and a meeting was arranged over Parents Weekend.
Grass, whose company prints baseball cards, helped obtain clearance from baseball and its players union and produced 15,000 boxed sets. They are being sold for $105 as a fund-raiser by the American Jewish Historical Society, which is underwriting the project.
"I get e-mails from people for whom the cards evoke tremendous pride," Abramowitz said over lunch at downtown Boston's only kosher restaurant. A vice president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, he is recognized frequently.
"Having a line or two in baseball's record books certainly counts for something," he explained in an insert that comes with the cards. "But in some deeper sense, if a major leaguer does not have a baseball card, it's as if he did not play the game.
"With a few exceptions, these players will not be remembered as great ballplayers and many of them would not be remembered at all except for aficionados. But because of these cards they all have a chance to be remembered as `American Jews in America's Game.' "
A set of the cards now resides in Cooperstown, along with plaques for Koufax and Greenberg and a variety of artifacts from the careers of Jewish players: the bat Green used to hit four homers May 23, 2002; the bat Ron Blomberg used when he became the majors' first designated hitter; more than a dozen items from Mo Berg, the former catcher and World War II spy, including his Medal of Freedom and passport.
Ken Holtzman, who threw two no-hitters, and Norm Sherry, who was Koufax's catcher, are scheduled to attend, as is Blomberg. Harry Danning, 92, the former New York Giant who is the oldest living Jewish major leaguer, won't be there.
"I can't travel," he said in a telephone interview. "Doctor won't let me."
Keeping track of the Jews in baseball has become easier since Greenberg. Before him, many Jews in and out of baseball Americanized their names; just one has done so since the Tigers slugger paved a trail to tolerance.
"They were using their athletic talent, trying hard to make it as Americans," Abramowitz said. "That's true for all of us. We all play America's game and we all have to decide what to do with our Jewishness."
Gilbert said being a Jewish ballplayer was no hindrance by the time he played; though there was peer pressure to participate in clubhouse prayer services, it didn't bother him. Danning said he would hear catcalls from opposing bench jockeys but he never felt burdened by being Jewish.
"The fans, if you played good, they were there for you," he said.
But he also played in New York and had several Jewish teammates.
"It's no coincidence that so many of them played in New York during the 1940s," Abramowitz said.
Danning's brother, Ike, played two games for the 1928 St. Louis Browns. They are among six pairs of Jewish brothers to make the majors, most recently the Sherrys, Larry and Norm, who were teammates on the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1959-62.
And boy, was their mother proud.
For Green, the biggest problem for a modern Jewish ballplayer is turning down all the bar mitzvah invitations from fans.
"I get all kinds of stuff, and you can only do the most you can," he said. "It's tough during the season because there aren't too many Jewish players, so everywhere we go the Jewish communities reach out to us. We do what we can."
Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis was immortalized in the book "Moneyball" as the "Greek God of Walks," but he is not Greek at all. A Jew of Romanian descent, he said he honors a sort of separation of church and plate.
"To me, being a baseball player is one thing and religion is another. I don't mix and match," he said. "Baseball's almost a religion in itself."
At least Youkilis isn't alone: Red Sox outfielder Gabe Kapler is also Jewish. Boston also has Jews throughout the front office, including general manager Theo Epstein and chairman Tom Werner.
"It's unspoken, but we share a common bond out there," Kapler said.
"You have 24 guys who have a very different belief system than the one you were brought up with. You never feel that you are left out, but you understand: There's a difference."