As of the end of the 2013 season, Jewish athletes had accounted for about 170 of nearly 19,000 Major Leaguers. So you wouldn’t expect the new “Chasing Dreams: Baseball & Becoming American” exhibit at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia to have the breadth of material one would see in Cooperstown. Nevertheless, to paraphrase a famous line for the Tracy-Hepburn vehicle, Pat and Mike, what’s there is cherce, including artifacts from the mid-19th century, newspaper clippings, photos, trophies, cards, uniforms, and interactive areas (play virtual outfield and see if you can steal home runs from famous Jewish sluggers like Hank Greenberg, Al Rosen, and Mike Epstein).
So much goes into the planning of exhibits: acquiring the materials, designing the space, and placing the items in a manner that is educational and aesthetically pleasing. That’s the job of the curators, in this case our guest, Josh Perelman, who with Ivy Weingram, put together “Chasing Dreams,” which, in fact, does not just focus on the contribution to and inclusion of Jews to the national pastime, but all minorities who have added to the history of the game in ways great and small.
I was fortunate enough to attend a media preview last month where I had the chance to catch up with John Thorn, MLB’s official historian; Marty Appel, the peripatetic PR guru who always seems to be involved in anything that has to do with Jewish baseball; and Peter Ephross, journalist and author of Jewish Major Leaguers in Their Own Words: Oral Histories of 23 Players. Here are a couple of brief clips of the opening remarks by Thorn and Perelman. Apologies for the shaky quality; should have brought a tripod.
The exhibit runs through the end of the regular baseball season, then goes on a road trip across the country. The museum will also host a number of several lectures, film screenings, and other fun programs. Visit the Chasing Dreams site for more details. There’s also a Tumblr page (mentioned by Perelman in the conversation) where fans can post photos and stories about their personal connection with baseball.
There’s also a companion book (available only at the Museum’s gift shop or through its website) which shares its title with the exhibit. Perelman “curated” that one, too, as editor of this wonderful combination of illustrations and contributions from such writers as Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud, Eric Rolfe Greenberg, Daniel Okrent, Doris Kerans Goodwin, and many others. The material in this one will no doubt serve well as ideas for further Bookshelf entries. Already posted about Okrent’s Jewish baseball bracket, which, in turn, led to this one about a sports books bracket from the same book to where Okrent’s originally appeared. So for me at least the Chasing Dreams book is a gift that keeps on giving.