The Jewish Father of the World Series
by Irwin Cohen
Many Jewish boys living in New York at the beginning of the 20th century
with Yiddish-speaking and reading parents spent most their free time in
good weather playing baseball.
A popular feature of Abraham Cahan's Yiddish language Jewish Daily Forward
was Cahan's "Bintel Brief" advice column. An immigrant from
Russia, who couldn't understand his son's fascination with the popular
American game, sent the following letter:
"It makes sense to play dominoes or chess. But what is the point
of a crazy game like baseball? The children get crippled. Here in educated
America adults play baseball. They run after a leather ball like children.
I want my boy to grow up to be a mensh, not a wild American runner. But
he cries his head off."
The letter and Cahan's reply appeared in the August 3, 1903, edition.
Cahan's answer was for all fathers with the same problem: "Let your
boys play baseball and play it well," Cahan advised, "as long
as it does not interfere with their education or get them in bad company.
Chess is good, but baseball develops the arms, legs, and eyesight. It
is played in the fresh air. Let us not raise the children that they grow
up foreigners in their own birthplace."
A Jewish foreigner, Bernard ("Barney") Dreyfuss, developed
a love for baseball and would eventually originate and develop the World
Bernard was born and educated in Germany. He apprenticed as a bank clerk
before arriving in America in 1882 at age 17. A smallish fellow with a
thick German accent, Barney made his way to Paducah, Kentucky, to help
out at a distillery owned by relatives.
Working his way up from scrubbing barrels to assistant bookkeeper, a
bout with illness led a doctor to advise Dreyfuss to get more exercise
by playing baseball.
Dreyfuss followed the doctor's orders, enjoyed playing, and decided to
invest in the game by operating a semipro team. In 1888, the 23-year-old
Dreyfuss became a naturalized citizen and the distillery relocated to
Dreyfuss met Florence Wolf in Louisville and the pair hit it off as both
were Jewish and loved baseball. They married in 1894, and five years later
they were the major owners of the Louisville club, which was a member
of the National League at the time.
When the 12-team National League decided to contract to eight teams,
the Louisville club was targeted for extinction. A deal was engineered
to allow Dreyfuss to purchase a half interest in the Pittsburgh Pirates
and take fourteen of his Louisville players with him. By the time the
American League was born in 1901, Dreyfuss was the major owner of the
The Pirates topped the National League in 1901 and 1902; however, when
the season ended there was no series of games between the best team in
each league to determine which one was baseball's best.
The Pirates were on their way to topping the National League again in
1903 and the Boston club was on its way to clinching first place in the
American League. Dreyfuss wrote his Boston counterpart, trumpeting the
merits of a series of games between the two leagues' best teams.
"The time has come for the National League and American League to
organize a World Series," Dreyfuss wrote. "It is my belief that
if our clubs played a series on a best-out-of-nine basis we would create
great interest in baseball, in our leagues, and in our players. I also
believe it would be a financial success."
Agreement was reached, and the first game of the first World Series took
place on Thursday, October 1 in Boston. An overflow crowd of 16,242 packed
Boston's Huntington Avenue Grounds. But Dreyfuss didn't see his Pirates
win 7-3, because the game was on Yom Kippur.
Dreyfuss watched the second game with two guests, the rabbi from Boston's
oldest congregation and the rabbi from Dryfuss's Pittsburgh congregation.
The rabbis saw Boston shut out the Pirates 3-0 to even the Series.
Pittsburgh lost that first World Series, five games to three. But for
Barney and his beloved Florence, the disappointment would be followed
by success and other firsts.
Source: First printed in the October 9, 2013 edition of The Jewish Press.
Received from Daniel Keren.
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