By: Ellie Gettinger,
Education Director, Jewish Museum Milwaukee
As we reach the end of each exhibit, I find myself mourning it a little. For 3 to 4 months, I am inundated with that topic and there are always so many wonderful connections to be built between our permanent exhibit and the changing, and in developing ideas that I would never have the opportunity to otherwise. This exhibit, Chasing Dreams: Baseball & Becoming American, is no exception. It has shifted my narrative on immigration and acculturation and provided me with cultural touchstones outside the Jewish experience. So this is what I am going to miss when the exhibit closes in one week (NOTE: The final day of the exhibit is Labor Day Monday, September 7 from Noon to 4–Get here before the exhibit closes)
- The power of the Jewish star: I grew up with the myth of Sandy Koufax looming large (my dad had seen him pitch and this outing was one of the bedrocks of his fandom, which was passed to me), but I had never really had the opportunity to explore some of the other Jewish Major Leaguers. I particularly fell in love with Detroit Tigers first baseman, Hank Greenberg. The original Hebrew Hammer was a hitting machine, the only person to come close to Babe Ruth’s home run record between Ruth and Roger Maris. In addition, he is the first player to sit out a game on Yom Kippur. Poet Edgar A Guest documented this in his 1934 poem “Speaking of Greenberg.” Beyond his baseball prowess, he was the first American League player to enlist in the army during World War II, immediately after his second MVP season. He served in the US Air Corps for 4 years.
- The Knothole Club: This story really shows the power of public-private partnerships. Borchert Field, where the minor league Brewers played was a great distraction for young students. It was a full city block at 7th and Burleigh, easily accessible for city kids, who would skip school and watch the games through the holes in the fence. Milwaukee Recreation Director, John Zussman, decided that he would capitalize on this desire for baseball and he created the Knothole Club, which rewarded school attendance with tickets. This club continued once the Milwaukee Braves came to town. Kids would sign the following: “I agree, as a guest of the National League Baseball Club of Milwaukee, Inc., to conduct myself in a way that will reflect credit to the organization through which I became a member.” Zussman’s legacy is still felt in Milwaukee today, as two athletic scholarships are awarded each year in his name.
- The Milwaukee Brewers are really amazing Presenting Sponsors: This exhibit received great support from our presenting sponsors. They lent us some really great pieces, including a Prince Fielder jersey (the size boggles the mind) and a bat signed by the entire ’57 World Series Championship team. Beyond this, they helped promote the exhibit broadly and within their own blogs and broadcasts. Finally, a special thanks to one pair of our honorary chairs, Mark and Debbie Attanasio, who had their first joint interview as part of this exhibit. Their warmth and accessibility made this such a special night.
- The Mensches of Baseball: This is an exhibit that celebrates the good guy and I have loved being able to spend my summer with Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente. These men were not only amazing players, but were amazing people who dedicated their lives to helping others.
- A League of Their Own is just the beginning: As part of the exhibit, we explored the legacy of women and baseball with our series exploring the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, which was funded by the Wisconsin Humanities Council. In addition, we borrowed a uniform, pennant and hat from The History Museum in South Bend, Indiana, which are on display in the exhibit. During the lecture series, we were introduced to Tiby Eisen, a Jewish player in the AAGBPL, who stole 674 bases in 966 career-games. I also had the privilege to meet Joyce Westerman, who played in the league for nine years, including playing for the Championship South Bend Blue Sox in 1952. Joyce spoke with her biographer Bob Kann and charmed the crowd with stories of relearning to throw, changing game rules, and the complicated rules of being feminine while playing a sport. You can get a sense of the game these women played through this newsreel:
- Bud Selig is a heck of a storyteller: Our other set of honorary chairs were Bud and Sue Selig. You can’t talk about baseball, especially baseball in Milwaukee or baseball as a means of social change, without talking about the impact of the Commissioner Emeritus. In the pieces that we developed, we engaged the history of how Bud brought baseball back to Milwaukee. We were thrilled that he opened our exhibit up sharing his experiences as an owner and as the commissioner. Highlights included his thoughts on George Steinbrenner and playing baseball against Herb Kohl as a child. I particularly loved his sense that baseball is a social institution that has brought the experiences of minorities to the fore in the United States. Take the time and watch the full Bud Selig opening below (Bud starts at the 8:00 mark, the introduction by Mark Attanasio is also worth watching!):
Take a moment out this week and come by the Museum to explore this fabulous exhibit before the last out.