The Arty Semite

The Lions of Zion, Chapter 26

By Ross Ufberg

The Lions of Zion, Chapter 26

What would have happened had there been a Jewish team in the Major Leagues? In an original novel serialized on The Arty Semite, Ross Ufberg imagines the trials and triumphs of The Lions of Zion, an all-Jewish team competing in the National League in 1933. Read the first 25 chapters here.

The Final Inning


The leybstants at Fayvl’s wedding was a way of saying goodbye to a lot more than Fayvl. I thought of the people we lost — Fishy Levine murdered, Dixie hurt, Butcher dead, and now Fayvl married. All of these wounds hurt, and they hurt in different ways.

Traveling around the country and sleeping in second-class ballplayer hotels with the smell of another man’s sweat on a cheap pillow: well, it’s all good for less than bupkes if you’re not winning. Out of first place by twenty games, our playoff hopes were nonexistent.

Nosie Mosie had gotten a scoop that only confirmed what we’d all been thinking. The Lions of Zion had no certain future. Levy was hemming and hawing about whether he’d continue to support a Jewish baseball team with no home field. He wanted to build a stadium somewhere, but the Major Leagues weren’t enthusiastic about a permanent Jewish club. Who could blame them? There was no club for Italians, or Poles, or Slovaks or French Canadians. Why should the Jews get one? Plus, Levy himself wasn’t sure what next year would bring.

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The Lions of Zion, Chapter 25

By Ross Ufberg

What would have happened had there been a Jewish team in the Major Leagues? In an original novel serialized on The Arty Semite, Ross Ufberg imagines the trials and triumphs of The Lions of Zion, an all-Jewish team competing in the National League in 1933. Read the first 24 chapters here.

At a Wedding, One Must Dance


It was a gloomy train ride spent staring out the window of my compartment or sitting dumbly in the dining car, with Khetzke across the table from me. Barely a minute went by that I didn’t think of Butcher. Meanwhile, Khetzke was all out of sorts. He put salt in his coffee and got up from the table only to sit back down a minute later, forgetting what it was he’d meant to do. He turned his head around every time the door to the dining car opened, half expecting Butcher to walk in and take a seat with us. But there’d be no more good-time kibitzing, no more horsing around with our friend.

When we arrived in Chicago it was deep night. The air was colder here and I huddled into my light jacket. At the hotel, while everybody rested on the plush red chairs in the marble lobby, I stood. It was somehow improper to sit on anything but a low bench when, back in the Bronx, Butcher’s wife was sitting shiva. Those words came back to me — the ones we’d uttered when we said goodbye to the widow: Hamakom y’nakhem eskhem b’soykh sha’ar aveylei tsiyon viyrusholayim. May God comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. Lions of Zion, Mourners of Zion: these two phrases now seemed awfully close to each other.

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The Lions of Zion, Chapter 24

By Ross Ufberg

What would have happened had there been a Jewish team in the Major Leagues? In an original novel serialized on The Arty Semite, Ross Ufberg imagines the trials and triumphs of The Lions of Zion, an all-Jewish team competing in the National League in 1933. Read the first 23 chapters here.

Blessed Is the True Judge


A furious wind whistled past me as I stepped into the room. The lights were on, but both beds were empty. Hester and Butcher, sharing a room as usual, were supposed to be here. Butcher’s uniform was lying in a pile by the bed. His bed was unmade, while Hester’s had been turned down. Not finding anybody, I was just turning back to leave the room when the sound of screaming reached me from the street.

I ran to the open window and leaned my head out: a crowd of people, forming a horseshoe on the sidewalk, had gathered below. Some of them had their hands raised and were pointing upwards, right towards me. A woman in a green hat — that’s what it looked like, anyway, in the middle of the night with the street lights allowing for confusion — suddenly fell backwards, and a large man caught her before she hit the ground. Finally I saw what the commotion was about: In the center of the crowd, there was a big bundle. At first I thought that someone had dropped a laundry sack, but I quickly realized that people don’t stand around staring at an oversized bag of whites.

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The Lions of Zion, Chapter 23

By Ross Ufberg

What would have happened had there been a Jewish team in the Major Leagues? In an original novel serialized on The Arty Semite, Ross Ufberg imagines the trials and triumphs of The Lions of Zion, an all-Jewish team competing in the National League in 1933. Read the first 22 chapters here.

Different Kinds of Fire


The clubhouse was all champagne and cheer. In one corner, Butcher was staving off a pack of sportswriters while Khetzke and some other fellows, well lubricated by alcohol and limber with relief, were doing a freylekh-tants across the room. After holding our breath for nine innings, not only were we proud of Butcher, we were also simply glad the game was over. Big Hup, our solid, towering center fielder, grabbed a seated Janusz by the hand and pulled him into the dancing circle.

But watching the men also made me melancholy. I wanted to share such a moment with Rachel. Standing in the locker room, so full as it was with men, only made me feel lonely. It’s true, what my mother used to tell me as a boy: “Lakhst zikh alayn du un vaynst zikh alayn.” You laugh alone and you weep alone. “But for love one day you’ll have to find a partner.”

Rachel had been in the stands. I’d caught a glimpse of her, wearing a red hat, with a whole array of wildflowers tucked into a black band. Right then, all I wanted to do was find that hat. Preferably, with Rachel underneath it.

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The Lions of Zion, Chapter 22

By Ross Ufberg

What would have happened had there been a Jewish team in the Major Leagues? In an original novel serialized on The Arty Semite, Ross Ufberg imagines the trials and triumphs of The Lions of Zion, an all-Jewish team competing in the National League in 1933. Read the first 21 chapters here.

A Feeling


It’s usually not until the fourth or fifth inning that you turn the corner and bump into it: the realization that today might be the day the pitcher’ll toss a no-hitter. The game’s humming along and you think, sure, the other team is having a slow day and yeah, maybe your pitcher’s got some good stuff, but then… Wham, it hits you like a brick to the head.

“Hey, our guy’s keeping them hitless,” you might want to say to the fellow sitting next to you, but you don’t. You chew your lip and look around the dugout, see where the pitcher’s sitting because if he’s on the far end of the bench and there’s nobody talking to him, then that’s it: you’re the last sorry schmuck to realize what’s going on.

You immediately get to thinking, “Wait a second, did the pitcher throw four balls yet?” Because if he didn’t, then you’ve got the makings not just of a no-hitter, but of a perfect game on your hands. You don’t want to say anything, you’re afraid to ask, because baseball players are more superstitious than old maids and if the pitcher overhears you talking about him you might get into his head.

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The Lions of Zion, Chapter 21

By Ross Ufberg

What would have happened had there been a Jewish team in the Major Leagues? In an original novel serialized on The Arty Semite, Ross Ufberg imagines the trials and triumphs of The Lions of Zion, an all-Jewish team competing in the National League in 1933. Read the first 20 chapters here.

Sleep Would Not Come


It felt strange to be back in New York, as though I’d been gone a hundred years.

The last time I’d been home, I was sure that I loved three things in this world: baseball, Rachel and my mother. Not necessarily in that order, but not necessarily not in that order, either.

Now, as I was sitting next to both of these women at my mother’s Shabbes table, they felt like strangers. And what’s more, baseball troubled me, too, instead of bringing me relief. I stared at the chulent on my plate, pushed it from side to side with my fork the way a poor man sweeps the floor with his broom.

“Talmed, ketzele, why aren’t you eating?”

My mother put her hand on top of mine, then got up from the table to bring in another dish.

Rachel looked at me. Her hair was in a bun; her skin, despite the sun during these warm months, still sparkled like falling snow. But somehow I couldn’t find the words I needed to say.

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The Lions of Zion, Chapter 20

By Ross Ufberg

What would have happened had there been a Jewish team in the Major Leagues? In an original novel serialized on The Arty Semite, Ross Ufberg imagines the trials and triumphs of The Lions of Zion, an all-Jewish team competing in the National League in 1933. Read the first 19 chapters here.

Tukhes Afn Tisch


Since the All Star Game we’d lost 15 out of the last 20 and now we were a dozen spots out of first. We rode the rails from the Windy City to Pittsburgh and embarrassed ourselves so badly there that Reb Shlomo stormed the Pirates’ locker room.

Flying down the inner corridors of Forbes Field like one of King David’s bitter warriors, our manager banged on the door with both fists. The back of his neck was hot pepper-red and he had sweated a dark band through his cap. His shoulders and chest were heaving.

A confused-looking Pie Traynor, the Pirates third baseman, wearing only a towel around his waist, opened up the door.

“I need to talk to the Flying Dutchman,” Reb Shlomo demanded.

Waite Hoyt, the pitcher who’d beaten us that day, stepped in front of Pie. Hoyt was a decent fellow.

“Hello, Coach. Can’t it wait? Mr. Wagner doesn’t like to be bothered after games. Maybe it’d be best if you didn’t come in.”

Reb Shlomo was aghast.

“No Jews in the clubhouse, huh? You anti-Semite, may a child be named after you!”

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The Lions of Zion, Chapter 19

By Ross Ufberg

What would have happened had there been a Jewish team in the Major Leagues? In an original novel serialized on The Arty Semite, Ross Ufberg imagines the trials and triumphs of The Lions of Zion, an all-Jewish team competing in the National League in 1933. Read the first 18 chapters here.

Can’t Do Nothing Halfway


Reb Shlomo peeked his head out from the manager’s office.

“Anybody seen Fayvl? We take the field in fifteen, and that shlub still hasn’t shown up. He probably got himself lost. Took a wrong turn in Bava Kamma.”

“Bava Whatta?” asked Janusz.

“Forget it, forget it. Just tell me when that shmuck gets here.” Reb Shlomo retreated back into the office.

Not a minute later the door burst open and in bounced Fayvl, dressed like a schoolteacher, as in the days of old. He was in dark slacks, a spotty black jacket and a dime store necktie decorated with coffee stains and cigarette burns. His eyes, though, were aglow with a spot of sunshine.

“Rabbonim,” he said, pacing back and forth. Every part of his body was jumping with excitement.

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The Lions of Zion, Chapter 18

By Ross Ufberg

What would have happened had there been a Jewish team in the Major Leagues? In an original novel serialized on The Arty Semite, Ross Ufberg imagines the trials and triumphs of The Lions of Zion, an all-Jewish team competing in the National League in 1933. Read the first 17 chapters here.

The Miracle of Mayonnaise


It was the morning of July 7, the day after the All-Star Game. We were standing in front of a tall glass building at the Chicago World’s Fair, killing time before our game against the Cubs. Hester had the map.

“What’s this one?” said Khetzke, who was wearing his Lions cap.

“Says here it’s an exhibition for an automobile company.”

We looked up and saw “NASH” in bright red lettering stretched across the roof of the building. Below the sign, inside, two columns of automobiles were rotating, as if on a vertical conveyer belt. Each car was placed on an elevator, rose to the top, and then began its descent so that the next car in line could take its place.

“This must be the Nash Motors exhibit,” Hester added.

“A real Vilna Gaon,” said Khetzke. “Butcher, take my advice — with a guy like this as your catcher, you’d be better off tossing the opposite of whatever pitch he calls.”

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The Lions of Zion, Chapter 17

By Ross Ufberg

What would have happened had there been a Jewish team in the Major Leagues? In an original novel serialized on The Arty Semite, Ross Ufberg imagines the trials and triumphs of The Lions of Zion, an all-Jewish team competing in the National League in 1933. Read the first 16 chapters here.

A Trick Play


The door to the visitor’s clubhouse at Ebbet’s field opened slowly and Janusz peeked his head in, then took a few uncertain steps inside. In his hand he held a scrap of paper. It was the note Reb Shlomo had scribbled to him the day before. The boys were getting dressed and gabbing; nobody noticed him walk in.

Reb Shlomo was in the manager’s office giving a long interview to Nosie Mosie. He was trying to curry the newshound’s favor: he knew that giving a non-Jew a chance to earn a slot on a Jewish team would be controversial. It would be hard enough to get the Jews to rally around a Shabbes goy; he needed that the Forverts should be against him like a hole in the head.

Janusz stood tentatively inside, probably wondering how he’d ended up in such a strange situation. I had one leg in my uniform pants or I would have gone over to him right away. Khetzke beat me to it.

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The Lions of Zion, Chapter 16

By Ross Ufberg

What would have happened had there been a Jewish team in the Major Leagues? In an original novel serialized on The Arty Semite, Ross Ufberg imagines the trials and triumphs of The Lions of Zion, an all-Jewish team competing in the National League in 1933. Read the first 16 chapters here.

At Home With the Shabbes Goy


“But I don’t understand. How can we ask him to join the team? He’s a goy.”

We were standing on the corner of 7th and 1st. The noon heat rose from the pavement and stagnated in the valley below the tenement rows. A crush of people came flowing out of the Church of St. Stanislaus Bishop & Martyr. There were sturdy women in bright kerchiefs, and girls with bosoms like small breadbaskets skipping down the stairs. Men — old men who shuffled, young men who strutted, and men in their middle ages limping behind 30 years of hard work — followed after them, their broad frames awkwardly filling out their Sunday best. Black neckties hung down from their chins and split their massive chests in two.

These people were different from the folks I’d grown up with. Jewish men weren’t built this way — even our ballplayers would have looked merely average next to them. Our women rarely enjoyed the combination of flaxen hair and full bodies that these Polish peasant women were endowed with. Some of them — the ones who weren’t already worn haggard by work — enjoyed a beauty unknown to my people. If Jewish women were black cats, then these were braying, charming, buxom fillies.

“Come, Talmed. There’s Janusz.”

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The Lions of Zion, Chapter 15

By Ross Ufberg

What would have happened had there been a Jewish team in the Major Leagues? In an original novel serialized on The Arty Semite, Ross Ufberg imagines the trials and triumphs of The Lions of Zion, an all-Jewish team competing in the National League in 1933. Read the first 14 chapters here.

Tsuris’s Clothing


Dixie’s ankle was broken; nearly everybody had gone home. I was about to leave with Khetzke and Butcher to visit our teammate in the hospital when Reb Shlomo asked to have a word with me.

The damp air in the manager’s office was weighted down with smoke. Reb Shlomo was slumped over in his chair, eyes half-closed, stroking his beard in that eternal Jewish pose, a mix of resignation and consternation. Jews are never surprised by tsuris; they’re only surprised by the clothing it wears.

“Talmedel,” Reb Shlomo began. “We’re in trouble. Dixie’s out for the season.”

“Is there anybody on the team who can play first base?”

“Is there anybody…” he repeated, tasting my words in his mouth like a spoiled piece of meat. “No, nobody. And Dixie’s bat. Another like that we would be lucky to see in our lifetime. Oy, what a baal guf, what a strongman, that boy was. Talmed, I tell you, we’re in trouble. I said that already, no?”

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The Lions of Zion, Chapter 14

By Ross Ufberg

What would have happened had there been a Jewish team in the Major Leagues? In an original novel serialized on The Arty Semite, Ross Ufberg imagines the trials and triumphs of The Lions of Zion, an all-Jewish team competing in the National League in 1933. Read the first 13 chapters here.

The Fall of Dixie


The game hadn’t even started yet, and already the Polo Grounds were electric with cheering, and the Lions were being adored louder than the Giants. Even though this was their home field, what kind of a Jew — even a lifelong Giants fan — would have the chutzpah to boo us?

Barney was sitting on the bench, in what he called his “civilian clothes.” Khetzke, also suspended, sat next to him, likewise dressed for the street.

“You hear that, boys,” said Dollar-a-Klop, as we were about to take first bats of the game. “Everybody loves us. If God played baseball, he’d be jealous.”

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The Lions of Zion, Chapter 13

By Ross Ufberg

What would have happened had there been a Jewish team in the Major Leagues? In an original novel serialized on The Arty Semite, Ross Ufberg imagines the trials and triumphs of The Lions of Zion, an all-Jewish team competing in the National League in 1933. Read the first 12 chapters here.

Coogan’s Bluff


Rachel and I were standing on Coogan’s Bluff, looking down at the Polo Grounds. In a few hours, tens of thousands of people would fill the stadium and bring it to life, but now, at eight in the morning, the place was empty. My arm around her waist, I explained to Rachel some of the basics of baseball.

“So where will you be standing?” she asked.

I pointed to the middle of the infield.

“I’ll be there, playing second base. That’s my position.”

“Is that an important one?” she asked.

“Well, there are only four bases…” It was breezy on the bluff, and though it was summer, Rachel closed her light jacket and shivered. She hooked her arm in mine.

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The Lions of Zion, Chapter 12

By Ross Ufberg

What would have happened had there been a Jewish team in the Major Leagues? In an original novel serialized on The Arty Semite, Ross Ufberg imagines the trials and triumphs of The Lions of Zion, an all-Jewish team competing in the National League in 1933. Read the first 11 chapters here.

Zumer-Feygeles


The first thing I did when we got to New York from Pittsburgh was to knock on Rachel’s door. The Widow Schwartz answered, and she didn’t give me Elijah’s welcome.

You,” she said, a wooden ladle in her hand. “What business you got here?”

“I came to say hello to Rachel.” Mrs. Schwartz’s eyebrows fell half an inch. “And to wish you both a gut Shabbes. I’m back in town again with the Lions.”

“A gut Shabbes,” she said, and slammed the door in my face. From behind the door I heard her muttering. “A sportman. He should stay on the ball field.”

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The Lions of Zion, Chapter 11

By Ross Ufberg

What would have happened had there been a Jewish team in the Major Leagues? In an original novel serialized on The Arty Semite, Ross Ufberg imagines the trials and triumphs of The Lions of Zion, an all-Jewish team competing in the National League in 1933. Read the first 10 chapters here.

Clear the Benches


It was bound to happen sometime.

We split the first two games against the Boston Braves, and game three was the first time Butcher started a game and didn’t win it. In the bottom of the eighth, the Braves were down by a run when Wally Berger came to the plate. Berger was a power hitter, and he’d already swatted a home run against Jakie Stein the day before. He was five for nine in the series, and now he was up with two men on base.

Berger hit the first pitch for a long foul ball. On the bench, Reb Shlomo stood up and began to pace. He turned to me.

“Butcher doesn’t look so sharp. The pill’s starting to plotz.”

He really did look like he was out of juice.

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The Lions of Zion, Chapter 10

By Ross Ufberg

What would have happened had there been a Jewish team in the Major Leagues? In an original novel serialized on The Arty Semite, Ross Ufberg imagines the trials and triumphs of The Lions of Zion, an all-Jewish team competing in the National League in 1933. Read the first nine chapters here.

Twentieth Century Limited


About a month later, the Twentieth Century Limited was cutting a line through the Midwest. We’d left Chicago at three in the afternoon, and now it was past midnight. After sweeping the series at Wrigley Field we had an 18-12 record, tied with the Giants for second place behind the Pirates. We had four games against the Boston Braves coming up, then on to Pittsburgh and, finally, back-to-back series against the Giants and the Dodgers.

On one side of the lounge car a few players were having a friendly poker game: friendly, because when Run-the-Numbers Cohen was around, nobody wanted to play for money. We learned the hard way he didn’t come by his name for nothing. The first night in Chicago he’d cleaned us all out.

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The Lions of Zion, Chapter Nine

By Ross Ufberg

What would have happened had there been a Jewish team in the Major Leagues? In an original novel serialized on The Arty Semite, Ross Ufberg imagines the trials and triumphs of The Lions of Zion, an all-Jewish team competing in the National League in 1933. Read the first eight chapters here.

Cincinnati Hanky Panky


It was Khetzke’s turn. We were shooting pool in the lounge of the Hotel Sinton in Cincinnati, where we stayed while playing a series with the Reds. Run-the-Numbers Cohen and Khotsh were on a team against Pretty Perchik and Khetzke. Mosie Schreiber was there, too, notebook in hand, getting copy for the next day’s article. The Forverts was calling his column on the baseball team “Der Leybs Dunern,” or the Roar of the Lion.

“Hey, Nosie Mosie, don’t forget to include the part where I slid into home for the go-ahead run,” said Khetzke.

It was a jovial atmosphere. We’d won that day’s game by a score of 5-2, with a second splendid performance by Butcher Block, and we were off to a 3-1 start. Now we were relaxing.

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The Lions of Zion, Chapter Eight

By Ross Ufberg

What would have happened had there been a Jewish team in the Major Leagues? In an original novel serialized on The Arty Semite, Ross Ufberg imagines the trials and triumphs of The Lions of Zion, an all-Jewish team competing in the National League in 1933. Read the first seven chapters here.

How Khetzke the Cowboy Got his Name


With hearts racing after Reb Shlomo’s rousing Opening Day speech, we prepared to go to bat. The Polo Grounds was an intimidating place: 55,000 fans filled the bathtub-shaped stadium, and from the sounds they made when we came charging onto the diamond, half of them were rooting for us. I took my place next to Reb Shlomo, who was nervously smoking a cigarette on the dugout stairs. Khetzke and Dixie seemed the most relaxed. They were trading barbs back and forth, trying to loosen up the other men. Pretty Perchick paced back and forth, running his hand through his hair and tugging at his shirtsleeves. Big Hup stood in a corner, a basket of apples on the floor by his side. He was chewing loudly, and he grimaced when he swallowed the core. Meanwhile, Bennie the Egyptian was fiddling with a silver charm in the shape of hand and saying a silent prayer.

As the visiting team, we had first bat. Fat Freddie Fitzsimmons, the Giants pitcher, was sharp. His knuckle ball was breaking hard, and our batters were left scratching their heads for the first few innings. Butcher Block, too, was pitching like a polished pro.

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The Lions of Zion, Chapter Seven

By Ross Ufberg

What would have happened had there been a Jewish team in the Major Leagues? In an original novel serialized on The Arty Semite, Ross Ufberg imagines the trials and triumphs of The Lions of Zion, an all-Jewish team competing in the National League in 1933. Read the first six chapters here.

Dress Up a Broom


It was mid-morning on Friday when we stepped off the Crescent Limited in Pennsylvania Station. Reb Shlomo led us out onto 8th Avenue.

“Welcome to New York City. We’re staying at the New Yorker Hotel, just up the street here, but for those of you who call this town home, I’ll allow you to spend Shabbes with your families. I’ll be at the hotel. I expect you back for a team meeting on Saturday night and I don’t want any funny business. The Giants’ll be waiting for us on Thursday, for Opening Day. We don’t play or practice on Shabbes, thanks to the Almighty, Commissioner Landis, and Fishy Levine, may his memory be blessed — which means we’ll only have four days to get back to good form.”

We were standing in the middle of the sidewalk, blocking foot traffic. Amos Gold was trying to get a good look at the giant stone eagles perched atop the train station. He had an expression on his face as if he was expecting them to deliver a present right on top of his head. Meanwhile, Butcher Block, Bennie the Egyptian, Fayvl Melamid, Khotsh Greenbaum and Pretty Perchick — the players who came from New York or close by — were chomping at the bit to get home as soon as possible.

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