The first pro baseball player in the United States was a Jew: New York City native Lipman Emanuel Pike, who played the outfield for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1866.
Another top Jewish sports star of the 1800s was one of the first great college All-Americans — Phil King, who played halfback and quarterback at Princeton in the 1890s.
And Jews dominated the sport of boxing in United States in the 1920s — nearly one-third of all professional boxers at that time were Jewish. There were so many Jews of distinction in sports over the years that the Commack-based National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame has almost run out of room for displays, memorabilia and artwork commemorating their achievements, according to Alan Freedman, its executive director. As a result, a $3 million fundraising effort has been launched to expand and improve the facility.
“With these funds we plan to create a larger, more modern venue capable of housing interactive exhibits and an audio-visual library of interviews,” Freedman said.
The Hall of Fame is now housed in about 5,000 square feet of space in the Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center. Freedman said plans call for the addition of 7,000 square feet. Founded in 1992, the Hall of Fame has inducted 125 sports luminaries over the years. Each of the induction ceremonies was videotaped and will be available for viewing in the expanded Hall of Fame.
“I can go to the Baseball Hall of Fame and do research on a player like Sandy Koufax,” Freedman said. “They have newspaper and photo files. We’d like to do something similar.”
In addition, he said researchers would also be able to see and hear many of the inductees because they accepted the honor in person. Among them were former Yankee broadcaster Mel Allen and Olympic hopeful and broadcaster Marty Glickman.
“To us it is really oral history,” Freedman said. “They talk about their accomplishments and what it meant to be a Jewish athlete. Marty Glickman talks about what happened to him at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin when, on the day of his relay race, the coach told him and Sam Stoller, the two Jewish runners on the team, that they would not run.
“The American Olympics director, Avery Brundage, gave the order. [It is said] his thinking was that it was bad enough that Jesse Owens [an American black athlete] had beaten the Aryans; it was not acceptable that Jews would also do it.”
Freedman pointed out that in 1972, after Palestinian terrorists murdered 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team, Brundage, who then headed the International Olympic Committee, directed that the Olympic games continue after a one-day suspension for a memorial service.
In his recollections, Glickman, who died in 2001, said he was only 18 when he was removed from the U.S. Olympic team and he believed he would have another chance four years later. But World War II intervened and he was too old after the war to make the team.
“So he lost his one chance to compete,” Freedman said of Glickman, who is perhaps best remembered as the broadcast voice of the New York Knicks and the New York Giants.
“People talk of Jewish accomplishments in science and Hollywood but not sports, which we think is extremely attractive to kids but something people don’t usually look at,” Freedman said. “We hope to excite young kids to look at their Jewish history in a slightly different way … and we would like to give them access” to some of the Jewish sports stars.