“The Baseball Talmud” by Howard Megdal: MLB Book Review

Wednesday December 21, 2011


(Harper:  2009)

MLB reports – Jonathan Hacohen:  Happy Hanukkah to one and all!  With today being the first day of Hanukkah, I thought that it would be very appropriate to include some Jewish baseball on MLB reports.  Luckily, I just completed a Jewish-centric baseball book and will be reviewing said book for you today.  One of our favorite baseball authors (are there any other kind), Howard Megdal, prepared one of the preeminent Jewish baseball books on the market today.  Howard’s first baseball book is titled:  “The Baseball Talmud”.

You will recall Megdal’s work from our review of his 2nd effort, “Taking the Field:  A Fan’s Quest to Run the Team He Loves.”  While “Taking the Field” was centered on Howard’s efforts to campaign to run and fix the New York Mets, “The Baseball Talmud” comes from a very different perspective.  “The Baseball Talmud” is essentially a baseball history piece.  While some players’ names would be familiar to the readers (depending on your age and baseball knowledge), reading “The Baseball Talmud” will prove to be an educational experience for most baseball fans who pick up to read this book.  The Talmud (in case you are not familiar with the term) is a collection of ancient rabbinic writings on Jewish law and tradition.  Commentary and interpretations are the key components of the Talmud.  Thus it is fitting that Megdal labelled his book “The Baseball Talmud”, as the book is an authoritative interpretation of Jewish baseball with commentary.  It is first and foremost a baseball history book- but from a Jewish perspective.

I ended up reading Megdal’s books out of order, as “Taking the Field” was released after “The Baseball Talmud”.  I was actually pleased about this result, as I came into “The Baseball Talmud” with a more intimate feeling and knowledge about Howard Megdal having completed “Taking the Field”.  Even without reading “The Baseball Talmud”, I knew that Megdal had a strong feeling and passion for Judaism and baseball.  It was evident from “Taking the Field”, as well as reading his articles and interviewing him in the past.  Megdal is very proud of being Jewish.  Thus his passion and knowledge of Judaism and baseball made him a perfect authority to write “The Baseball Talmud”.  Knowing Megdal’s background, experience and personality, made me appreciate reading “The Baseball Talmud” that much more.

In my estimation, Megdal pulled off one of the biggest literary miracles in “The Baseball Talmud” (again appropriate given the Hanukkah season).  While most baseball fans enjoy talking about the history of the game to great lengths, most would not at first glance be terribly excited to read a “baseball history” book.  Baseball books can range in different categories, from autobiographies, instructional, statistical and historical.  “The Baseball Talmud” fits mostly into the historical category, with a pinch of statistics spread throughout.  Make no mistake, there are many modern players included.  From Ryan Braun, Ian Kinsler, Kevin Youkilis, Steve Stone, etc., all the “big” name Jewish players that you know and love are discussed and analyzed.  But this book is far from a tribute to Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg.  While two of the biggest Jewish baseball players of all time, Megdal recaps most (if not all) Jewish players that have ever played the game.  Names like Conrad Cardinal, Ed Wineapple, Happy Foreman, Erskine Mayer, Mose Solomon and Jake Pitler are all part of the book.  Not only did I learn about how the many Jews who played the game of baseball, I learned a great deal about the history of the game of baseball as a whole.  The success of this book though is in Megdal’s writing.  “The Baseball Talmud” is very well written with a great deal of history and statistics.  But it is done in a very fun and light manner, with excellent analysis.  Howard Megdal is a storyteller.  One of the best baseball ones that I have ever read.  So if you are jumping into “The Baseball Talmud” expecting a straight history and statistics text, think again.  This book is built upon the baseball stories and commentary within it.

The book is divided into a clean and easy-to-read format.  After reviewing the top Jewish baseball players of all time, Megdal then proceeds to list his top Jewish players at each position.  The lists are very specific, including all three outfield positions and breaking down right-handed and left-handed starting pitchers and relievers.  My favorite section is the all-time Jewish baseball team assembled by Megdal at the end of the book and how his Jewish team would compare to other teams from different eras.  On a personal note, I did take a great deal away from this book given my Jewish heritage and background.  But regardless of my own religion and culture, I would recommend this book to any baseball fan.  Young or old.  Novice or expert.  To really appreciate the game, it is important to know about the different leagues and teams throughout the years.  Players had careers interrupted and shortened due to wars.  Before the age of free agency, player movement was very limited and outstanding players were blocked and often left in the minors or on the bench rather than being given an opportunity elsewhere.  Such key components of baseball are discussed in Megdal’s book.  But again, having Megdal use his superior storytelling abilities in describing the players and their circumstances makes the book a winner.  This was a fun read, that had me laughing out loud many times and thinking throughout.

For the baseball fan in your life that has everything, I strongly recommend running out to your local bookstore or jumping onto a site like and purchasing “The Baseball Talmud”.  I can think of many past Hanukkah seasons that I would have enjoyed receiving this book as a gift. It would also make a great stocking stuffer for any baseball fan of any denomination.  While it may seem humorous to receive “The Baseball Talmud” on Christmas morning under a tree or in a stocking, it would be well appreciated by all devotees of the game.  Baseball fans are always looking for more information and “something different”.  Well folks, “The Baseball Talmud” is as about as unique as it gets in the baseball world.  I enjoyed reading several of the chapters to my own 6-year old son.  If we are going to teach our kids as parents about the game of baseball early, it is important to use the right materials!  So Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas and an overall Happy Holidays to everyone.  I look forward to hearing from everyone after you had a chance to read “The Baseball Talmud” to debate the rankings of the all-time best Jewish players.  Creating a forum for baseball discussion and analysis is what a good baseball book will do and makes “The Baseball Talmud” a clear winner.

***We highly encourage you to keep an eye out for our interview with Howard Megdal coming soon to MLB reports, as we discuss “The Baseball Talmud” and Howard’s newly released book “The Wilpon’s Folly:  The Story of a Man, His Fortune and the New York Mets”, available now for purchase.  We look forward to reading and reviewing “The Wilpon’s Folly” for you as well in the coming weeks.  Also check out “Taking the Field” and learn about Howard’s experiences in campaigning to become the GM of the New York Mets.  If you enjoy a good baseball read, you can never go wrong with a Howard Megdal book.***


Jonathan Hacohen is the Lead Baseball Columnist & Editor for MLB reports:  You can follow Jonathan on Twitter (@JHacohen)

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About Jonathan Hacohen

I practice daily yoga. Most foods are organic. If you catch me in the supermarket, it will be in the produce aisle. Warrior 1 Yoga was born from my wish to help people be healthy and happy. I preach the 4 key's to life: nutrition, exercise, water and sleep. This is my journey - I am hope to meet you along the way to share a similar path!

Posted on December 21, 2011, in The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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