It was a golden age of major league baseball and David Zaslow lived and loved it as a young boy, cheering his beloved Brooklyn Dodgers and their first-ever black player, Jackie Robinson.
Zaslow and his older brother collected all the signed baseballs, photos, programs, letters and other memorabilia they could — and it will all be on display, with silent auction, on May 15 at Havurah Shir Hadash.
"When I was a toddler in Brooklyn, my first words, taught to me by my older brother, were: Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider," says Zaslow, the rabbi of Havurah. "And there were only three times that boys in Brooklyn literally cried in the streets — when the Dodgers beat the Yankees in the '55 World Series, when the Dodgers left Brooklyn in '57 and when JFK was killed in '63."
Zaslow, who will give a talk called "The Brooklyn Dodgers, God and Jackie Robinson," looks on baseball as a model of the America myth — its relaxed pace, its analytical nature and the fact it was a mixing bowl for both players and fans, with Robinson acting as "the Moses of the Civil Rights movement."
The "spiritual component" of baseball, said Zaslow, is how you can imagine all the immigrants coming together at Ebbets Field — "their church," where the working class, Germans, Irish, Jews, Gypsies, could meet. You had food. There was a protocol. You were judged only by your performance on the field." Coming in 1947, about seven years before the start of the Civil Rights movement, Robinson was a "softening influence" on the road to desegregation.
"He held his cool," says Zaslow, and withstood racial curses and spitting from baseball fans on the road, wanting to be judged only for his skill, while teammates would show their support with a pat on the back.
Baseball permeated the city with "intense fanaticism." It was democratizing and was a model, says Zaslow, of how "we may be on different teams, but we're in the same league, religiously speaking." Spiritually, the game demonstrates you need rivals, he notes, but they aren't enemies.
"When the Dodgers, then the Giants left to California, there was a great lesson, that without rival teams, there is no game. You can't play without a rival, though they hated each other." The valuable memorabilia includes scads of baseballs, authentic photos from AP files, cereal boxes, yearbooks, all signed (some by Robinson) — and even a folding seat from Ebbets Field, torn down in 1960 after the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles.
The presence of three major league teams in one locale — Dodgers and New York Giants and Yankees — gave a mythical sense of battling empires, says Zaslow, with the prosperous Yankees representing the Roman Empire. Defeating them in '55 (the only time "Da Bums," as the Dodgers were called, took the title.
"It's funny, the kids (from the congregation) come in here and look at this stuff and although they never heard of these people, it has real energy to it," says Zaslow. "They can feel it."
The baseball memorabilia auction and talk is at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, May 15 at Havurah Shir Hadash, 185 N. Mountain Ave.
Part of the collection will be auctioned, including, signed photos, baseballs or cards of Sandy Koufax, Carl Erskine, Duke Snider, Johnny Podres, Billy Crystal, Bobby Doerr and Duke Snider.
Richard Seidman will read from his book, "The Secret of Ebbets Field" and Dennis Goldstein of Ashland will talk on baseball anecdotes and show his epic collection of historic baseball photos, many used on Ken Burns' documentary "Baseball." Cost is $3, with proceeds going to Havurah. For information, call 541-488-7716.