O, the wonderful things you can learn from Wikipedia.
For example, I now know one of the pleasures of my youth was a widely-shared experience. “In 1983,” Wikipedia reports, “the New York Jewish Week described [Harold U. Ribalow’s] The Jew in American Sports as ‘the quintessential bar mitzvah gift of the 1950s and 1960s.”
It sure was for me, in 1955, when the book was among my favorite presents from my Bar Mitzvah.
Well, it turns out Ribalow, in addition to being a prolific writer and anthologist had a 30-year career working for the Israel Bond Organization in New York and serving as a sports columnist for his father’s Hebrew-language New York newspaper Hadoar and as sports editor of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
And, better yet, Harold Ribalow found, in his hideout in Maine, the reclusive retired novelist Henry Roth and was responsible in part for the re-publication of Roth’s masterpiece Call It Sleep, one of the favorite novels of my post-Bar Mitzvah period.
But back to that glorious day, and the glorious present it generated: the book The Jew in American Sports. Chief among its heroes was the great quarterback of Columbia University and the Chicago Bears Sid Luckman.
By 1955, Luckman had been retired for almost five years, but his luster as the biggest Jewish football star of his time was undiminished, and to tell the truth, Harold Ribalow was more into burnishing than diminishing his collection of Jewish athletes.
His chapter on Luckman never mentions Sid’s secret burden: that his father Meyer had died while being held in Sing Sing prison for a crime committed in service to the Jewish dominated organized crime organization headed by Louis Lepke Buchalter, the mob called “Murder, Inc.”
That relationship, between a mob-connected trucker Dad and his athletically gifted son is at the heart of our guest R.D. Rosen’s new book Tough Luck: Sid Luckman, Murder, Inc, and the Rise of the Modern NFL. It is one measure of the book’s excellence that its exploration of a parental link so shameful to Sid that he hid it for decades from best friends and close family leaves you with a respect much deeper than a teenager’s hero-worship for a fine man with a dark secret and an otherwise bright-shining life.
R.D. Rosen’s many books include recent nonfiction that connects America’s past and present, including A Buffalo in the House: The True Story of a Man, an Animal, and the American Westand Such Good Girls: The Journey of the Holocaust’s Hidden Child Survivors. He won an Edgar Allan Poe Award for his first of five mystery novels featuring retired Jewish major league baseball player-turned-detective Harvey Blissberg, and has written about sports for many national publications. He has served as a senior editor for both ESPN Books and Workman Publishing, and once upon a time wrote or performed comedy for PBS, HBO, and Saturday Night Live. He grew up across the street from Sid Luckman in Highland Park, Illinois, and lives in New York, where he still roots for the Chicago Bears.