The Rabbi of Swat

Peter Levine, Author Michigan State University Press $21.95 (266p) ISBN 978-0-87013-517-0
Baseball historian Levine's (Ellis Island to Ebbets Field: Sport and the American Jewish Experience) first venture into fiction--which chronicles a few weeks in the life of Morrie Ginsberg, a 20-year-old rookie pitching sensation called up by John McGraw's New York Giants to help them win the National League pennant, then face the New York Yankees in the 1927 World Series--generally misses the mark. There are father/son conflicts, as Morrie's tight-knit Jewish family, particularly his father, Jake, has to be sold on baseball. We later learn that Babe Ruth also has unresolved issues with his father, who placed him in a Baltimore orphanage as a boy. There is a wealth of baseball history here, while the Jewish community of Brownsville is faithfully brought to life in colorful detail. However, there is too much telling and not enough showing of the baseball lore. Dialogue drops like chunks of concrete, while a clich d plot climaxes in a kidnapping and attempted fix of the World Series. Babe Ruth, who covets Morrie's dancer girlfriend, is a major character, and John McGraw, anti-Semitic team captain Rogers Hornsby and gambler Arnold Rothstein make appearances. What sinks this novel like a gangster in cement overshoes is an embarrassing plot device wherein Babe Ruth narrates whole sections of the story from a present-day perspective, often giving literary advice to the author: ""... remember you're not writing a textbook. Keep it flowing, let the story unfold, the characters take shape."" If only Levine had followed the Babe's advice. (June)
Reviewed on: 03/29/1999
Release date: 04/01/1999
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