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PART I: Morrie Arnovich and the American Dream

NOTE: The following is Part 1 of the "Morrie Arnovich and the American Dream" column written by Terry Hendrick. Part 2 of the column will appear in Friday's Daily Telegram.

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NOTE: The following is Part 1 of the "Morrie Arnovich and the American Dream" column written by Terry Hendrick. Part 2 of the column will appear in Friday's Daily Telegram.

When I first started working in Superior in 1990, I drove by a sign denoting the baseball-softball complex as Morrie Arnovich Field. The name vaguely rang a bell.

In 1991, a short biography of Arnovich appeared in the Bill James Baseball Book: "In 1939, Arnovich, who was Jewish, made the All Star team after hitting .375 for the first half of the season."

James then quotes Loeb and Baumgartner's book: "History of the Philadelphia Phillies," "Even though Gabby Hartnett, the National League manager, had four opportunities to use a pinch hitter, he looked the other way from Morrie. The Jewish fans in Philadelphia and New York never forgave Gabby and booed him as long as he remained in the National League."

Hartnett is a Hall of Famer and one of the outstanding players from the 1930s, starring as a catcher and player/manager. Arnovich is largely forgotten, even it seems, in his hometown.

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Arnovich was a first generation American, born in 1910 in Superior's north end, of an Orthodox Jewish family known for its piety and the number of rabbi's it had produced.

Arnovich, whose father operated one of the first service stations in Superior, attended Central High School and starred in basketball and football before moving on to Superior State Teachers College. There he was a two-time Wisconsin Conference all-star in basketball and a ferocious football player. Graduating in 1933 in the depth of the Depression, he signed a contract to play for the Superior Blues of the Northern League.

The Blues, reorganized under new ownership, may have signed Arnovich as local talent to boost attendance, or he may have been signed by the Dodgers, the major league parent club that assigned about half the roster to the Class C team.

He was likely recommended by his youth baseball coach, Dave Bancroft, a Hall of Famer who had married a Superior girl and settled in Superior.

Arnovich lit the Class C Northern League on fire, playing shortstop and hitting .331 as a 22-year-old rookie. In 1934, he hit three home runs in one game in Fargo and batted .374.

His record came to the attention of the single scout employed by the Phillies who had been assigned to scour the minors for players with potential, especially Jewish players.

The reason the Phillies, by far the worst team in the major leagues in the 30s and 40s, were searching for good minor leaguers is obvious. They finished an average of 31 games out of first in 1930-34. The reason they were searching for a Jewish player (they signed several in 1935) was the result of a very odd set of circumstances.

The Phillies, like the Blues, had gone into receivership in the Depression with the other league owners paying the bills.

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A very young Bill Veeck proposed to the owners that he be allowed to buy the club and stock it with stars from the Negro Leagues. The owners resisted breaking the color barrier and Frank Baker continued as president of the derelict Phillies.

Baker died suddenly in 1933, and to the surprise and perhaps relief of his widow, he willed the controlling interest in the club to his secretary, May Nugent.

Nugent's husband, Gerald Nugent, a failed shoe salesman, took over as president and, as the hapless Phillies drew fewer than an average of 4,000 fans per contest, he launched a plan to put more Philadelphia fannies in the seats than they had shoes on their feet.

The Baker Bowl was located in a Jewish neighborhood and the local Hebrew press supported the Phillies over Philadelphia's glamour team, the Athletics managed by Connie Mack.

The Phillies' only pennant had come in 1915 when a young Jewish pitcher, Erskine Mayer, combined with Grover Cleveland Alexander to win 52 games. (Dave Bancroft was a rookie shortstop on that team.)

Since that time, the Phillies were the team followed by Jewish fans, who were avid and loyal. It couldn't have been a better situation for Arnovich.

Arnovich signed with the Phillies and would become one of the first Jewish starting position player in the National League.

He tore up the New York-Penn League as a Phillies farmhand, hitting .327 and leading the league in homers. He was called up to the "Big Show" in September, 1936.

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Nugent was hopeful he had happened upon the next Hank Greenberg, the first Jewish superstar in baseball.

Greenberg burst upon the scene in 1930 as a 22-year-old power hitter for the American League's Detroit Tigers, belting 26 home runs, 63 doubles, driving in 139 and scoring 118.

In 1935, his 36 home runs and 170 RBIs led the Tigers to the World Series where they played the powerhouse Chicago Cubs, led by team captain and League Most Valuable Player, Gabby Hartnett.

Filled with young stars, the Cubs won three pennants in the decade and were always in the race. They were known as a cocky, profane crew that always sought an advantage by taunting its opponents.

In the 1935 World Series, commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis fined eight Cub players for their anti-Semetic, between-innings harassment of Greenberg.

"Nobody in the history of the major leagues, unless it was Jackie Robinson, took more abuse than Hank Greenberg," recalled Birdie Tibbetts, a Tiger catcher and later manager of the Milwaukee Braves.

"Sure we were vicious," said Billy Herman, Cubs second baseman, in a interview with author Ira Berkow, "If you were southern, you were a southern so and so, if you were Irish, you were an Irish so and so, if you were Jewish, you were a Jewish so and so. We tried to distract the other guy, get into his head. It was our job."

Phil Carravetta was a 19-year-old rookie on the Cubs during the 1935 World Series. He was shocked and ashamed of his teammate's abuse of Greenberg. "Most of what they were yelling at him, you couldn't print." He told Berkow.

Greenberg was called into Landis's office and asked to verify the umpires report verifying the names of the Cubs, including Hartnett, who were involved in the incident.

Greenberg stayed mum. "If I'd ratted out a fellow player, I'd have spent the rest of my career on the seat of my pants," wrote Greenberg in his autobiography. This incident was the genesis of Hartnett's reputation, rightly or wrongly, as being an anti-Semetic bigot.

Arnovich became the Phillies regular left fielder in 1937 and in 1938 became their team leader. He led the league in outfield assists and RBIs while hitting .275 for a club finishing 43 games out of first, and 25 out of seventh.

Arnovich was known as one of the most religious players in baseball, keeping Kosher, observing the Sabbath and sitting out Yom Kippur. He was popular with the press, Philly's large Jewish community and the few thousand Phillies fans.

Every Phillies game was reported extensively by the Superior Evening Telegram, with sports editor Bill Stewart often adding insights gleaned from the Philadelphia press in his daily column. Arnovich was good copy, a good interview, a rising star.

How much abuse did he endure? How many bean balls and "close shaves" did he duck?

Judging from what happened to other Jewish players, plenty.

Goody Rosen was brought up to the Dodgers, managed by Clear Lake, Wis. native, Burleigh Grimes, in 1937.

Rosen had a hair trigger temper and couldn't take the harassment, fighting throughout the season with teammates and opponents. When he took a swing at his new manager, Leo (the Lip) Durocher, in 1938, he was sent down, replaced by former Blue, Pete Reiser.

Harry "The Horse" Danning, a good catcher for the Giants, who was known as the toughest man in baseball, once backed down a bat wielding Babe Ruth, enraged at the Giant's remarks about his suspected parentage.

The Giants, like the Phils, brought up several Jewish players including Moe Berg, later an OSS spy in WWII who had a IQ approaching 200. "Moe could speak 12 languages and couldn't hit in any of them," recalled a teammate.

Seldom used Yankee utility man Jimmy Reese stayed on the team at the insistence of Babe Ruth, his roommate and probably the most unprejudiced man in baseball.

"I roomed with the Babe's luggage," said Reese.

Buddy Myers, an outstanding second baseman in the American League, has given several interviews about the fist fights, spikings and "low bridges" he endured in the 1930s.

Arnovich's greatest season came in 1939, when, like Chipper Jones this season, he hit over .400 through June. Chosen by the baseball writers for the all-star team he was headed for an unintended controversy with the manager of the National League stars, Gabby Hartnett.

End of Part 1.

FRIDAY: Morrie and the 1939 All-Star Game.

Special thanks to Paul Arnovich and Sharon Marcovich, Superior; Gabrial Schlachtnar, Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, NY; Al Orlowek, Silver Springs, Md., the Historians, and many others.

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