Tempered with the excitement of Opening Day, some baseball fans have to contend with the end of a tradition, even if it was only a few years old: 2010 marks the final release of the Jewish Major Leaguer card set.
According to Martin Abramowitz, a former Jewish community executive and the brains behind the cardboard, the process simply became too expensive.
“We’ve basically been using the royalties off the first set to subsidize the economics of subsequent sets, like an endowment,” he said in a phone interview from his home in Newton, Mass. “To do this on an ongoing basis, we’re just undercapitalized. We would need to be able to print a lot more sets and we’d need to have a marketing budget…. We just didn’t have the dollars for that.”
The idea for the project first came to him in the summer of 2000. “I wanted to do a baseball card for every Jewish player. One, because I was a collector and was lamenting the fact that I’d never have a complete set of [Jewish] cards because a lot of these guys never had cards,” either because their careers were too brief or they played before the card industry took off in the early 1950s. “[As] corny as it sounds, I came to understand that I wanted to give those players…that piece of immortality. If you played the game, you’re obviously in the record books, but if you never had a card, it’s almost as if you never existed.”
Another reason: he wanted to teach his son, Jacob — then 11 — about following one’s dreams, “seeing someone take a wild and crazy idea and turn it into something and run with it,” he said.
When Abramowitz produced the 15,000 sets in late 2003 for the American Jewish Historical Society, he thought it would be a one-shot deal. But the response was so positive, it had fans clamoring for more. He waited a couple of years before issuing an update, which covered the 2003-05 seasons. The 2008 release included a subset of cards commemorating the 75th anniversary of Hank Greenberg’s debut, and 2009 paid tribute to Jewish record-holders. Abramowitz also produced an 18-card set — in English and Hebrew — highlighting the one and only season of the Israel Baseball League in 2007.
The 2010 “deck of the decade” consists of 50 cards and includes the 29 players who appeared in games since 2000; career leader cards; a decade-leader stat card; and cards honoring baseball commissioner Bud Selig, Baseball Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson; and Major League Baseball Players Association leaders Michael Weiner, Marvin Miller, and Donald Fehr.
After the initial run in 2006, production dropped to about 6,000 sets for the next couple of years, and, most recently, 3,000. The big expenses were on the production side. “You have to use a Major League Baseball licensed producer for the cards.” The quality is high, but “costs are much higher than if I went around the corner to my local Kinko’s,” Abramowitz said. Fortunately, the companies — including Fleer, Upper Deck, and Topps — offered considerable discounts. Abramowitz received grants from the Commissioner of Baseball’s office, the Baseball Players Association, and Topps, the long-time gold standard of baseball cards. “They’re a million dollar business; they’re not going to make any money from this. They’re just doing it for the sake of the sport and the industry…. I’m just grateful to everybody for making this possible.”
Abramowitz mentioned one regret, and it’s a common theme regarding one of the legends of the game known for his reclusiveness.
“The only thing I feel bad about is that we were not able to produce cards commemorating [Sandy] Koufax’s career as we did Greenberg’s. Otherwise, I think we’ve done justice to the legacy of Jews in baseball.”
Abramowitz takes pride and pleasure in what he has accomplished. “I feel very fortunate, very blessed to have been doing this.” he said. “It’s ironic; I’ve spent most of my career in Jewish communal service and I’d like to think in my work as a senior executive I’ve made a difference in the life of Jewish communities.”
But, he added, “when it comes time to do my obituary, I might be remembered more for the baseball cards than anything else. Which is fine.”
Abramowitz, who turned 70 earlier this month, hopes to produce another set in 2020 to highlight the current decade. Perhaps Koufax will have a change of heart by then.
For more information, visit jewishmajorleaguers.org.