“The Idol of the Haight Street Grounds”

11 Jun

Reuben “Rube” Levy was one of the first Jewish professional players, and one of the biggest stars in the early days of West Coast baseball.

Born in 1862 to Prussian-Polish immigrants, Levy worked as a shoe cutter and began his professional career as a teenager, playing left field for the San Francisco Californias in the New California League in 1881.

A good fielder, but not particularly fast, The San Francisco Morning Call once described him chasing a ball: “Reuben Levy, following the ball as it sped gleefully along, looked like a cow chasing a coyote across a pasture.”

Reuben "Rube" Levy, 1888

Reuben “Rube” Levy, 1888

Levy quickly became a fan favorite.

The Morning Call, and The San Francisco Chronicle called him “the hero of the kindergarten” during the years he played at Haight Street Grounds; the title referred to the section of the grandstand adjacent to left field occupied mostly by young fans.  The Sporting Life said “there never was a more popular player in San Francisco,” and called him “The idol of the Haight Street Grounds.”

Years later, The South of Market Journal recalled that the “kindergarten” fans “applauded the genial Rube for any kind of play.”  The paper said one reason why Levy was the most popular West Coast player with children was because in the days when baseballs were a valuable commodity he would:

“Get hold of a ball that he would bide and save till the game was over, when the kids would swarm down the field and gather around their idol. He would take a ball from his pocket; toss it high in the air with hundreds of healthy youngsters, among them future greats, in a big drive to capture it. Believe us, many a spunky kid emerged from this huddle with something other than a smile, yes, more like a blue forget- me-not under the eye in the struggle for the possession of the prize. Then away Rube, the idol of the Kindergarten would gallop lo the clubhouse joyful in the thought that his juvenile admirers were
made happy for the day.”

In 1890 The Sporting Life said Levy had won a contest for the most popular player in the California League, beating out popular Oakland Colonels infielder, and fellow San Francisco native, Jim McDonald:

 “(A)t the eleventh hour the friends of Rube Levy executed a grand coup by unloading three thousand votes into the ballot box, thereby flooring McDonald and other favorites ‘out of sight.’  Sixth Street and the Kindergarten by a straight stroke had outwitted Mac’s friends and landed their boy first under the wire, and distanced all others. Well, Levy deserves it, as he is a quiet, unobtrusive gentleman and first-class ball player, and Jim would rather have been beaten in the race by his old neighbor than by any other player.”

San Francisco's Haight Street Grounds

San Francisco’s Haight Street Grounds

Levy was said to have a good arm, and while with the San Francisco Metropolitans in 1892 manager Henry Harris decided to use the left-hander on the mound in an early season game.  The Chronicle said:

“The Los Angeles (Seraphs) team has a majority of left-handed batters in its make-up, and they generally hit the ball on the seam for bases. Harris is a firm believer in the theory that a southpaw is particularly effective against this class of hitters.”

The experiment failed.  The Chronicle said Levy “with the speed of a (Amos) Rusie, but without control…entered the box against (Bob) Glenalvin‘s men (and) gave them the game in the first few Innings.”

Harris used Levy three more times on the mound, but the results were no better.  He ended up 0-2, giving up 12 hits, three walks and 14 runs (although only 2 earned) in six innings.

Levy pitched at least one more game each during the 1893 and ’94 season.  The Chronicle said of his 1894 effort pitching for the San Francisco Hot Peanuts against the Californias of San Francisco:

“Rube Levy was elected to do the twirling yesterday and in consequence of the arrangement the San Francisco team was defeated.  Throughout the afternoon Reuben’s opponents at the bat straightened out his curves for long-distance jolts, and stole bases on him unawares.  Levy’s work in the box was so ineffective that the crowd was continually provoked to offering him words of cheer and comfort.”

Levy pitched a complete game, losing 18-10, the Californias had 17 hits, stole seven bases, and the Peanuts committed 11 errors behind him.

Levy was generally described as a clutch hitter, but almost no statistics survive.   Baseball Reference lists his 1892 and ‘93 averages at .237 and .283.

Levy, unlike other pioneering Jewish players seems to have been spared  of anti-Semitism and Insensitivity, perhaps owing to San Francisco’s large Jewish population (second only to New York during his career).

While the San Francisco based Breeder and Sportsman referee to his “little Hebraic curve,” in an article about one of his pitching appearances, nothing seems to have risen to the level of what Zeke Ferrias faced when pitching in the Three-I and other Midwest leagues during the first decade of the 20th Century.   It was not unusual for newspapers, like The Dubuque Telegraph-Herald to attribute a victory to Ferrias’  “Jew luck,” and conversely, when he began to fade as a pitcher to mention that “his Jew luck had quit him.”

The first part of Rube Levy’s career came to a close when he retired after the 1896 season; the second part tomorrow.

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2 Responses to ““The Idol of the Haight Street Grounds””

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. “All Men were his Friends” | Baseball History Daily - June 13, 2013

    […] the reasons Rube Levy remained one of the most popular figures in West Coast baseball was his refusal to accept offers to […]

  2. The First Triple Play in the West | Baseball History Daily - September 12, 2013

    […] second baseman was Jim McDonald, a 19-year-old San Francisco […]

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