Manager John McGraw was fed up. His 1923 New York Giants were only weeks away from clinching their third consecutive National League pennant, and no one in the city seemed to care. In his lineup were Ross Youngs, Dave Bancroft, Frankie Frisch, Casey Stengel and George (High-pockets) Kelly—all future Hall of Famers—plus Irish Meusel, who would lead the league that season in RBIs, with 125. "The most powerful ball team ever put together," trumpeted the St. Louis-based bible of the sport, The Sporting News. The crusty manager agreed.
There was one problem—as good as the team was, few fans were coming to see the Giants play. Attendance at the Polo Grounds had dipped, from 950,000 the previous year to 820,000. McGraw blamed Babe Ruth. Longtime Giants fans—lovers of the hit-and-run and stolen base—had defected by the thousands that year to watch Ruth launch home runs in brand-new Yankee Stadium; the Bronx Bombers were drawing more than a million a year. This was especially troubling to McGraw, who was a part owner of the Giants. He sent word out to his scouts: Find me a Babe Ruth. And then, thinking of his city audience, added: Find me a Jewish one.
In 1920, Jews totaled more than a quarter of the city's population and were a huge untapped market among sports teams. "A home-run hitter with [a Jewish] name in New York would be worth a million," McGraw told the New York Tribune. "We have been trying to land a prospect of Jewish blood," he assured others of the New York press.
His staff was not optimistic. Few Jewish players had ever reached the majors. That summer, though, an obscure Jewish outfielder named Mose Solomon hit 49 home runs, at the time second only to the Babe for a season. His feat might have stirred broad interest had he accomplished it on a team less anonymous than the Hutchinson ( Kans.) Wheat Shockers of the financially unstable Class C Southwestern League. As it was, Solomon remained almost totally unknown outside such Southwestern League towns as Salina and Coffeyville, both in Kansas. The Wheat Shockers, reported The Hutchinson News, hoped to sell Solomon to a Class A or Double A team at the conclusion of the season. They figured he was several years away from making the majors.
Solomon probably knew in his heart he wasn't ready for the Giants. He had played only a year and a half professionally, but he was eager to escape the smalltown minors. So it was tough to resist the temptation of going straight to the Giants. After listening to his scouts, McGraw was inclined to agree with them that Solomon was too green for the majors. But that didn't stop him from signing the young slugger. He brought the muscular, 5'9" Solomon to New York on Sept. 6 and introduced him as the Rabbi of Swat.
Overnight, the Rabbi became the most talked-about player on the team. He was 22, handsome and single, and, according to The Hutchinson News, had "the best physique of any man in the league..., stockily built with big legs and massive shoulders, and arms in proportion."
He was inundated with invitations to dinners and socials. Prominent Jews vied to arrange dates with their daughters and to escort him like glad-handing politicians around their neighborhoods.
"I know what he probably went through," says Barbara Cohen, 68, whose late husband, Andy Cohen, followed Solomon to the Giants in 1926 and lasted three years with the club. Cohen was a good hitter and an adequate fielder, though he lacked big league foot speed. "People always said [the Jewish community] wined and dined Andy out of the big leagues. There were so many parties in his honor, he was out every night. It was almost too much for him to handle."
Solomon apparently felt less pressured than Cohen. "I don't think that being a Jew really entered his mind, as an athlete," says his son Joseph, 65, a general contractor in Coral Gables, Fla. "Dad was not a devout or serious Jew. He knew he got a break when he went to the Giants, but he also knew he had to prove himself as a ballplayer."
This was nearly impossible, for although McGraw was promoting the Rabbi all over the New York press, he never put him in the lineup. And he hoped he would never have to, because the Rabbi fielded like, well, a rabbi.