Hall of Fame sportswriter and author Jerry Izenberg shares emotional Newark stories in his memoir "Baseball, Nazis and Nedick's Hot Dogs"
Hall of Fame sportswriter, author and Newark Star-Ledger legend Jerry Izenberg is a master storyteller and a sports treasure.
The iconic sports columnist has just released his memoir,
Baseball, Nazis & Nedick's Hot Dogs: Growing Up Jewish in the 1930s in Newark (The Sager Group, LLC).
Izenberg returns to SportsJam with Doug Doyle to talk about his 15th book and share emotional stories about his childhood days in Newark.
This memoir is a story of a young Jerry Izenberg, a first generation American, and his dad Harry, a former minor league second baseman, who credits baseball with his assimilation in his adopted country, and with whom he had the kind of rough-but-loving man-to-man relationship that no longer seems to be in favor in an era of helicopter parenting and participation trophies for everyone.
Their shared love of baseball, specifically the New York Giants, the minor league Newark Bears, the Negro League Newark Eagles, and Hank Greenberg, created a strong and meaningful bond between father and son, whether it be at the ballpark or on the front porch listening to the games' radio broadcasts.
"My father wouldn't buy me a (baseball) glove, he said you have to earn it first. My father was sort of spontaneous about things. He decides I'm getting a glove today. It happened to be December. There was a freakin' blizzard going on. Newark used to have great snowfalls. My mother walks in and sees me all bundled up with a muffler in the living room and said 'What's going on with him?' My father said were were going out."
They eventually get to a sporting good store in Newark and Jerry gets his first tan baseball glove.
"At the bottom of the glove was the (facsimile) autograph of Jimmy Gleason who had been the left fielder for the Newark Bears (New York Yankees Triple A-team at the time). I figure I get the glove, I'm Jimmy Gleason, no one is going to be able to stop me now."
Eventually, young and eager Jerry convinced his dad he had to play catch with his new glove that day instead of waiting until the Spring to break in the new leather, Jerry and Harry would enjoy a game of pitch and catch with snow up to their waists. It was a bonding moment for the two.
The nonagenarian author, in the 73rd year of his Hall of Fame newspaper career, looks back on his first two formative decades of life. Somehow, during a fraught period of antisemitism, the Great Depression, and World War II, Izenberg finds love, community, and purpose.
It's a poignant and insightful memoir of his early life, and what it was like to grow up in that treacherous era that not only saw Hitler's insidious rise to power but also how the Nazi influence emboldened the public support of American anti-Semites which was on full display when 20,000 American Nazi sympathizers were greeted by a giant portrait of George Washington flanked by two large swastikas at the 1939 German-American Bund rally in Madison Square Garden, some who carried posters that warned of Jewish domination of Christian America.
Izenberg remembers the many dinner conversations he and his family had about the Nazis, and especially the German-American Bund supporters who would meet just 12 blocks away from his home.
"I was eight years old. My father insisted I go with him on a Saturday morning (to the local theater) because it had the films of the German-American Bund rally from before. Now he's coming out of the theater and he's mad. He's mad all over again. He was wounded in World War I. He gets out of the door and says to me 'I helped stop them in 1917, somebody has to stop them now!' I'm an eight-year old kid, so I just said to my father 'But they are in Germany?' He says 'No, they're here.'"
After realizing he was frightening his son, Harry quickly changed the conversation to getting a Nedick's hot dog for lunch.
Now living in Henderson, Nevada, with his wife Aileen, 92-year old Jerry Izenberg is still producing topical sports columns and social commentary on a regular basis as columnist emeritus at the New Jersey Star-Ledger.
Milestones are nothing new for this Newark native. He is one of only two daily newspaper columnists to have covered the first 53 Super Bowls, not to mention 54 consecutive Kentucky Derby races and the last five Triple Crown-winning horses. And no one has covered more of Muhammad Ali's fights than he, dating back to the 1960 Olympics.
The recipient of the Red Smith Award, which is bestowed annually by the Associated Press Sports Editors to a writer or editor who has made major contributions to sports journalism, Izenberg is also a five-time winner of the New Jersey Sportswriter of the Year Award. He is an inductee in 17 Halls of Fame, including the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame, the International Boxing Hall of Fame, the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame, and the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Closer to home, Izenberg has been inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame, the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame, the New Jersey Literary Hall of Fame, the Rutgers-Newark Athletic Hall of Fame, and the Rutgers Hall of Fame of Distinguished Alumni.
Best-selling books he has authored include, Once There Were Giants: The Golden Age of Heavyweight Boxing, No Medals For Trying, and Rozelle: A Biography. In 2020, at age 90, he released his first novel, the well-received After the Fire: Love and Hate in the Ashes of 1967.
You can SEE the entire Sportsjam interview with Jerry Izenberg here.