Mose Solomon: The Rabbi of Swat
Continuing with the Minor League Home Run Champs series, this week we have an oldie but a goodie. Mose Solomon was the subject of one of my earlier pieces. His story was so popular that I included him in both the test issue of 21 and my book The League of Outsider Baseball, the latter which featured a new full-page illustration of the home run champ created especially for the book. Solomon’s popularity stems not just for his tremendous 1923 season with Hutchinson in which he belted 49 homers, but also from his being one of the first baseball stars who openly acknowledged his Jewish faith.
By the early 1920’s the owners of all three of New York’s Major League ball clubs recognized the value in finding a Jewish star to play for their team. Jews made up a large part of New York’s immigrant population and they embraced the National Pastime with an unabashed passion. Their loyalty was spread evenly among the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers and each owner salivated at the thought of discovering a “Babe Ruth” of the Hebrew persuasion which would undoubtedly attract the bulk of the city’s Jewish fans.
Despite winning the World Series in 1921 and 1922, manager John McGraw watched helplessly as his Giants – once undisputed New York’s favorite team – quickly lost fans to Babe Ruth’s Yankees. If only he could find a ballplayer who not only packed the power and excitement of a Babe Ruth but was Jewish as well, the Giants would undoubtedly regain their place as New York’s team.
So imagine the excitement the crusty McGraw must have felt when news spread east of a Jew named Solomon playing in far away Kansas hitting an unheard of 49 home runs in the summer of 1923. McGraw nearly tripped over himself dispatching his scouts to Kansas under orders to bring back this miracle man at all costs.
As the train carrying Mose Solomon from Kansas neared New York City, the expectation of a million fans had reached a crescendo. The press dubbed him “The Rabbi of Swat”.
Born in the epicenter of turn-of-the-century Jewish immigration, Hester Street on the Lower East Side, Mose Solomon’s parents moved the family west to Ohio when he was a kid. In Columbus the family eked out a destitute existence as a junk dealer. Mose and his brothers grew up big and athletic, his older brother Harry becoming the boxing champ of Ohio. Mose excelled in both baseball and football and picked up good money playing for semi-pro teams.
For a time Mose was a ringer for Jim Thorpe’s Carlisle Indian School football team until a sportswriter unmasked him as being Caucasian. Ohio State University offered him a full scholarship to play football but Mose was forced to turn it down because his family desperately needed the money he made to survive.
Against his father’s wishes, Mose decided to pursue a career in professional baseball. While the elder Solomon didn’t mind one son making a living at boxing, for some reason he considered baseball a shameful profession.
At any rate, Mose started his professional baseball career in 1921 with the Vancouver Beavers. In the rough and tumble world of the low minors he made a name for himself as a man who would not put up with any anti-Semitism. Unlike many other Jews at the time including his brother Henry, the champion boxer who called himself “Henry Sully”, Mose refused to change his name to something less-ethnic. It became evident in any place he played that he had no reservations about using his fists to fight back. Word soon got around the league – Mose Solomon was one tough Jew.
It was while playing for the Hutchinson Wheat Shockers in the Southwestern League in 1923 that Mose became a legend. Out of nowhere he pounded 49 home runs, breaking the old record set way back in 1895. By September he was batting .421 and leading the league in doubles, hits and runs scored.
Apparently he was also a bit of a character: once he was thrown out of a game and fined $5 for arguing with an umpire, then fined an additional $10 for waving his hands. Feigning incredulousness Solomon spat back at the umps “Don’t you know I’m a Jew and have to use my hands to talk?”
News of Solomon’s home run record made newspapers all over the country and that is how John McGraw became aware of what he thought would be the Giants key to financial success.
However prodigious Mose’s offensive skills were, his defensive abilities weren’t up to Major League standards. Though not as miserable as some writers have made them out to be, in 108 games he committed 31 errors – the lower end of league average in 1923. Even so, Hutchinson’s management, who stood to benefit greatly from selling Solomon’s contract, warned the Giants about his fielding. None-the-less, McGraw’s scout Dick Kinsella purchased his contract for a reported $50,000 and put him on the next train east.
The much-heralded “Jewish Babe Ruth” rode the Giants’ bench while McGraw decided what to do. At first base he had George Kelly and the outfield was manned by Casey Stengel, Ross Youngs and Hack Wilson – all future Hall of Famers.
Finally on the last home game of the season, with the crowd yelling for Mose Solomon, McGraw put him in as a replacement for outfielder Ross Youngs. In the 10th inning with the score tied 3-3 and a runner on second, Solomon slammed a double to drive home the winning run. He played one more game for the Giants that year and all told went 3 for 8, a batting average of .375.
Although he was ineligible to play and would not be paid, McGraw wanted Solomon to stay with the team while they played the Yankees in the World Series. Mose knew his family needed money and declined the offer. The pro football season was starting and Mose needed to make a paycheck. An insulted John McGraw sold Solomon’s contract to Toledo, letting him find out about his demotion by reading it in the newspaper.
Mose, probably a better football player than he was a first baseman, played through the winter before he was sidelined with a broken collarbone. When he joined the Toledo Mud Hens in the spring of 1924 Mose found that all the power he once had in his swing was gone. “The Rabbi of Swat” drifted around the lower levels of the minor leagues through 1929, managing hit just 8 home runs by the time he called it a day.
Baseball might have been out of the question but football wasn’t. Playing half-back and occasionally quarterback, Mose Solomon evolved into a much-sought after ringer in the days before the NFL. Through the early 1930’s just the rumor him appearing on a local team was enough to make headlines. Finally more injuries took their toll and Mose gave up the pig skin as well. He and his wife moved to Florida and began a long and successful career as a building contractor. John McGraw, having passed up the chance at signing Hank Greenberg, died without finding another “Rabbi of Swat”.
After I featured Solomon’s story on The Infinite Baseball Card Set, I was contacted by one of his relatives who was kind enough to supply me with newspaper clippings collected by Mose’s family. I used this rare archive to improve and elaborate on Solomon’s career, resulting in the story you just read. One of my favorite unexpected benefits from writing this blog has been the emails, phone calls and letters I receive from many of the players you see featured in these pages. It’s contacts such as these that helped carve out special niche for The Infinite Baseball Card Set, making it one of the most unique baseball history site out there.
Please stop by next week when I complete the Minor League Home Run Champs series with the Godfather of all bush league home run champs, Bunny Brief.