The NY Times Reports: Who is the most formidable Jewish ballplayer who ever lived? A) Sandy Koufax B) Hank Greenberg C) Chaim Silber? If you did not choose Mr. Silber, a ferocious former second baseman known in these parts as Lobo, you clearly have not spent a steamy Sunday cheering on members of the Orthodox Bungalow Baseball League, a devout collection of rabble-rousers who have spent three decades tearing up the moderately manicured softball diamonds that pock the Catskill Mountains.
Mr. Silber, a computer executive from Long Island, no longer plays, but his team, the Lobos, has earned a reputation as the most maniacal pack of rabbis, high school principals and pen importers in the Borscht Belt.
“Chaim is the most generous man I know, a real mensch, but on the field you don’t want to get in his way,” said Jerry Schreck, the former commissioner of the league. “He’s exceptionally competitive.”
Despite the league’s name, its game is softball. It has 40 teams playing Sunday mornings in July and August.
On a recent Sunday, Mr. Silber, whose nickname is Spanish for wolf, was pacing behind home plate at Monticello High School as one of his more reliable hitters, Harvey Dachs, stepped to the plate and flexed his muscles.
It was 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning, two were out, and the Lobos were in danger of losing their championship crown to the Irvington Buzz, their traditional rivals.
“Let’s go, Harvey, let’s pick it up!” Mr. Silber yelled to Mr. Dachs, a 56-year-old insurance executive who is often mistaken for Pete Rose.
Sruly Weinstein unleashed one of his wily underhand pitches, a soft thud issued from Mr. Dachs’s bat, and a dispirited sigh rose up from the Lobos’ dugout as ball met glove, bringing the inning to an end. “This is a textbook case of everything you’re not supposed to do in a game,” Mr. Silber said during the brief huddle before his men, many of them grandfathers, returned to the field.
He added, “There’s always hope until the last out.”
Since 1977, the Orthodox league has been providing a healthful escape for thousands of men who might otherwise spend Sundays inside cramped bungalows, their wives threatening them with the prospect of laundry-folding.
There are six divisions, and the winner in each is rewarded with a classy-looking trophy, and most important, bragging rights during the long off-season months, when the players return to their winter homes, most in Brooklyn, Staten Island or the Five Towns of Long Island.
Among the league’s best-known veterans is Sheldon Silver, speaker of the State Assembly, whose injuries recently forced him into an early retirement (from baseball, not politics).
That such a league still exists might come as a surprise to a certain generation that remembers the Borscht Belt of yore, when a half-million New Yorkers made the seasonal pilgrimage to the hotels and bungalow colonies that peppered the Catskills like so many wrappers from sucking candy littering the card room floor after a spirited session of mah-jongg.
Although big-name hotels like Grossinger’s, Brickman’s and the Concord are long gone, more than 200 colonies survive, albeit with Hasidic and Orthodox Jews replacing the largely secular crowd who made the Catskills the nation’s busiest vacationland in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.
So these days, teams including the Yifei Nof Hillbilies, the Elmerfudds and the Marsupials play on cratered fields carved out of a colony’s central greensward or, when possible, the better maintained municipal diamonds of towns like Liberty and Woodridge.
“On some of the worst fields, you can be running into the outfield and end up in a pit — or someone’s kitchen,” said Mr. Schreck, who started the league with his friend Milton Pfeiffer, and who was commissioner until last summer. By then, the burden of scheduling 20 games each week and the flood of panicked Sunday morning phone calls became a bit much.
Mr. Schreck handed the baton to Yoel Zagelbaum, 30, a Brooklyn lawyer whose grasp of modern technology has revolutionized league affairs. “Let’s just say the scheduling was a mess, and I offered to fix it,” Mr. Zagelbaum said.
Games are always lively, with yarmulkes flying off during sprints, cigarettes covertly smoked on the sidelines and good-natured arguments breaking out over calls.
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