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Hank Greenberg

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Hank Greenberg

HGreenberg

Personal Info
Birth January 1, 1911, New York, New York
Death: September 4, 1986, Beverly Hills, California
Professional Career
Debut September 14, 1930, Detroit Tigers vs. New York Yankees, Navin Field
Team(s) Detroit Tigers (1930-46)
Pittsburgh Pirates (1947)
HOF induction: 1956
Career Highlights
  • Won AL MVP twice, in 1935 and 1940.
  • Lead AL in home runs 4 times.
  • Set record for most multi-homer games in a season, with 11 in 1937.
  • Hit 58 home runs in the 1938 season, 2 fewer than Babe Ruth's single-season record.
  • His 9th inning grand-slam on the final game of the 1945 season won the pennant for the Tigers.
  • Topped 100 RBI in 7 seasons.
  • His 183 RBI in 1937 ranks 3rd all-time for a single season.
  • Played in 4 All-Star games.

Henry Benjamin "Hank" Greenberg (January 1, 1911September 4, 1986), nicknamed "Hammerin' Hank," was an American Hall of Fame 5-time All-Star and 2-time MVP first baseman and outfielder in Major League Baseball.

He is 7th among all major league ballplayers lifetime in slugging percentage (.605). Among retired ballplayers, only Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, and Barry Bonds have recorded higher career slugging percentages. The still-active Albert Pujols also leads Greenberg.

Early lifeEdit

Baseball Hof
Hank Greenberg
is a member of
the Baseball
Hall of Fame

Greenberg was born in New York City to an Orthodox Jewish family. He attended James Monroe High School in the Bronx, where he was an outstanding all-around athlete. His preferred sport was baseball, and his preferred position was first base.

In 1929, he was recruited by the New York Yankees, who already had a capable first baseman: Lou Gehrig. In addition, Yankee Stadium was not a good park for right-handed hitters. Greenberg turned them down and instead attended New York University for a semester, after which he signed with the Detroit Tigers for $9,000. He first joined the Detroit Tigers in spring training of 1930. He made 1 pinch-hitting appearance (unsuccessful) in September, 1930 and joined the Tigers to stay at the start of the 1933 season.

Minor League careerEdit

Greenberg played minor league baseball for three years.

Greenberg played 17 games in 1930 for Hartford, then played at Raleigh, North Carolina where he hit .314 with 19 home runs.

In 1931, he played at Evansville in the Three I League (.318, 15 homers, 85 RBIs).

In 1932, at Beaumont in the Texas League, he hit 39 homers with 131 RBIs, won the MVP award, and led Beaumont to the Texas League title.

During the season, one of his teammates (Jo-Jo White) walked slowly around Greenberg, staring at him. Greenberg asked him what he was looking at. White said he was just looking, as he'd never seen a Jew before. "The way he said it," noted Greenberg, "he might as well have said, 'I've never seen a giraffe before.'" I let him keep looking for a while, and then I said, 'See anything interesting?'" Looking for horns and finding none, White said, "You're just like everyone else."

Early Major League careerEdit

In 7 of the 9 full seasons in which he was active, he was one of the dominant players in the game. He has the 7th highest slugging percentage lifetime of any ballplayer in major league history, at .605, ahead of such sluggers as Mark McGwire and Joe DiMaggio.

In 1930 he was the youngest player in the majors when he first broke in, at 19, with 1 hitless at-bat as a pinch-hitter.

In 1933, he rejoined the Tigers and hit .301 while driving in 87 runs. At the same time, he was third in the league in strikeouts (78).

In 1934, his second major-league season, he hit .339 and helped the Tigers reach their first World Series in 25 years. He led the league in doubles, with 63. He was 3rd in the AL in slugging percentage (.600) -- behind Jimmy Foxx and Lou Gehrig, but ahead of Babe Ruth, and in RBIs (139).

In 1935 Greenberg led the league in RBIs (170) and total bases (389), tied Foxx for the AL title in home runs (36), was 2nd in the league in doubles (46), triples (16), and slugging percentage (.628), and was 3rd in the league in runs scored (121). He also led the Tigers to their first World Series title. He was voted the American League's Most Valuable Player. He set a still-standing record of 103 rbi's at the All-Star break but was not chosen for the team - a move which was largely attributed to anti-semitism. (Although both Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx were on the All-Star team, Foxx was designated as a third-baseman. Greenberg led the league with 170 rbi's - leading the league by a record 51-rbi margin Lou Gehrig was 2nd with 119.

In 1937 Greenberg was voted to the All-Star Team. He led the AL by driving in 183 runs (3rd all-time, behind Hack Wilson (191) in 1930 and Lou Gehrig (184) in 1931), while batting .337 with 200 hits. He was 2nd the league in home runs (40), doubles (49), total bases (397), slugging percentage (.668), and walks (102). Still, Greenberg came in only 3rd in the vote for MVP, behind Charlie Gehringer and Joe DiMaggio.

A prodigious home run hitter, Greenberg narrowly missed breaking Babe Ruth's single-season home-run record in 1938, when he was again voted to the All-Star Team and hit 58 home runs, leading the league for the second time. The story goes that several pitchers intentionally walked Greenberg towards the end of the season rather than give a Jewish man a chance to break Babe Ruth's record. (There is some reason to dispute this as a motive. It is true that the Cleveland Indians did not give Greenberg good pitches to hit during the last week of the season; it is also true that Detroit and Cleveland were battling for third place, which in those days carried with it a share of World Series profits, so Cleveland players had a financial interest in keeping Greenberg from hitting home runs.)

He also led the league in runs scored (144) and at-bats per home run (9.6), tied for the AL lead in walks (119), was 2nd in RBI (146), slugging percentage (.683), and total bases (380), and was also 3rd in OBP (.438). Still, Greenberg came in only 3rd in the vote for MVP, behind Jimmy Foxx and Bill Dickey.

In 1939 Greenberg was voted to the All-Star Team for the third year in a row, and played in his first All-Star Game - at Tankee Stadium. He was 2nd in the league in home runs (33), 3rd in the AL in doubles (42) and slugging percentage (.622), while leading the league in strikeouts (95).

After moving to the outfield in 1940, Greenberg was voted to the All-Star Team for the 4th year in a row. He led the league in home runs (41; for the third time in 6 years), RBIs (150), doubles (50), total bases (384), and slugging percentage (.670; 44 points ahead of Joe DiMaggio). He was second in the league behind Ted Williams in runs scored (129) and OBP (.433), and batted .340 (5th best in the AL), while batting .340. He led the Tigers to a pennant, and won his 2nd American League MVP award, becoming at the time only the second player (after Stan Musial) ever to win the MVP award at two different positions. Robin Yount (shortstop and outield) later achieved the feat.

WWII ServiceEdit

The Detroit draft board initially classified Greenberg as 4F for "flat feet." Rumors that he had bribed the board, and concern that he would be likened to Jack Dempsey, who received negative publicity for failure to serve in World War I, led Greenberg to be reexamined, and he was found fit to serve.

Although drafted in 1941, after he played in 19 games, he was honorably discharged after Congress released men aged 28 years and older from service, being released on December 5, 1941, two days before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Greenberg re-enlisted and volunteered for service in the United States Army Air Forces. He graduated from Officer Candidate School and was commissioned as a first lieutenant. He eventually served overseas in the Republic of China-Burma-India theater, scouting locations for B-29 bases.

Return to baseballEdit

Greenberg remained in uniform until the summer of 1945. Without the benefit of spring training, he returned to the Tigers in mid-season (appearing in 78 AL games) was again voted to the All-Star Team, and helped lead them to a come-from-behind American League pennant, clinching it with a grand-slam home run on the final day of the season.

In 1946 he returned to peak form, leading the league in home runs (44) and RBIs (127), both for the 4th time. He was 2nd in slugging percentage (.604) and total bases (316), behind Ted Williams.

In 1947, Greenberg and the Tigers had a lengthy salary dispute. When Greenberg decided to retire rather than play for less, Detroit traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates. To persuade him not to retire, Pittsburgh made Greenberg the first baseball player to earn more than $80,000 in a season in pure salary (though the exact amount is a matter of some dispute). Team co-owner Bing Crosby recorded a song, "Goodbye, Mr. Ball, Goodbye" with Groucho Marx and Greenberg, to celebrate Greenberg's arrival. The Pirates also moved in the seats in Forbes Field's cavernous left field, renaming the section "Greenberg's Gardens," to accommodate Greenberg's pull-hitting style. Greenberg played first base for the Pirates for 1947, and was one of the few opposing players to publicly welcome Jackie Robinson to the majors. Greenberg served as a mentor to Ralph Kiner, who hit 51 home runs that year.

That year he tied for the league lead in walks, with 104 (tied with Pee Wee Reese of the Brooklyn Dodgers) even hough he appeared in only 125 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He had a .408 on base percentage, and was also 8th in the league in home runs and 10th in slugging percentage. The Pirates released him after the season at his own request. Greenberg was on the Cleveland Indians roster in the first month of 1948 - but did not play in any games.

FieldingEdit

As a fielder, the 6'4" Greenberg was awkward and unsure of himself early in his career, but he mastered his first-base position through countless hours of practice. Over the course of his career, he had a higher than average fielding percentage and range at first base. When asked to move to left field in 1940 to make room for Rudy York, he worked tirelessly to master that position as well, and reduced his errors in the outfield from 15 in 1940 to 0 in 1945.

Baseball styleEdit

Greenberg felt that runs batted in were more important than home runs. He would tell his teammates, "just get on base," or "just get the runner to third," and he would do the rest.

Abbreviated careerEdit

Starring as a first baseman and outfielder with the Detroit Tigers (1930, 1933-46), and briefly with the Pittsburgh Pirates (1947), he played only 9 full seasons. He missed 3 full seasons and most of 2 others to military service during World War II, and missed most of another season with a broken wrist.

It is often estimated that Greenberg, had he played in another era uninterrupted by war, would have amassed between 500 and 600 home runs and 1,800 to 2,000 RBI. As it is, his totals of 331 home runs and 1,276 RBI are amazing for a 1,394-game career. He also hit for average, batting .313.

Coaching & ownershipEdit

The following year, Greenberg retired from the field to become the Cleveland Indians' farm system director and two years later, their general manager and part-owner along with Bill Veeck. His contributions in finding and developing talent contributed to that team's successes through the 1950s, though Bill James wrote that Greenberg should also be given partial credit for the Indians' late 1950s collapse due to questionable personnel decisions.[1] He followed Veeck to the Chicago White Sox as part-owner.

Greenberg sold off his share of the White Sox in 1961 after the American League announced plans to put a team in Los Angeles. He immediately became the favorite to become the new team's first owner, and persuaded Veeck, who had sold off his majority interest in the White Sox due to poor health, to join him as his partner. However, when Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley got word of these developments, he threatened to scuttle the whole deal by invoking his exclusive rights to operate a major league team in Southern California. In truth, O'Malley wanted no part of having to compete against an expansion team owned by a master promoter such as Veeck. Greenberg wouldn't budge, and pulled out of the running for what became the Los Angeles Angels (now the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim). He later became a successful investment banker. He died of cancer while writing his autobiography (with Ira Berkow in 1986.

FamilyEdit

He married Coral Gimbel (of the New York department store family) on February 18, 1946, three days after signing a $60,000 contract with the Tigers. Their son, Steven, played 5 years in the Washington Senators/Texas Rangers organization. In 1995, Steve Greenberg founded Classic Sports Network, which was purchased by ESPN and became ESPN Classic.

HonorsEdit

LegacyEdit

Greenberg was a sports icon in the Jewish American community.

Greenberg was not the first Jewish man to play major-league baseball, but by the end of his career he had become by far the best Jewish player ever, and the first major Jewish star. In the 50 years since Greenberg's retirement, only Sandy Koufax achieved similar success among Jewish players.

Greenberg was subject to the most vicious ethnic taunting seen in the sport prior to the arrival of Jackie Robinson in 1947, yet Greenberg nevertheless became a first-rank ballplayer. While playing in his last year for the Pirates, he told Robinson what to expect as a minority from a baseball player's point of view.

MiscellaneousEdit

Greenberg lacked coordination as a youngster, and flat feet prevented him from running fast. But he worked diligently to overcome his inadequacies and became a basketball standout in high school, helping Monroe win the city championship.

The anti-Semitism Greenberg faced ranged from players staring at him because they had never before seen a Jew, to coarse racial epithets hurled at him. Particularly abusive were the St. Louis Cardinals during the 1934 World Series. Examples of this were: "Hey Mo," referring to Moses, and "Throw a pork chop he can't hit that," referring to laws of Kashrut.

Greenberg sometimes retaliated against the racial attacks, once going into the Chicago White Sox clubhouse to challenge manager Jimmy Dykes, and on another occasion calling out the entire Yankee team.

Jewish fans in Detroit -- and around the American League for that matter -- took to Greenberg almost at once, offering him everything from free meals to free cars, all of which he refused.

On Sept. 19, 1937, he hit the first-ever homer into the centerfield bleachers at Yankee Stadium.

After being passed over for the All-Star team in 1935 and being left on the bench for the 1937 game, Greenberg refused to participate in the 1938 contest after being named to the AL team.

In 1938 he homered in four consecutive at-bats over two games.

In Greenberg's first game back after being discharged, he homered on July 1, 1945.

That year, he set the major league record with 11 multi-homer games. Sammy Sosa tied Greenberg's mark in 1998.

Jackie Robinson said of Greenberg, "Class tells. It sticks out all over Mr. Greenberg."

In 23 World Series games, he hit .318 with five homers and 22 RBI.

Greenberg was one of the few baseball people to testify on behalf of Curt Flood in 1970 when the outfielder challenged the reserve clause.

Greenberg died of cancer in Beverly Hills, California and his remains were entombed at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California.

In 2006, Greenberg was featured on a United States postage stamp [1]. The stamp is one of a block of four honoring Baseball Sluggers, the others being Mickey Mantle, Mel Ott, and Roy Campanella.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. James, Bill The New Bill Janes Historical Baseball Abstract New York: Free Press (2001) p. 435 ISBN 0-684-80697-5

External linksEdit

Preceded by:
Lou Gehrig
American League Home Run Champion
1935
(with Jimmie Foxx)
Succeeded by:
Lou Gehrig
Preceded by:
Mickey Cochrane
American League Most Valuable Player
1935
Succeeded by:
Lou Gehrig
Preceded by:
Joe DiMaggio
American League Home Run Champion
1938
Succeeded by:
Jimmie Foxx
Preceded by:
Jimmie Foxx
American League Home Run Champion
1940
Succeeded by:
Ted Williams
Preceded by:
Joe DiMaggio
American League Most Valuable Player
1940
Succeeded by:
Joe DiMaggio
Preceded by:
Vern Stephens
American League Home Run Champion
1946
Succeeded by:
Ted Williams

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