January 1, 1911|
New York City, New York
|Died: September 4, 1986
Beverly Hills, California
|Batted: Right||Threw: Right|
|September 14, 1930 for the Detroit Tigers|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 18, 1947 for the Pittsburgh Pirates|
|Runs batted in||1,276|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Vote||85% (eighth ballot)|
Henry Benjamin "Hank" Greenberg (January 1, 1911 – September 4, 1986), nicknamed "Hammerin' Hank," "Hankus Pankus" or "The Hebrew Hammer," was an American professional baseball player in the 1930s and 1940s. A member of the sport's Hall of Fame, he was one of the premier power hitters of his generation and is widely considered as one of the greatest sluggers in baseball history.
A first baseman primarily for the Detroit Tigers, Greenberg was a five-time All-Star and two-time American League MVP. He was the first major league player to hit 25 or more home runs in a season in each league, and remains the American League (AL) record-holder for most RBIs in a single season by a right-handed batter (183 in 1937, a 154-game schedule). He lost almost four years in the prime of his career serving in the U.S. Armed Forces in World War II.
In 1947 Greenberg signed a contract with a $30,000 raise to a record $85,000 before being sold to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was one of the few opposing players to publicly welcome Jackie Robinson that year to the major leagues.
Greenberg was the first Jewish superstar in American team sports. He attracted national attention in 1934 when he refused to play on Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holidays, even though the Tigers were in the middle of a pennant race and he never claimed to be a religiously observant, practicing Jew.
Hank Greenberg was born Hyman Greenberg on January 1, 1911, in Greenwich Village, New York City to Romanian-born Jewish immigrant parents David and Sarah Greenberg, who owned a successful cloth-shrinking plant in New York. He had two brothers, Ben, four years older, and Joe, five years younger, who also played baseball, and a sister, Lillian, two years older. His family moved to the Bronx when he was about seven. Greenberg lacked coordination as a youngster and flat feet prevented him from running fast. But he worked diligently to overcome his inadequacies, which also included acne and a stutter. He attended James Monroe High School in the Bronx, where he was an outstanding all-around athlete and was bestowed with the long-standing nickname of "Bruggy" by his basketball coach. His preferred sport was baseball, and his preferred position was first base. However, Greenberg became a basketball standout in high school, helping Monroe win the city championship.
In 1929, the 18-year-old 193-cm (6-foot-4-inch) Greenberg was recruited by the New York Yankees, who already had a capable first baseman named Lou Gehrig. Greenberg turned them down and instead attended New York University for a year, where he was a member of Sigma Alpha Mu, after which he signed with the Detroit Tigers for $9,000 ($127,000 today).
Minor League career
Greenberg played minor league baseball for three years.
In 1930 he was the youngest player in the majors when he first broke in, at 19.
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 (the 4th-highest all-time in a single season), and extra base hits (96). He was 3rd in the AL in slugging percentage (.600) – behind Jimmie Foxx and Lou Gehrig, but ahead of Babe Ruth, and in RBIs (139), 6th in batting average (.339), 7th in home runs (26), and 9th in on-base percentage (.404).
Late in the 1934 season, he announced that he would not play on September 10, which was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, or on September 19, the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. Fans grumbled, "Rosh Hashanah comes every year but the Tigers haven't won the pennant since 1909." Greenberg did considerable soul-searching, and discussed the matter with his rabbi; finally he relented and agreed to play on Rosh Hashanah, but stuck with his decision not to play on Yom Kippur. Dramatically, Greenberg hit two home runs in a 2–1 Tigers victory over Boston on Rosh Hashanah. The next day's Detroit Free Press ran the Hebrew lettering for "Happy New Year" across its front page. Columnist and poet Edgar A. Guest expressed the general opinion in a poem titled "Speaking of Greenberg," in which he used the Irish (and thus Catholic) names Murphy and Mulroney. The poem ends with the lines "We shall miss him on the infield and shall miss him at the bat / But he's true to his religion—and I honor him for that." The complete text of the poem is at the end of Greenberg's biography page at the website of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. The Detroit press was not so kind regarding the Yom Kippur decision, nor were many fans, but Greenberg in his autobiography recalled that he received a standing ovation from congregants at the Shaarey Zedek synagogue when he arrived. Absent Greenberg, the Tigers lost to the New York Yankees, 5–2. The Tigers went on to face the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1934 World Series.
In 1935 Greenberg led the league in RBIs (170), total bases (389), and extra base hits (98), tied Foxx for the AL title in home runs (36), was 2nd in the league in doubles (46), slugging percentage (.628), was 3rd in the league in triples (16), and in runs scored (121), 6th in on-base percentage (.411) and walks (87), and was 7th in batting average (.328). He also led the Tigers to their first World Series title. (However, he broke his wrist in the second game.) He was unanimously voted the American League's Most Valuable Player. He set a record (still standing) of 103 RBIs at the All-Star break – but was not selected to the AL All-Star Game roster.
In 1936 Greenberg re-broke his wrist in a collision with Jake Powell of the Washington Senators in April of that year. He had accumulated 16 RBIs in 12 games before his injury.
In 1937 Greenberg was voted to the All-Star Team. On September 19, 1937, he hit the first-ever homer into the center field bleachers at Yankee Stadium. He led the AL by driving in 183 runs (3rd all-time, behind Hack Wilson in 1930 and Lou Gehrig in 1931), and in extra base hits (103), while batting .337 with 200 hits. He was 2nd in the league in home runs (40), doubles (49), total bases (397), slugging percentage (.668), and walks (102), 3rd in on-base percentage (.436), and 7th in batting average (.337). Still, Greenberg came in only 3rd in the vote for MVP.
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. That year, he set the major league record with 11 multi-homer games. Sammy Sosa tied Greenberg's mark in 1998. After having been 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. In 1938 he homered in four consecutive at-bats over two games. He matched what was then the single-season home run record by a right-handed batter, (Jimmie Foxx, 1932); the mark would stand for 66 years until it was broken by Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. Greenberg also had a 59th home run washed away in a rainout. It has been long speculated that Greenberg was intentionally walked late in the season to prevent him from breaking Ruth's record, but Greenberg dismissed this speculation, calling it "crazy stories." Nonetheless, Howard Megdal has calculated that in September 1938, Greenberg was walked in over 20% of his plate appearances, the highest percentage in his career by far. Megdal's article cited this walk percentage statistic as evidence of American League teams not wanting Greenberg to break Babe Ruth's record due to anti-Semitism. However, an examination of the box scores indicate this spike in walks was due to a few games against St. Louis Browns' pitchers with horrific control, not a general league tendency.
In 1938, Greenberg led the league in runs scored (144) and at-bats per home run (9.6), tied for the AL lead in walks (119), was second in RBIs (146), slugging percentage (.683), and total bases (380), and third in OBP (.438) and set a still-standing major league record of 39 homers in his home park, the newly reconfigured Briggs Stadium. He also set a major-league record with 11 multiple-home run games. However, he came in third in the vote for MVP.
In 1939 Greenberg was voted to the All-Star Team for the third year in a row. He was second in the American League in home runs (33) and strikeouts (95), third in doubles (42) and slugging percentage (.622), fourth in RBIs (112), sixth in walks (91), and ninth in on-base percentage (.420).
After the 1939 season ended, Greenberg was asked by general manager Jack Zeller to take a salary cut of $5,000 ($85,000 today) as a result of his off year in power and run production. To top it off, he was asked to move to the outfield to accommodate Rudy York, who was one of the best young hitters of his generation, but was tried at catcher, third base and the outfield and proved to be a defensive liability at each position. Greenberg in turn demanded a $10,000 dollar bonus if he mastered the outfield, stating he was the one taking the risk in learning a new position. Greenberg received his bonus at the end of spring training.
In 1940, Greenberg was voted to the All-Star team for the fourth year in a row. He led the league in home runs (for the third time in 6 years) with 41; in RBIs (150), doubles (50), total bases (384), extra base hits (99), at-bats per home run (14.0), 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), all while batting .340 (fifth best in the AL). He also led the Tigers to a pennant, and won his second American League MVP award, becoming the first player in major-league history to win an MVP award at two different positions.
World War II service
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 had received negative publicity for failure to serve in World War I, led Greenberg to request to be reexamined, and he was found fit to serve.
Drafted in 1940, the first American League player to be drafted, his salary was cut from $55,000 ($926,000 today) a year to $21 ($400 today) a month. Greenberg was not bitter, however, stating, "I made up my mind to go when I was called. My country comes first." After most of the 1941 season, however, he was honorably discharged when the United States 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, again the first major league player to do so. He graduated from Officer Candidate School and was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the USAAF. He eventually served overseas in the China-Burma-India Theater, scouting locations for B-29 bomber bases. Promoted to captain, Greenberg served 47 months, the longest of any major league player.
Return to baseball
Greenberg remained in uniform until the summer of 1945. In Greenberg's first game back after being discharged, on July 1, he homered. Without the benefit of spring training, he returned to the Tigers, 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 in the dark—no lights in Sportsman's Park in St. Louis—ninth inning of the final game of the season. It came after the umpire allegedly told Hank that he was ready to call the game due to darkness, because the ump—former Yankee pitching star of the 1920s Murderers Row team, George Pipgras, supposedly said "Sorry Hank, but I'm gonna have to call the game. I can't see the ball." Greenberg replied, "Don't worry, George, I can see it just fine," so the game continued. It ended with Greenberg's grand slam on the next pitch, clinching Hal Newhouser's 25th victory of the season. The slam allowed the Tigers to clinch the pennant and avoid a one-game playoff (that would have been necessary without the win) against the now-second-place Washington Senators. The Tigers went on to beat the Cubs in the World Series in seven games. Only three home runs were hit in that World Series. Phil Cavarretta hit one for the Cubs in Game One. Greenberg hit the only two homers by the Tigers—one in Game Two, where he batted in three runs in a 4–1 win; the other—a two-run job—tied the game in the eighth inning of Game Six, making the score 8–8, but the Cubs won that game with a run in the bottom of the 12th.
In 1946, he returned to peak form, leading the league in home runs (44) and RBIs (127), both for the fourth time. He was second 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 sold his contract to the Pittsburgh Pirates. To persuade him not to retire, Pittsburgh made Greenberg the first baseball player to earn over $80,000 ($845,000 today) in a season as 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 reduced the size of Forbes Field's cavernous left field, renaming the section "Greenberg Gardens" to accommodate Greenberg's pull-hitting style. Greenberg played first base for the Pirates in 1947 and was one of the few opposing players to publicly welcome Jackie Robinson to the majors.
That year he also had a chance to mentor a young future Hall-of-Famer, the 24-year-old Ralph Kiner. Said Greenberg, "Ralph had a natural home run swing. All he needed was somebody to teach him the value of hard work and self-discipline. Early in the morning on off-days, every chance we got, we worked on hitting." Kiner would go on to hit 51 home runs that year to lead the National League.
In his final season of 1947, Greenberg tied for the league lead in walks with 104, with a .408 on-base percentage and finished eighth in the league in home runs and tenth in slugging percentage. Greenberg became the first major league player to hit 25 or more home runs in a season in each league. Johnny Mize became the second in 1950. Nevertheless, Greenberg retired as a player to take a front-office post with the Cleveland Indians. No player had ever retired after a final season in which they hit so many home runs. Since then, only Ted Williams (1960, 29), Dave Kingman (1986; 35), Mark McGwire (2001; 29), and Barry Bonds (2007; 28) have hit as many or more homers in their final season.
Through 2010, he was first in career home runs and RBIs (ahead of Shawn Green) and batting average (ahead of Ryan Braun), and fourth in hits (behind Lou Boudreau), among all-time Jewish major league baseball players.
As a fielder, the 193-cm (6-foot-4-inch) Greenberg was awkward and unsure of himself early in his career, but mastered first-base through countless hours of practice. Over the course of his career he demonstrated 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 conquor that position as well, reducing his errors in the outfield from 15 in 1940 to 0 in 1945.
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.
Greenberg would likely have approached 500 home runs and 1,800 RBIs had he not served in the military. As it was, he compiled 331 home runs and 1,276 RBI in a 1,394-game career. Greenberg also hit for average, earning a lifetime batting average of .313. Starring as a first baseman and outfielder with the Tigers (1930, 1933–46) and doing duty only briefly with the Pirates (1947), Greenberg played only nine full seasons. He missed all but 19 games of the 1941 season, the three full seasons that followed, and most of 1945 to World War II military service and missed most of another season with a broken wrist.
Management and ownership
After the 1947 season, 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. During his tenure, he sponsored more African American players than any other major league executive. Greenberg's contributions to the Cleveland farm system led to the team's successes throughout the 1950s, although Bill James once wrote that the Indians' late 1950s collapse should also be attributed to him. In 1949, Larry Doby also recommended Greenberg scout three players Doby used to play with in the Negro leagues: Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, and Willie Mays. The next offseason Doby asked what Indians' scouts said about his recommendations. Said Greenberg, "Our guys checked 'em out and their reports were not good. They said that Aaron has a hitch in his swing and will never hit good pitching. Banks is too slow and didn't have enough range [at shortstop], and Mays can't hit a curveball." When Veeck sold his interest, Greenberg remained as general manager and part-owner until 1957. He was the mastermind behind a potential move of the club to Minneapolis that was vetoed by the rest of ownership at the last minute.
Greenberg was furious and sold his share soon afterwards. In 1959, Greenberg and Veeck teamed up for a second time when their syndicate purchased the Chicago White Sox; Veeck served as team president with Greenberg as vice president and general manager. During Veeck and Greenberg's first season, the White Sox won their first AL pennant since 1919. Veeck would sell his shares in the White Sox in 1961, and Greenberg stepped down as general manager on August 26 of that season.
After the 1960 season, the American League announced plans to put a team in Los Angeles. Greenberg immediately became the favorite to become the new team's first owner and persuaded Veeck to join him as his partner. However, when Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley got wind 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 competing against an expansion team owned by a master promoter such as Veeck, even if he was only a minority partner. Greenberg wouldn't budge and pulled out of the running for what became the Los Angeles Angels (now the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim). Greenberg later became a successful investment banker, briefly returning to baseball as a minority partner with Veeck when the latter repurchased the White Sox in 1975.
Greenberg married Caral Gimbel (of the New York department store family) on February 18, 1946, three days after signing a $60,000 ($726,000 today) contract with the Tigers. The couple had three children—sons Glenn and Stephen and a daughter, Alva—before divorcing in 1958. In 1966, Greenberg married Mary Jo Tarola, a minor actress who appeared on-screen as Linda Douglas, and remained with her until his death. They had no children. Hank and Caral's son, Stephen, played five years in the Washington Senators/Texas Rangers organization. In 1995, Stephen Greenberg co-founded Classic Sports Network with Brian Bedol, which was purchased by ESPN and became ESPN Classic. He also was the chairman of CSTV, the first cable network devoted exclusively to college sports. Hank's grandson Spencer Greenberg is a machine learning scientist and Wall Street entrepreneur.
|Hank Greenberg's number 5 was retired by the Detroit Tigers in 1983.|
- American League Most Valuable Player, 1935 and 1940.
- American League All-Star team, 1937–1940.
- First Jewish player elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, in 1956. He garnered 85% of the votes. Joe Cronin was also elected that year.
- In 1983, the Tigers celebrated "Greenberg-Gehringer Day" at Tiger Stadium, honoring Greenberg with the retirement of his uniform number 5 and former teammate Charlie Gehringer with the retirement of his number 2. Both players were on hand for the ceremony.
- In 1999, despite injuries and wartime service that essentially limited him to half a career, he ranked Number 37 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players and was nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.
- Member of the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame (1996).
- Member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame (1979).
- Member of the Jewish American Hall of Fame (1991).
Incidents of anti-Semitism Greenberg faced included having players stare at him and having coarse racial epithets thrown at him by spectators and sometimes opposing players. Examples of these imprecations were: "Hey Mo!" (referring to the Jewish prophet Moses) and "Throw a pork chop—he can't hit that!" referring to laws of Kashrut. Particularly abusive were the St. Louis Cardinals during the 1934 World Series. In the 1935 World Series umpire George Moriarty warned some Chicago Cubs players to stop yelling anti-Semitic slurs at Greenberg and eventually cleared the players from the Cubs bench. Moriarty was disciplined for this action by then-commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
Greenberg was traded to the National League in 1947, which was Jackie Robinson's rookie year. Greenberg befriended Robinson and encouraged him; they became good friends and Robinson credited Greenberg with being a good influence helping him through his rookie year.
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.
In 23 World Series games, he hit .318, with five homers and 22 RBI.
In an article in 1976 in Esquire magazine, sportswriter Harry Stein published an "All Time All-Star Argument Starter," consisting of five ethnic baseball teams. Greenberg was the first baseman on Stein's Jewish team.
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- List of Major League Baseball doubles records
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- List of top 300 Major League Baseball home run hitters
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- List of Major League Baseball players with 1000 RBIs
- List of Major League Baseball RBI champions
- List of Major League Baseball home run champions
- List of Major League Baseball runs scored champions
- List of Major League Baseball doubles champions
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- Major League Baseball titles leaders
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- "The Original Hammering Hank: The Greatest Slugger Time Has Forgotten," David Dalin, The Weekly Standard, Oct 23, 2010, written in honor of the 100th anniversary of Greenberg's birth.