September 18, 2021

Hank Did All Right

April 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

“Yes!” “No!” “Yes!” “No!” “Play!” “Don’t play!” It was enough to make Hank Greenberg’s head spin. You would think Greenberg’s Tigers were on some sort of barnstorming tour or beginning their exhibition slate. You would be wrong. This cloud of conflict swirled around the Tigers first baseman as Detroit and New York found themselves in the thick of an American League pennant clash.

Yom Kippur was the last thing Greenberg wanted to think about. He seldom reflected on it. Why now? Because this was 1934, that’s why. The public needed to know what Greenberg would do. Then 23, Greenberg felt uncomfortable when the public hanged on his every move, but as “the next Babe Ruth,” Greenberg did not have a choice.

Read Mark Kurlansky’s “Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn’t Want to be One“ because:

1. Kurlansky clears up the myth that surrounded the Tigers Hall of Famer throughout his career.

Leading up to the Sept. 10 Jewish holy day in 1934, Greenberg did not say what he planned to do. Plenty of people made up for his silence. One rabbi said that Greenberg’s play would be a good way for his people to celebrate on their day off from work. Another said the decision was his and his alone. Still more declared he should not play. Nevermind that many Jews already made the weekly compromise of observing baseball on the Sabbath, sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Greenberg’s bat was silent. The man who never fasted or prayed on Yom Kippur was at the synagogue. For Greenberg the fact that “he never played on holidays” was an inside joke. He had one chance in his whole career to observe the holiday, and it just so happened that he did. His Jewish fan base held this up as an ideal. “I ate out a lot on that one,” Greenberg said. (12, Hank) That he was the closest thing to Ruth until Roger Maris couldn’t have hurt, either. Greenberg hit 58 home runs in 1938, and only a poor final weekend cost him Ruth’s record 60.

2. Greenberg tried to get away, but he kept coming back.

Greenberg defied the anti-Semitic stereotype that depicted him as a physically weak coward, or “jojne.” He couldn’t wait to free himself from the shtetl of Jewish immigrants in South Bronx, Ny. The bright lights of Manhattan beckoned. Greenberg said late in his life that learning Hebrew meant “nothing to me.” (34) And yet, there he was, signing in 1929 with the Detroit Tigers, residents of one of the most anti-Semitic places in the nation, according to Associate Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. Even if his Jewish heritage meant little to him, it was unavoidable in the Motor City.

Greenberg retained the positive Jewish ideals and tossed what he did not agree with. He never stopped applying himself to his craft; unlike other stars, he was not a carouser. Ultimately though, his identity came from baseball, America’s pastime. “He wanted to be as American as possible, which led to baseball,” his son, Steve, said. (42)

3. Greenberg hinted at things to come for Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby.

Before Robinson endured the unthinkable, Greenberg faced taunts of Christ killer, pants presser, Moses, pork eater and other unmentionables. Greenberg’s final season was Robinson’s first. The two met one another at first base in 1947. Greenberg had this to say to the rookie. “Stick in there. You’re doing fine. Keep your chin up.” Robinson’s response: Class tells. It sticks out all over Mr. Greenberg. (121) Together Bill Veeck and Greenberg helped Larry Doby integrate with the Cleveland Indians.

In hindsight, Greenberg characterized himself as always trying to overachieve. By pushing his boundaries, Greenberg was ultimately able to help Robinson, Doby and others push theirs.

Sam Miller is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he worked with various teams in sports information and received the Freedom Forum – NCAA Sports Journalism Scholarship for his achievements. During the 2009 season, Miller served as communications intern for the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate. Prior to that, he worked as a communications intern for USA Basketball and as an associate reporter for MLB.com.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!