Greenberg in 1937
|Born: January 1, 1911|
New York City, New York
|Died: September 4, 1986 (aged 75)|
Beverly Hills, California
|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|
|Member of the National|
|Baseball Hall of Fame|
|Vote||85% (eighth ballot)|
Henry Benjamin Greenberg (born Hyman Greenberg; January 1, 1911 - September 4, 1986), nicknamed "Hammerin' Hank", "Hankus Pankus", or "The Hebrew Hammer", was an American professional baseball player and team executive. He played in Major League Baseball (MLB), primarily for the Detroit Tigers as a first baseman in the 1930s and 1940s. A member of the Baseball Hall of Fame and a two-time Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award winner, he was one of the premier power hitters of his generation and is widely considered as one of the greatest sluggers in baseball history. He had 47 months of military service including service in World War II, all of which took place during his major league career.
Greenberg played the first twelve of his thirteen major league seasons for Detroit. He was an American League (AL) All-Star for four seasons[a] and an AL MVP in 1935 (first baseman) and 1940 (left fielder). He had a batting average over .300 in eight seasons, and won two World Series championships with the Tigers (1935 and 1945). He was the AL home run leader four times and his 58 home runs for the Tigers in 1938 equaled Jimmie Foxx's 1932 mark for the most in one season by anyone but Babe Ruth, and tied Foxx for the most home runs between Ruth's record 60 in 1927 and Roger Maris' record 61 in 1961. Greenberg was the first major league player to hit 25 or more home runs in a season in each league, and remains the AL record-holder for most runs batted in in a single season by a right-handed batter (183 in 1937, a 154-game schedule). In 1947, Greenberg signed a contract for a record $85,000 salary before being sold to the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he played his final MLB season that year. After retiring from playing, Greenberg continued to work in baseball as a team executive for the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox.
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 holiday in Judaism, even though he was not particularly observant religiously and the Tigers were in the middle of a pennant race. He was one of the few opposing players to publicly welcome African-American player Jackie Robinson to the major leagues in 1947.
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.
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. In high school basketball, he was on the Monroe team that won the city championship.
In 1929, the 18-year-old 6-foot-4-inch Greenberg was recruited by the New York Yankees, who already had Lou Gehrig at first base. 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 ($135,000 today).
Greenberg played minor league baseball for three years. Greenberg played 17 games in 1930 for the Hartford Senators, then played at Raleigh, North Carolina, for the Raleigh Capitals, where he hit .314 with 19 home runs. In 1931, he played at Evansville for the Evansville Hubs in the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League (.318, 15 homers, 85 RBIs). In 1932, at Beaumont for the Beaumont Exporters in the Texas League, he hit 39 homers with 131 RBIs, won the MVP award, and led Beaumont to the Texas League title.
When he broke into the major leagues in 1930, Greenberg was the youngest MLB player (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 fourth-highest all-time in a single season), and extra base hits (96). He was third in the AL in slugging percentage (.600) - behind Jimmie Foxx and Lou Gehrig, but ahead of Babe Ruth, and in RBIs (139), sixth in batting average (.339), seventh in home runs (26), and ninth 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 was unanimously voted the American League's Most Valuable Player. At the All-Star break that season, Greenberg hit 25 home runs and set an MLB record (still standing) of 103 RBIs - but was not selected to the AL All-Star roster (both managers put themselves on the rosters but did not play). He helped lead the Tigers to their first World Series title, but sprained his wrist in the second game and did not play in the other 4 games.
In 1936, Greenberg reinjured his wrist in a collision with Jake Powell of the Washington Senators in April and did not play the remainder of the season. He finished the season with 16 hits, 1 home run, and 15 RBIs in 12 games.
In 1937, Greenberg recovered from his injury and was voted to the AL All-Star roster, but did not play. On September 19, 1937, he hit the first home run into the center field bleachers at Yankee Stadium. He led the AL by driving in 183 runs (third 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 second in the league in home runs (40), doubles (49), total bases (397), slugging percentage (.668), and walks (102), third in on-base percentage (.436), and seventh in batting average (.337). Greenberg came in third 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 hit 58 home runs, leading the league for the second time. That year, he had 11 games with multiple home runs, a new major league record. Sammy Sosa tied the record in 1998. Greenberg matched what was then the single-season home run record by a right-handed batter, (Jimmie Foxx, 1932); the mark stood 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 AL teams not wanting Greenberg to break 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.
Greenberg was again voted to the AL All-Star roster in 1938, but because he was not named to the 1935 AL All-Star roster and was benched in the 1937 game, he declined to accept a starting position on the 1938 AL team and did not play (the NL won 4-1). He 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. He came in third in the vote for MVP.
In 1939 Greenberg was voted to the AL All-Star roster for the third year in a row and was a starter at first base, and singled and walked in 4 at-bats (AL won 3-1). He finished second in the AL 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 ($90,000 today) as a result of his off year in power and run production. He was asked to move from first base to the outfield to accommodate Rudy York, who was one of the best young hitters of his generation; York was tried at catcher, third baseman, and outfielder and proved to be a defensive liability at each position. Greenberg in turn, demanded a $10,000 bonus if he mastered the outfield, insisting 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 switched from playing the first base position to the left field position. For the 4th consecutive time, he was voted by the season's AL All-Star team manager to the AL All-Star team. In the bottom of the 6th inning, Greenberg and Lou Finney were sent into the game to replace right fielder Charlie Keller and left fielder Ted Williams with Greenberg playing in left field and Finney in right field. Greenberg batted twice in the game and fouled out to the catcher two-times. The NL won the game 4-0. That season, he led the AL 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 Williams in runs scored (129) and OBP (.433), all while batting .340 (fifth best in the AL). He also led the Tigers to the AL 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 playing positions.
On October 16, 1940, Greenberg became the first American League player to register for the nation's first peacetime draft. In the spring of 1941, the Detroit draft board initially classified Greenberg as 4F for "flat feet" after his first physical for military service and was recommended for light duty. The 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. On April 18, he was found fit for regular military service and was reclassified.
On May 7, 1941, he was inducted into the U.S. Army after playing left field in 19 games and reported to Fort Custer at Battle Creek, Michigan. His salary was cut from $55,000 ($984,000 today) a year to $21 ($400 today) a month. He was not bitter, and stated, "I made up my mind to go when I was called. My country comes first." In November, while serving as an anti-tank gunner, he was promoted to sergeant, but was honorably discharged on December 5 (the United States Congress released men aged 28 years and older from service), two days before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.
Greenberg re-enlisted as a sergeant on February 1, 1942, and volunteered for service in the Army Air Forces, becoming the first major league player to do so. He graduated from Officer Candidate School and was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the Air Corps (the new "Air Forces" service retaining the old name for its own logistics and training elements) and was assigned to the Physical Education Program. In February 1944, he was sent to the U.S. Army Special Services school. Promoted to captain, he requested overseas duty later that year and served in the China-Burma-India Theater for over six months, scouting locations for B-29 bomber bases and was a physical training officer with the 58th Bomber Wing. He was a Special Services officer of the 20th Bomber Command, 20th Air Force in China when it began bombing Japan on June 15. He was ordered to New York, and in late 1944, to Richmond, Virginia. Greenberg served 47 months, the longest of any major league player.
Greenberg remained in military uniform until he was placed on the military inactive list and discharged from the U.S. Army on June 14, 1945. He was the first major league player to return to MLB after the war. He returned to the Tigers team, and in his first game back on July 1, he homered. The All-Star Game scheduled for July 10 had been officially cancelled on April 24 and MLB did not name All-Stars that season due to strict travel restrictions during the last days of the war with Germany and Japan and the ending of World War II. In place of the All-Star Game, seven interleague games were played (eight had been scheduled) on July 9 and 10 to benefit the American Red Cross and the War Relief fund. An Associated Press All-Star roster was named (no game was played) for the AL and NL by a group of their sportswriters that included Greenberg as one of the All-Stars.
Greenberg, who played left field in 72 games and batted .311 in 1945, helped lead the Tigers to a come-from-behind American League pennant, clinching it with a grand slam home run in the dark--there were no lights in Sportsman's Park in St. Louis--ninth inning of the final game of the season. 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. His home run 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 a home run for the Cubs in Game One, Greenberg hit a homer in Game Two, where he batted in three runs in a 4-1 Tigers win, and he hit a two-run homer in Game Six in the eighth inning that tied the score 8-8; the Cubs went on to win that game with a run in the bottom of the 12th.
In 1946, he returned to peak form and playing at first base. He led the AL 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 ($898,000 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), Barry Bonds (2007; 28) and David Ortiz (2016; 38) 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 conquer 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, 1,051 runs (b) and 1,276 RBI (c) in a 1,394-game career. (b and c, see in Footnotes section below). 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.
There are several discrepancies in Greenberg's career statistics among the major baseball websites:
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 (daughter of Bernard Gimbel of the Gimbel's New York department store family) on February 18, 1946, three days after signing a $60,000 ($771,000 today) contract with the Tigers. The couple had three children--sons Glenn H. Greenberg and Stephen and a daughter, Alva--before divorcing in 1958. Their 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. 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.
Incidents of anti-Semitism Greenberg faced included having players stare at him and having racial slurs 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!" (a reference to Judaic kosher laws). 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.
--Hank Greenberg, after his career
Greenberg befriended Jackie Robinson after he signed with the Dodgers in 1947, and encouraged him; Robinson credited Greenberg with helping him through the difficulties of his rookie year.
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.