Hank Greenberg

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Hank Greenberg : biography

January 1, 1911 – September 4, 1986

Honors

  • 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).

Fielding

As a fielder, the 193-cm (6-foot-4-inch) 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 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 master that position as well and reduced his errors in the outfield from 15 in 1940 to 0 in 1945.

Abbreviated career

Greenberg would likely have exceeded 500 home runs and 2,000 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.

Minor League career

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 Illinois-Indiana-Iowa 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.

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.