Hank Greenberg

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Hank Greenberg : biography

January 1, 1911 – September 4, 1986

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 $5,000 ($ 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-leaguehistory to win an MVP award at two different positions.

Early life

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, Hank, with Ira Berkow. The Story of My Life, Ivan R. Dee, Chicago, 1989. pp. 4–5 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.Rosengren, p. 16. 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 $9,000 ($ today).

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 $55,000 ($ today) a year to $21 ($ 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 45 months, the longest of any major league player.