Hank Greenberg

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Hank Greenberg : biography

January 1, 1911 – September 4, 1986

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 $80,000 ($ 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."Lawrence Ritter,The Glory of Their Times, p. 327 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.

Personal life

He married Caral Gimbel (of the New York department store family) on February 18, 1946, three days after signing a $60,000 ($ 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.

Miscellaneous

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!"http://www.sportspublishingllc.com/tigersexcerpt.cfm 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 sometimes retaliated against the ethnic attacks, once going into the Chicago White Sox clubhouse to challenge manager Jimmy Dykes and at another time calling out the entire Yankee team.

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.

Greenberg was one of the few baseball people to testify on behalf of Curt Flood in 1970 when the outfielder challenged the reserve clause.

Greenberg died of metastatic kidney cancer in Beverly Hills, California, in 1986, and his remains were entombed at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery, in Culver City, California.

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.

In 2006, Greenberg was featured on a United States postage stamp. The stamp is one of a block of four honoring "baseball sluggers", the others being Mickey Mantle, Mel Ott, and Roy Campanella.