The first "Hammerin' Hank"
Hank Greenberg's career statistics
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Greenberg was Tiger at the plate
By Nick Acocella
Special to ESPN.com
Sept. 30, 1945 - Hank Greenberg had been back with Detroit only three months after four years in the military. Going into today's final day of the season, the first-place Tigers were one game ahead of the Washington Senators, who had already finished their schedule. The Tigers had to win just one game of their doubleheader against the St. Louis Browns to clinch the pennant. A Browns sweep, and there would be a tie.
On a dark, rainy day in Sportsman's Park in St. Louis, the Browns took a 3-2 lead into the ninth inning of the opener. With Tigers on second and third and one out, St. Louis manager Luke Sewell decided to intentionally walk Doc Cramer, who was hitting .275, and face Greenberg with the bases loaded.
Greenberg, though, spoiled Sewell's strategy when he rocked a 1-0 pitch from Nels Potter into the leftfield seats for a grand slam -- and the American League pennant for the Tigers with their 6-3 victory.
Odds 'n' EndsGreenberg lacked coordination as a youngster and flat feet prevented him from running fast. But he worked diligently to overcome his inadequacies and he became a basketball standout in high school, helping James Monroe win the city championship.
Yankees scout Paul Krichell wooed Greenberg, took him to Yankee Stadium and, as the story goes, whispered to him that Lou Gehrig would be washed up in two years and that Hank would be the starting first baseman of the future. Greenberg took a look at Gehrig and concluded that Lou wasn't going anywhere.
John McGraw passed on signing Greenberg even though the Giants manager had long sought a Jewish player to attract New York's Jewish fans.
The anti-Semitism Greenberg faced ranged from players staring at him
because they had never before seen a Jew to coarse racial epithets hurled
at him. Particularly abusive were the St. Louis Cardinals during the 1934 World Series.
Greenberg sometimes retaliated against the racial attacks, once going into the Chicago White Sox clubhouse to challenge manager Jimmy Dykes and on another occasion calling out the entire Yankee team.
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.
Greenberg was never a particularly observant Jew and, to spare his children the pain he had suffered, raised them without the trappings of Judaism. In his late years he was disappointed by their criticism that he had not provided them with a religious education.
After playing one game with the Tigers in 1930, Greenberg spent the rest of the year playing for Hartford of the Eastern League (.214 in 17 games) and Raleigh of the Piedmont League (.314 with 19 homers). It was at Raleigh where he first felt the pangs of anti-Semitism.
In 1931 he played for Evansville of the Three-I League (.318, 15 homers, 85 RBIs) and in 1932 for Beaumont of the Texas League (.290, 39, 131).
Greenberg hit his first major league homer in the first game he started for Detroit, on May 6, 1933.
The Tigers quartet of Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, Billy Rogell and Marv Owen batted in 463 runs in 1934, the most ever by an infield.
On Sept. 19, 1937, he hit the first ever homer into the centerfield
bleachers at Yankee Stadium.
With 181 RBI going into the final weekend of the 1937 season, Greenberg lost a potential base-clearing double when his drive went foul by inches. He finished the season with 183, one behind Gehrig's AL record.
After being passed over for the All-Star team in 1935 and being left on the bench for the 1937 game, Greenberg refused to participate in the 1938 contest after being named to the AL team.
In 1938 he homered in four consecutive at-bats over two games.
That year, he set the major league record with 11 multi-homer games. Sammy Sosa tied Greenberg's mark in 1998.
During World War II, Greenberg spent three years in India and China. Serving at an air base in China, he rushed to the aid of a crew whose plane had turned over on takeoff. Back in the U.S. in late 1944, he did recruitment work for the military.
In Greenberg's first game back after being discharged, he homered on July 1, 1945.
In 1946, his last year with the Tigers, fans booed him when he got off to a poor start. Even after the boos faded when he got hot late and finished as the AL leader in homers and RBI, the experience left him with a bitter taste.
Greenberg's $100,000 deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1947: a $40,000 salary and the right to buy $74,000 worth of stock in the club with the stipulation that owner John Galbreath would buy back the stock at the end of one year for $134,000 for a $60,000 profit to Greenberg. That adds up to a total of $100,000.
Another concession Galbreath made to sign Greenberg was shortening the Forbes Field leftfield fence from 365 to 335 feet, creating a bullpen beyond the fence that became known as Greenberg Gardens.
Greenberg's last major league season was Jackie Robinson's first. He encouraged the Brooklyn Dodgers rookie, telling him not to "pay attention to these Southern jockeys."
Robinson later said of Greenberg, "Class tells. It sticks out all over Mr. Greenberg."
Greenberg finished his career with 1,276 RBI in 1,394 games.
In 23 World Series games, he hit .318 with five homers and 22 RBI.
In 1953, Greenberg participated in the creation of the first player's
As Cleveland general manager, Greenberg refused Boston's $1 million offer for lefthander Herb Score, believed to be the most money offered for a player up to that time.
Greenberg was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1956.
His son Steve played Triple-A ball and later became a lawyer and agent.
Greenberg was one of the few baseball people to testify on behalf of Curt Flood in 1970 when the outfielder challenged the reserve clause.
Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories