Tall, awkward, and lumbering--that's how many baseball scouts saw Hank Greenberg. What they didn't see was a man determined to become the best person he could. Through hard work and faith in himself, Greenberg became a star baseball player and a success in all other aspects of his life.
Henry Benjamin Greenberg was born to Rumanian Jewish immigrants on New Year's Day, 1911, in Greenwich Village, New York. His father and mother met in America and were married in New York. Initially, the family lived in tenements on Barrow Street and then Perry Street. Hank had two brothers, Benjamin, four years older, and Joseph, five years younger, and a sister, Lillian, two years older. By the time Hank was six, his father's business had grown enough to enable them to move to the Crotona Park section of the Bronx. His father, David, owned a small textile mill where material was shrunk in order to make suits, and his mother, Sarah (nee Schwartz), was a housewife. The family's life in Crotona Park was peaceful and uneventful. Since it was a predominantly Jewish section, Greenberg knew practically nothing of anti-Semitism. Hank attended P.S. 44 public school. His parents wanted him to be a professional man, a doctor or lawyer, but he loved baseball and became a professional baseball player. All of his siblings graduated from college and became professional people. The neighbors called him a bum because of his baseball playing and clucked their tongues when they spoke of Mrs. Greenberg and her son Henry. Hank was 6' 3" by the time he was a teenager, but he was skinny and awkward.
He took to sports with a vengeance. Nicknamed "Big Bruggy" while a student at James Monroe High School, Greenberg became an outstanding athlete in baseball, basketball (he led his basketball team to a New York City title in 1929) and soccer.
Baseball was his passion, though. To find Hank, all one had to do was to go to the Crotona Park recreation field to watch him swing at pitch after pitch until his hands blistered.
After graduation from high school in 1929, Hank played semi-pro baseball for the Red Bank (New Jersey) Towners and later with Brooklyn's Bay Parkways. The scouts were after Greenberg. The Giants gave him a tryout, but John McGraw thought he was too awkward. Paul Krichell, of the Yankees, took Hank to a Yankee game. As they watched batting practice, Krichell, turned to Greenberg and said, pointing to Lou Gehrig, "He's all washed up." Greenberg knew better and decided not to go with the Yankees. Instead, he signed with Detroit in September of 1929 for $9,000, feeling he would have a better chance of becoming their first baseman. Part of the deal was that he would attend New York University. After only one semester, he dropped out to concentrate fully on baseball.
Hank played in 1930 for Hartford, then at Raleigh, North Carolina; he even got into one game for Detroit, pinch-hitting on September 14. In 1931, he was at Evansville in the Three I League. While at Raleigh one of his teammates walked slowly around Hank staring at him. Greenberg asked him what he was looking at. The fellow said he was just looking as he'd never seen a Jew before. "The way he said it," noted Greenberg, "he might as well have said, 'I've never seen a giraffe before.'" I let him keep looking for a while, and then I said, 'See anything interesting?'" Hank let him look a bit and asked if he'd seen anything interesting. The befuddled teammate admitted that he'd seen nothing, that Greenberg looked like anyone else.
In 1932, at Beaumont in the highly regarded Texas League he became a feared slugger, hitting 39 homers and leading Beaumont to the Texas League title. On his way to Detroit while playing in the minors Hank stuck to his work ethic and steadily improved his batting and fielding. As he saw it, with so little to do in small towns, he passed the time working on his skills. In Beaumont Greenberg was not an oddity as he was in other southern towns. Beaumont had a strong Jewish presence and one congregant of the local Synagogue remembers Greenberg attending services there. Nonetheless, Jo Jo White, his teammate at Beaumont in 1932, stared at him. Looking for horns and finding none, White said, "You're just like everyone else."
In an interview with Mike Ross of the Society for American Baseball Research, Greenberg recounted the life of a rookie: "No one would talk to me. Waite Hoyt's locker was next to mine and he never even said hello to me. Of course the veteran players always looked upon rookies as someone who could take your job away. But I tried to be kind to rookies and would at times take them out to dinner. I guess it kind of made me feel like a big shot. Heck, I could afford it."
When Greenberg joined the Tigers in 1933, he immediately ran into tough times. Bucky Harris, the manager, refused to play Greenberg because he favored Harry Davis, a slick fielding but light hitting first baseman. The Tigers had paid $75,000 for Davis. Harris was determined that Davis was going to be the first baseman. Harris placed Greenberg at third base with disastrous results. Greenberg, unhappy with the situation, went to Frank Navin, the fair and popular owner of the Tigers. Listening quietly, Navin told Hank that he would bat against left-handed pitching and Davis would bat against right-handed pitching. When Harris refused to do this, Navin phoned down to Harris and told him in no uncertain terms that Greenberg was to bat against left-handed pitching. Harris complied. Hank, playing in 117 games, batted .301, hit 12 homers and drove in 87 runs.
The next season, 1934, Harris was gone and Mickey Cochrane took over as manager. Greenberg and Cochrane hit it off immediately, and Hank began to blossom as a hitter and better fielding first baseman. Greenberg showed that he had a great ability to learn and applied himself assiduously to the tasks of batting and fielding. Cochrane showed his confidence in Greenberg by selling Harry Davis. Hank now had first base all to himself.
At the age of 23 Greenberg was adept at negotiating when contract season came around, Greenberg wanted a raise from $3,300 to $5,500. Owner Frank Navin refused, adding, "Young man, if you don't want to play for us you can just stay home." Greenberg did not blink. Finally, in February, Navin called Greenberg, read him the riot act but at the end, gave Hank $5,000 and added a five-hundred-dollar bonus if the Tigers finished third or higher in the standings. Detroit, with Mickey Cochrane, as manager of the Tigers, won their first pennant since 1909. Greenberg took home his bonus of $500.
During the 1934 season Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, took place in September when the Tigers were chasing the pennant. Greenberg was in a quandary whether or not to play on that religious day. He consulted a rabbi, who told him it was permissible to play. He pounded out two homers that day to win the game 2-1. However, when Yom Kippur arrived, Hank did not play, inspiring Edgar Guest:
"The Irish didn't like it when they heard of Greenberg's fame.
For they thought a good first baseman should possess an Irish name;
And the Murphy's and Mulrooney's said they'd never dream they'd see
A Jewish boy from Bronxville out where Casey used to be.
Come Yom Kippur-holy fast day worldwide over to the Jews
And Hank Greenberg to his teaching and the old tradition true
Spent the day among his people and he didn't come to play
Said Murphy to Mulrooney "We shall lose the game today!
We shall miss him in the infield and shall miss him at the bat,
But he's true to his religion-and I honor him for that."
Not everyone felt that Guest's poem was in praise of Greenberg. Peter and Joachim Horvitz, in The Big Book of Jewish Baseball, observe that the poem was not in good taste, that it was patronizing and left a gritty taste in their mouths. Racism, or ethnic debasement, comes in many forms, some overt and some in false flattery. Baseball scribes would call Greenberg the pants presser's son, ridiculing his ancestry. His father was actually a successful textile mill owner. Nonetheless, when the Magnes Museum's Jewish American Hall of Fame struck a medal in 1991 honoring Greenberg, they used Guest's poem as an inscription.
Greenberg was asked if the anti-Semitic remarks bothered him. He replied, "How the hell could you get up to home plate every day and have some son-of-a-bitch call you a Jew bastard and a kike and a sheenie and get on your ass without feeling the pressure? If the ballplayers weren't doing it, the fans were. I used to get frustrated as hell. Sometimes I wanted to go into the stands and beat the shit out of them."
The 1934 Tiger team would send four players to the Hall of Fame: Goose Goslin, Mickey Cochrane, Charley Gehringer and Hank Greenberg. The Tigers' infield, known as the Battalion of Death, drove in an amazing 462 runs in 1934, and the Tigers as a team scored 958 runs with only one team coming within 150 runs of that total. Greenberg batted .339, drove in 139 runs, with 63 doubles and 26 homers. The Battalion of Death infield of the Tigers was awesome in its hitting. Collectively Greenberg, second baseman Charley Gehringer, shortstop Billy Rogell, and third baseman Marv Owen combined to bat .327 with 48 homers and 462 RBI. Everyone in the infield drove in 100 runs or more except Owen, who batted in 96. Charley Gehringer said that with men on base Greenberg was a tough man to get out.
They played the St. Louis Gas House Gang in the 1934 World Series and lost to them in a wild seven-game series. Greenberg batted .321 in the series but struck out nine times, seven coming with men on base.
Greenberg, in 1935, slugged 36 homers, drove in 170 runs and helped the Tigers to return to the Fall Classic against the Chicago Cubs. He was named the Most Valuable Player in the American League that season.
In the second game of the series, Fabian Kowalik broke Greenberg's wrist with a pitch. Greenberg stayed in the game and even tried to score from first on a two-out single the same inning. But he could not continue to play in the series because his wrist swelled up. Without Greenberg in the lineup, the Tigers still managed to win the Series from the Cubs when Goose Goslin singled in Mickey Cochrane in the bottom of the ninth of Game Six with the winning run.
Twelve games into the 1936 season, Greenberg was off to a sizzling start. He had 16 runs batted in the first 12 games. But the furies struck again. He broke the same wrist when he had a collision with Washington outfielder Jake Powell. Many felt that Hank's baseball career was over. Others felt Powell had intentionally tried to injure Greenberg. Stoically, Greenberg kept his feelings to himself. The Tigers would not repeat as winners that year. Greenberg's injury, compounded with manager Mickey Cochrane's nervous breakdown, took the heart out of the team.
In 1937, Greenberg stroked 49 doubles, 40 homers and batted in 183 runs, one shy of the American League record held by Lou Gehrig. Hank regretted not breaking Gehrig's RBI record more than his failure in chasing Ruth's home run record. To Greenberg, driving in runs was the greater accomplishment. There was no more talk of his career ending.
During the 1938 season Greenberg was in pursuit of Babe Ruth's home run record of 60. During his chase, he had multiple homers in one game 11 times, a record. With five games left in the season Greenberg had 58 homers, but he failed to hit another one. On the last day of the season, the Tigers played a doubleheader in Cleveland. The Indians moved those games to the more spacious Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Bob Feller pitched the first game and struck-out a record 18 batters, fanning Greenberg twice. Even with his many strikeouts, Feller lost the game. In the second game, Greenberg managed a double that clattered off the distant fence in left centerfield but no homers. With twilight settling over the field, umpire George Moriarty reluctantly called the game because of darkness. Turning to Hank, he said, "I'm sorry, Hank, this is as far as I can go." Greenberg, downcast and tired, replied, "That's all right, George, this is as far as I can go too." Hank said he didn't feel tired or tense the last week but admitted, when it was all over, he felt a bit depressed and very fatigued. In 1961, when Roger Maris was chasing the homer record, Greenberg understood the terrible pressure Maris was under. "You feel time is running out. You get impatient and swing at bad pitches and sometimes you get paralyzed and let good pitches to hit go by. Chasing records is hard on the nerves." When Hank failed to break Ruth's record one consoling sportswriter said, "Hank, an awful lot of fly balls you hit just missed going over the fence." Greenberg replied, "And a lot just barely got over. It all evens out."
Greenberg felt the pressure while chasing Ruth's home run record and became increasingly aware that he was a hero to the Jewish population who identified with him and saw themselves as not helpless. He was a Jew, tall, strong, with his head held high, proving to be one of the best ballplayers and refuting the idea that Jews were weak. Moreover, Greenberg was now closely reading the accounts of the crisis in Europe and becoming more cognizant of his role as a Jewish hero.
Greenberg never used his being Jewish as an excuse for moments when the going was rough. When Harry Eisenstat, a young Jewish pitcher came to the Tigers, Greenberg warned him to never use the alibi of being Jewish. He simply told Eisenstat to behave himself and work and play hard.
In 1939, the Tigers slipped to fifth place despite 33 homers by Greenberg. The same year, questions about Greenberg's first baseman's glove came up. Some said it was too big and had too many laces in which to snare the ball. To a lot of people, it was akin to a catcher's glove. This prompted one scribe to write, "The glove has 3 lengths of barbed wire, 4 corners, 2 side pockets, a fish net, rod and trowel, a small sled, a library of classics, a compact anti-aircraft gun, a change of clothes and a pocket comb." After due consideration the Commissioner's Office declared Hank's glove illegal. The prescribed measurements were officially declared to be eight inches wide at the palm and twelve inches high. Hank's glove exceeded those measurements.
But more important was the geopolitical climate of the world. Hitler was on the march, Mussolini conquered Ethiopia, and the Japanese were ravaging China. On September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland and World War II was on. The lights went out all over Europe and cast a pall over America.
At the end of the 1939 season, the Tigers asked Greenberg to take his big bat to left field and take a $5,000 cut from his $40,000 salary. The idea was to get Rudy York's bat into the lineup on a regular basis by putting him at first base, where they felt his fielding woes would cause the least damage. Greenberg had worked hard to become a more than adequate first baseman. Now, after all that work, he was asked to play a totally unfamiliar position as well as to take a salary cut. Hank thought it over carefully and came up with a counter proposal: "I want the same salary as last year. I will buy myself an outfielder's glove and I will go to spring training and work my tail off to become a good left fielder. You can decide after spring training is over, whether you want me to play the outfield. If you want me to stay in the outfield, you will have to give me a $10,000 bonus." Greenberg felt he was taking all the risks in this experiment and had the most to lose. Greenberg's work ethic kicked into high gear. In fact, he went to many spring training camps, at his own expense, to question the best left fielders of that time on how to play the position.
The experiment of 1940 paid off. The Tigers took the American League pennant, and Greenberg got his $10,000 bonus. He also slugged 41 homers and drove in 150 runs. During September, he carried the team on his back by blasting out 15 homers that enabled the Tigers to make up a four-game deficit on their way to the pennant. He also fielded his position more than adequately, making several sensational catches to save runs. Fred Haney, manager of the St.Louis Browns, said, "Greenberg puts more thought, effort and conscientiousness into his work than any other player in the league and to my mind he's the greatest competitor in the league." Hank won the September Player of the Month award. The Tigers lost the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. The series went the full seven games. But the Reds prevailed by overcoming a 3-2 lead in games with superb pitching by Bucky Walters, who shut out the Tigers in Game Six, and another gem, by Paul Derringer, who outpitched Bobo Newsom in a 2-1 win. Greenberg batted .357 in the series, driving in six runs. Greenberg, again, won the Most Valuable Player Award in the American League and is one of only three players to win MVP's at two different positions.
Meanwhile, the war in Europe took a nasty turn for the British and French. The Nazi blitzkrieg, faced with the French Maginot Line, took an end run around it and overran the Lowlands, smashing into northeastern France. The French capitulated in June 1940. The British Army was trapped against the English Channel at Dunkerque; only a daring and valiant effort by the British navy and civilians saved most of the men trapped. Britain was now left alone to face the might of the German military. Greenberg was well aware of these events, following news reports closely.
Nineteen forty-one was a chaotic year for Greenberg. The United States instituted a draft to strengthen its military, and Greenberg's number 321 was low, meaning he would probably be called for duty sometime early in 1941. The press, eager to get his opinion on his potential call up, pursued Greenberg relentlessly. His first statement was one he would repeat over and over again. He would not seek deferment on any grounds and when his time came he would willingly go. But the rumors surrounding his status would not go away. Some speculated he would seek deferment based on his position as a "necessary employee." Again, he said he would not. Some said he would be rejected because of flat feet. To escape all this, he took a trip to Hawaii. On his return to the mainland on a bitterly cold February night, reporters besieged him at La Guardia Airport. They asked the same questions about his draft status. Greenberg wondered what the fuss was all about, noting that he wasn't the only person who might be going into the Army. The press persisted. Finally, Hank, who was usually a genial fellow in answering questions, became agitated. He refused to answer any more questions and got into a car with his father and brother Joe, and headed home.
At spring training, Greenberg underwent his army physical and was pronounced unfit for military duty because of flat feet. The press jumped all over this, and one wag said, "What is he going to do, fire a gun with his feet?" Others said he had bribed someone in the Army or the Selective Service System. Stung by all this, Greenberg asked for another physical, and this time he passed and was classified I-A.
He was told that he would be inducted on May 7. The turmoil surrounding his status had not sat well with Greenberg, and he started off the season poorly. On his last day, he did belt two homers. Glad that it was all over, Greenberg went into the Army, away from the press and their tiresome questions. When asked about the press, he said, "They try to make me out as a nice guy but I am not. They [the press] are horseshit." Hank took his basic training at Fort Custer, Michigan. Greenberg served several months, before being released in early December 1941 because he was over the age of 28. He had risen to the rank of sergeant in the tank corps.
A few days later, the Japanese bombed the US navy base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Shortly thereafter, Greenberg enlisted in the Air Force and was sent to Officers Training School. Upon graduation, he was commissioned a First Lieutenant. At first, he did inspection work at air bases and then requested a transfer to a war zone. He was sent to the China-Burma-India Theater and was part of the first B-29 unit to go overseas and flew on missions over the Himalayas, affectionately known as the "Hump." Greenberg was recalled from China in the middle of 1944. Sicily had been liberated and the Italians had surrendered. The Nazis were being driven back on all fronts, and the Japanese were giving up, island after island. Greenberg was reassigned to an outfit in New York at 44 Broad Street. The war was coming to an end in Europe, and the Nazis surrendered on May 7, 1945. Halfway through the 1945 season, Greenberg was released from the Air Force with the rank of Captain, four battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation. Hank had hardly swung a bat for four and one-half years.
Everybody welcomed Greenberg's return to baseball. Hank was now more than a great ballplayer returning to play; he was also a hero, having served his country for four and one-half years. The ethnic tag of Jewish ballplayer also disappeared. It appeared he had been fully assimilated.
He worked out tirelessly and returned to the Tiger lineup in July. He felt pretty good but thought that his legs were not what they used to be. He homered in his first game. The Tigers were in a tight pennant race with the Washington Senators in 1945, one that came down to the end of the season. It was personal to Greenberg, who had some bad memories about the Senators. He recalled the time Jake Powell ran into him for no reason, breaking his wrist, and the Senators catcher who gave Jimmie Foxx the signs so he could tie him for the homer title in 1935. He remembered the fight with Joe Kuhel, a White Sox player, who slid into him, ripped off his shoes while trying to spike him. Kuhel was now the Senators' first baseman.
On the last day of the season the Tigers played the St. Louis Browns in a doubleheader. In the first game, Greenberg nearly cost the Tigers the game when he was caught off third base. But redemption came in the top of the ninth with the Browns leading the Tigers, 4-3. Hub Walker led off with a single. Skeeter Webb bunted him over. The throw to second base hit Walker, Webb was safe at first. Now there were men on first and third. Eddie Mayo laid down a bunt, sacrificing Webb to second. With men on second and third, the Browns decided to walk Doc Cramer, a left-handed hitter. Because Nellie Potter was a right-hander, they decided they had a better chance with Hank as a right-handed batter, and were hoping he would hit a grounder for a double play that would win the game for the Browns. The first pitch from Potter was a ball. Hank watched Potter's grip on the ball carefully and saw that on the next pitch Potter was going to throw a screwball. Greenberg connected and sent a long, low, line drive down the left field foul line. "Standing at the plate, my fear was that it would go foul but it did not and we won the game when we set down the Browns in the bottom of the ninth. There were hardly any people in the stands when I hit the homer and not many newspapermen either. But it was no big deal; my teammates gave me a big welcome. The best part of that homer was hearing how the Washington Senators players responded: 'Goddam that dirty Jew bastard, he beat us again.'"
In the 1945 World Series, the Tigers defeated the Chicago Cubs in seven games. Greenberg hit .304, drove in seven runs and homered twice.
On February 19, 1946, Hank Greenberg married Caral Lasker Gimbel, heiress to department store millions, in the living room of County Ordinary Edwin W. Dart in Brunswick, Georgia. They had eloped to avoid a big wedding because the Gimbel and Greenberg families, coming from vastly different levels of society, did not mix well.
In 1946, the star players returned to baseball. Now that the war was over, the fans hungrily filled the stadiums. The question in the minds of fans, managers and the ballplayers themselves was how would they perform after missing two, three or four years of playing time. Ted Williams, who had served as a fighter pilot for the Marines, picked up right where he left off and helped the Red Sox to a pennant. Many of the returning stars regained their form and were productive players while others suffered a drop in their former abilities. Greenberg 's average fell to .277 but with a blistering September, he ended leading the league in homers with 44 and in runs batted in with 127.
The 1946 season was Greenberg's last for Detroit. While driving, he heard on his car radio that he had been waived out of the American League and claimed by the Pittsburgh Pirates for $35,000. Hank said, "I don't understand it and I never will." Dan Daniel of the New York World Telegram suggested that it was a photograph of Hank in a Yankee uniform that led to the Tigers waiving him. The story goes that Greenberg was ordered by the Air Force, in August 1943, to play in an All-Star War Bond Game. He flew into New York without any equipment. The day before the game, the stars had a workout at Yankee stadium. The Yankees could not find a Detroit uniform for him, so they put him in a Yankee uniform. A photographer had him pose for a photo in the Yankee pinstripes. Three years later, the photo emerged and Hank was waived by Detroit. Daniel offered yet more speculation as to why Greenberg was immediately sent packing after the photo was released: "Detroit never took Greenberg unto its bosom. It was willing to cheer him when he was delivering home runs. But it was quite ready to hoot him in less glorious moments. Now let us see how the 1947 Tigers get along without him."
Another possible reason for Greenberg's being put on the waiver list was his applying for the position of General Manager of the Tigers. Greenberg was turned down by Briggs, who felt that Greenberg did not have the qualifications for the job. Shortly afterwards he was put on the waiver list and no one picked him up. Was the reason for putting him on the waiver list due to his applying for the General Manager's job?
At first, Hank decided it was time to retire. But John Galbreath, owner of the Pirates, lured him into one more season by offering him a contract for $100,000. He was the first player to reach that plateau; for good measure Galbreath threw in a racehorse.
The Pirates hoped to help the pull-hitting Greenberg by shortening the left field wall by about 25 feet. The area became known as Greenberg's Gardens and later became known as Kiner's Korner. Bone chips in his elbow as well as other ailments during the 1947 season bothered Greenberg. His average dipped to a career-low .249, and he managed just 25 homers and 74 RBI.
Greenberg's contributions in his year in Pittsburgh transcended his modest numbers. Always willing to help others, he set about helping Ralph Kiner to become a prodigious home run hitter. Kiner was having difficulties during the first part of the season. The Pirates were on the verge of sending him down to the minors. Greenberg interceded and told the front office they had a potentially terrific hitter in Kiner. They listened to Hank, and with Greenberg's help, Kiner fulfilled his potential. Kiner and Greenberg were roommates on the road. Hank told Kiner that when he had been chasing Ruth's home run record in 1938, he had received some hate mail and death threats. But Greenberg never said that he was cheated out of his attempt to break Ruth's home run record. Greenberg also had words of encouragement for Jackie Robinson when he broke into baseball as the first black player.
Greenberg retired at the end of the 1947 season. Old injuries were affecting his play. The bone chips in his elbow were extremely bothersome. After his retirement, he had them removed. His career totals for nine and one half years were impressive: 1628 hits, 1276 runs batted in, a .313 lifetime batting average, 331 homers, 1051 runs scored, 379 doubles, and an amazing .605 slugging average. But the most awesome statistic is his .92 runs batted in per game, tying him for the all-time lead with Lou Gehrig and Sam Thompson. Only Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx were ahead of him in the all-time slugging percentage department. One year he was out with an injury; four and one half years he was in the military. One can only speculate what numbers he would have put up had he not missed those years. Five times Greenberg was voted into the All-Star Game, and in 1956 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. In 1983, just 37 years after his leaving Detroit, the Tigers retired his number 5 uniform. As he had before, Greenberg observed that Lefty Grove, Bob Feller and Dizzy Dean were the toughest pitchers he had to face.
A little known record that Hank shares with Babe Ruth was his 96 extra-base hits or more in four different seasons: 96 in 1934, 98 in 1935, 103 in 1937, and 99 in 1940. Ruth is the only other player to have 96 or more extra-base hits in four different seasons. Gehrig had 2, Joe DiMaggio had one, Jimmie Foxx had one, and Rogers Hornsby did it 2 times. Sluggers like Ted Williams, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron never had 96 or more extra-base hits in any season.
Hank was not through with baseball. He became an assistant to Bill Veeck, who owned the Cleveland Indians. He later became the Indians general manager. Greenberg was instrumental in bringing success to the Indians, especially when they won the pennant in 1954. But things turned sour, and he was relieved of his duties after the 1957 season.
Despite the Indians' general success, Greenberg's tenure in the front office was often stormy, due in large part to his own personality. A highly intelligent man, Greenberg had his own idea of how things should be done and was as stubborn as he was intelligent. He was ambivalent toward Larry Doby, the first African-American player in the American League, believing that Doby thought "he wasn't getting the publicity that Jackie Robinson was getting." In a subtly structured sentence, he seemed to damn Doby with faint praise: "But as far as being a ballplayer, he sure could play." He fired the popular Lou Boudreau because Boudreau didn't fit his notion of the manager as company man. He couldn't wait to get rid of Ken Keltner to bring in Al Rosen, who had been held back because of the war and the popular Keltner. Ultimately, he and Rosen had a falling-out over money. He made his dissatisfaction with Al Lopez so well known that Lopez resigned after the 1956 season to become manager of the White Sox. Lopez turned the Sox into pennant winners in short order while the Indians began to move down in the standings. Along with Lopez he lost Luis Aparicio, who became the spark plug of the White Sox. According to Bill James, Aparicio "made a handshake agreement to sign with the Indians for $10,000, but Greenberg balked at paying the bonus, offended Aparicio during the subsequent negotiations, and Aparicio signed with the White Sox for $6,000 . . ." Four Hall of Fame members and two high quality players-Hank Greenberg managed to alienate a lot of talent over a few years.
Bill Veeck and Greenberg had become close friends. When Hank was released from his Cleveland duties as General Manager, he was appointed Vice-President of the Chicago White Sox and became part owner, along with Veeck, in 1959. Greenberg, an astute person, also became an investor in Wall Street and made millions in the 1960s bull market.
During his tenure as a baseball administrator, Greenberg was partially responsible for the creation of the player pension plan and organized the split of World Series and All-Star Game receipts on the basis of 65% for the owners and 35% for the players. He also testified on behalf of Curt Flood, in Flood's anti-trust suit against Major League Baseball. Flood's suit was unsuccessful. Bill Veeck felt that Greenberg would have made a fine Commissioner of baseball. Veeck went on to add, "But he was much too qualified."
The good will was mutual. Hank, himself battling terminal cancer, directed his ire toward people who regarded Veeck (who died on January 2, 1986) as a "Carnie Type of Guy." The headline in one paper read, "Bill Veeck, Entertainer Dies." Greenberg said, "They think the only thing he ever did was bring a midget in to bat."
Meanwhile, Hank's marriage to Caral had disintegrated. Caral had a life of her own. She was fond of show horses, art and music. Hank was always busy with his administrative duties in baseball. Caral felt she was bringing cultural awareness into Hank's life; unfortunately, her efforts drove them apart. Eventually, Caral asked for and got a divorce because of differing lifestyles. They were the proud parents of three fine children. Hank gained custody of them and moved to New York so they could be near their mother. Hank's older son Glenn took to football rather than baseball and was an outstanding defensive lineman at Yale. Their daughter, Alva, owns a newspaper and successfully runs its advertising department. Steve, their youngest son, was an English major and a fine athlete at Yale. Steve had five-year minor league baseball career. He went on to become a lawyer and a baseball player's agent. Bill Madlock was his first client.
After selling his share in the White Sox at a tidy profit, Greenberg retired to Beverly Hills, California. There, he lived the good life and became a star amateur tennis player, winning many titles. He married Mary Jo Tarola, a minor movie actress, (known on screen as Linda Douglas) in Beverly Hills on November 18, 1966. Mary Jo appeared in three movies but did not relish being a movie actress. She was content with being Hank's wife.
In 1985, Greenberg was having physical problems, and doctors were having a hard time in coming up with the true diagnosis. One doctor suggested he go to a urologist for x-rays. Greenberg went to Dr. Norman Nemoy; after a battery of tests the doctor discovered a tumor in one of his kidneys. Hank was told that it was cancer and that an immediate operation was needed. Greenberg's cancer-ridden kidney and tumor were removed, but the cancer had spread. Determined to lick the illness, Greenberg fought for thirteen months before succumbing on September 4, 1986. He was survived by Mary Jo, his children, two brothers, a sister, and eight grandchildren. Greenberg is buried in Hillside Memorial Park in Los Angeles.
In the 1930's, baseball's ethnic characteristics were changing. The Irish and Germans that had dominated the baseball scene were declining. Now Italians, Poles and Jews were entering the game. Two of the marquee players who fit those ethnic groups were Hank Greenberg and Joe DiMaggio. Ethnicity was overtly cited in newspapers as well as on the field. Players called Greenberg and other Jewish players "Christ Killers" and DiMaggio and fellow Italians "Dago."
Greenberg followed DiMaggio's career closely and set his sights on outdoing him. Greenberg and DiMaggio were the first of their ethnic groups to become great stars in the majors. The similarity ends there. DiMaggio, a taciturn, dour person, remained solely a great baseball player. Poorly educated, he did very little in his life after baseball to further his education or advance himself. Greenberg, on the other hand, was articulate, intelligent, outspoken, a man of ideas with ambition beyond being merely a baseball player. Greenberg transcended his life as a star baseball player and went on to other careers. DiMaggio was content to be called "The greatest living baseball player." DiMaggio kept himself in the limelight by doing ads for Mr. Coffee and the Bowery Bank and being the husband, albeit briefly, of Marilyn Monroe. DiMaggio seemingly remained a humble man, and the fans accepted this. Greenberg, on the other hand, was intelligent, aggressive, contentious, outspoken, and made some enemies. Greenberg did not shun the limelight, but neither did he care if he was in it.
As a ballplayer, Greenberg's ethnic background was irrelevant only as long as he was hitting. But on the broader level of society, Greenberg still found doors that were closed to him. In spite of his status as a star baseball player, he was not permitted into certain areas of American life.
Hank Greenberg was a complex individual. His sterling career as a baseball player was only a stepping stone to a life full of ambition, risk-taking and success. Never afraid to speak his own mind, he hammered away at life as he hammered a baseball. Through hard work, he achieved a victory over bigotry and left this life as an example to be followed. Reluctant at first, Greenberg bravely took on the mantle of hero for the Jewish population in their fight against ethnic hatred and the forces of Fascism and Nazism. Greenberg was a "super star" baseball player, a wealthy, self-made man, but most of all, he lived life to the fullest and never backed off from anyone or anything.
Greenberg's journey began in the Bronx with stops along the way in Hartford, Evansville, Beaumont, Detroit, the war (China-Burma-India), Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Chicago. It ended in Beverly Hills, California. The real journey started and ended in the mind of a human being who sought a career in baseball and having achieved it through hard work moved on to other endeavors. He triumphed over bigotry. Instead of letting the ethnic hatred deter him, he used it to motivate himself in becoming better as a player and as a person. Henry Benjamin Greenberg was a self-made man.
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