From Dan Epstein at the Jewish Baseball Museum on May 15, 2017, with SABR member Ron Kaplan:
In 1938, Detroit Tigers first baseman Hank Greenberg enjoyed one of the finest seasons of his Hall of Fame career, racking up a .315 batting average and a .683 slugging percentage, knocking in 147 RBIs, and leading the majors (and setting career highs for himself) with 143 runs, 119 walks, and 58 home runs.
Well, maybe “enjoyed” isn’t the right word. As Ron Kaplan recounts in his new book, Hank Greenberg in 1938: Hatred and Home Runs in the Shadow of War (out April 25 via Sports Publishing, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.), the 1938 season was a brutal grind for baseball’s first Jewish superstar. Playing for an uninspired Tigers team that spent most of the season struggling to raise itself above the .500 mark (and eventually finished in fourth place, 16 games behind the American League champion New York Yankees), the “Hebrew Hammer” nonetheless became the daily subject of intense press scrutiny, thanks to his steady assault on Babe Ruth’s decade-old record of 60 home runs in a single season.
Even more distracting than the pressure that came from chasing Ruth were the dark clouds gathering over Europe. Adolf Hitler had taken direct control of Germany’s military in February of 1938; German troops marched on Austria the following month, and began engaging in maneuvers along the borders of France and Czechoslovakia during the summer. Already deprived of many of their civil liberties under the Nazi regime’s Nuremberg Laws, and openly harassed in the streets of their cities and towns, many German and Austrian Jews attempted to flee, only to find that most neighboring countries had closed their borders to Jewish refugees.
Originally published: May 15, 2017. Last Updated: May 15, 2017.