Richards: An appreciation of Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg

From Lawrence Richards at The National Pastime Museum on June 8, 2015:

With a most respectful nod to Mr. Aaron, you were Hammerin’ Hank II.

In very rare occurrences, athletes eclipse sport. Events become embedded in a nation’s consciousness. They help us re-define inclusion for all our citizenry. They reconfigure democracy; a nation’s goal for greatness. Some notable examples are Jackie Robinson, Louis vs. Schmeling, the 1960 U.S. Olympic hockey team. There is a compelling and appropriate case that Hank Greenberg firmly belongs in this pantheon of inspirational and time-transcending athletes.

Hank Greenberg fostered pride and hope in Jewish people as Jackie Robinson did for African-Americans. He arguably was the recipient of more obscenities and, yes, hatred than any other white ballplayer in the long history of baseball. In the 1930s when he played ball, anti-Semitism was rampant in the United States, and Jews were being persecuted and killed by the Nazis in Europe. He was a hero to his people when a hero was desperately needed. Greenberg and Robinson are connected in seminal ways.

Greenberg was one of the first members of an opposing team to encourage Robinson. His last year as a player was Robinson’s first. In 1947, Jackie’s rookie year, a close play occurred, and Greenberg inadvertently banged hard into Robinson. He apologized and helped Jackie to his feet, softly offering words of support. When asked about the incident, Jackie told the press, “Class tells. It sticks out all over Mr. Greenberg.” Remember what we used to say as kids? “It takes one to know one!”

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Originally published: June 8, 2015. Last Updated: June 8, 2015.