Rosengren: The amazing comeback of Hank Greenberg

From SABR member John Rosengren at Sports Illustrated on July 15, 2013:

On April 28, 1945, Italian partisans hanged Benito Mussolini. Two days later, Adolf Hitler, hidden in his bunker, shoved a pistol in his mouth and pulled the trigger. On May 7, German troops surrendered to the Allies. With the war in Europe over, the Armed Services no longer needed all of its officers. The Army Air Forces placed Capt. Hank Greenberg on the inactive list, and on June 14, 1945, he walked out of Fort Dix willing — if not ready — to return to the Tigers, who held a slim half-game lead over the Yankees. “We haven’t had such good news since VE Day,” Jack Zeller, the Tigers’ general manager, said.

Hank knew it wouldn’t be easy. He had been away a long time. He had served 47 months, longer than any other regular major leaguer not named Hugh Mulcahy. He had not played a major league game since May 6, 1941, more than four years ago. The world had changed since then, and so had he. Much as he wanted to play again, he was not certain he could.

No one had come back after an absence as long as Hank’s. He had been away from baseball four years, one month, two weeks, one day and counting. The skeptics doubted that Hank would be able to adjust to big league pitching, the years away having dimmed his batting eye and ruined his timing. Age also worked against him. At 34, he had passed his prime, and the conventional wisdom of the day was that athletic skills began to erode at 30, the time when he had left the game.


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Related link: Come see special film extras from “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg” at SABR 43 in Philadelphia

Originally published: July 22, 2013. Last Updated: July 22, 2013.