Henry "Hank" Greenberg was one of the first men in base- ball to seriously challenge Babe Ruth's record of 60 home runs and Lou Gehrigs' league record of 184 runs batted in.
Greenberg had a chance to shatter Ruth's home ruin record of 60 in 1938. He had hit 58 home runs and still had five games to play. But the weather was dismal and he faced several erratic pitchers. He failed in his attempt to hit a home run. Greenberg batted in 183 runs in 1937, failing one short of tying Gehrig's record. He did set a major league record of hitting two or more home runs in one game (II in 1938). Greenberg was elected to Baseball's Hall of Fame and was twice named the Most Valuable Player of the Year.
Greenberg was born on New Year's Day in 1911. His parents had immigrated to New York City from Bucharest, Romania. He attended public schools in the Bronx, New York, and was on the baseball and basketball teams of James Monroe High School. Major league teams were interested in having Greenberg play for them. Greenberg's father turned away the baseball scouts since he wanted his son to attend col lege. He attended New York University on a baseball scholarship. His parents let him play professional baseball in 1930.
Greenberg spent three years in the minor leagues, perfecting his hitting and working on his clumsy movements on the field. He was called up to play with the Detroit Tigers in 1933. He had a.301 hitting average for the season. The following year, at the age of 23, Greenberg had become the star of the team.
The Detroit Tigers were in contention for winning the pennant in 1934. An important game was scheduled to take place on Rosh Hashana. After much soul searching, Greenberg decided to play that day. His two home runs made it possible for the Tigers to win. However, when a game was scheduled for Yom Kippur, he did not play. He spent the day at the synagogue praying and fasting. The Tigers lost the game, but they did win the pennant for the first time since 1909. They lost the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals.
When Greenberg was drafted into the Army in May of 1941. he was the highest paid player in major league baseball. He was discharged two days prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor because of a new government policy to release those soldiers over the age of 28. Greenberg immediately re-enlisted. For the next four years, he served as a lieu- tenant and then as a captain in the Army Air Force. He was involved in the fighting in the China-Burma-India area.
Greenberg returned to baseball on July 1, 1945. The Detroit Tigers' ball park was filled to capacity to greet him. He needed to hit one more home run to have a total of 250. After he hit a home run, the fans gave Greenberg a standing ovation as he trotted around the bases.
Greenberg's last year with the Detroit Tigers was 1946. He led the league with 44 home runs and 127 runs batted in. He was waived out of the American League to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Greenberg was with the Pirates for one year and hit 25 home runs and drove in 74 runs during 125 games. In 1947, he was given his unconditional release. Greenberg turned his talents to Wall Street and became a millionaire. On the field, Greenberg demonstrated his playing powers. In World War II, he didn't shirk his duty as an American. As a Jew, he didn't forget his heritage. Greenberg died on September 4, 1986,
This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes and Heroines of America, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.
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Last updated 18 October 2006