Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Hank Greenberg

Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn't Want to Be One

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Hank Greenberg
    Book Description:

    One of the reasons baseball fans so love the sport is that it involves certain physical acts of beauty. And one of the most beautiful sights in the history of baseball was Hank Greenberg's swing. His calmly poised body seemed to have some special set of springs with a trigger release that snapped his arms and swept the bat through the air with the clean speed and strength of a propeller. But what is even more extraordinary than his grace and his power is that in Detroit of 1934, his swing-or its absence-became entwined with American Jewish history. Though Hank Greenberg was one of the first players to challenge Babe Ruth's single-season record of sixty home runs, it was the game Greenberg did not play for which he is best remembered. With his decision to sit out a 1934 game between his Tigers and the New York Yankees because it fell on Yom Kippur, Hank Greenberg became a hero to Jews throughout America. Yet, as Kurlansky writes, he was the quintessential secular Jew, and to celebrate him for his loyalty to religious observance is to ignore who this man was.

    InHank GreenbergMark Kurlansky explores the truth behind the slugger's legend: his Bronx boyhood, his spectacular discipline as an aspiring ballplayer, the complexity of his decision not to play on Yom Kippur, and the cultural context of virulent anti-Semitism in which his career played out.

    What Kurlansky discovers is a man of immense dignity and restraint with a passion for sport who became a great reader-a man, too, who was an inspiration to the young Jackie Robinson, who said, "Class tells. It sticks out all over Mr. Greenberg."

    eISBN: 978-0-300-17514-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Prologue: The One Holy Day
    (pp. 1-15)

    In 1934 Hank Greenberg observed Yom Kippur, possibly for the only time in his adult life. It defined him for the rest of his days, though this was not at all what he had wanted. To him it seemed absurd to be defined by his religious observance when he was utterly unobservant.

    In the early 1930s the Detroit Tigers had emerged from years of mediocrity to become a contending baseball team in the American League. The Tigers had accomplished this with an infield that is still remembered as one of the best hitting combinations in the history of the game....

  5. 1 Jewish Hitting
    (pp. 16-27)

    One anti-Semitic stereotype of a Jew historically popular among non-Jews is expressed in the slang Polish pejorativejojne. The jojne is a Jew as a physically weak coward. He will not fight and he cannot play sports. Jews, not surprisingly, reject this stereotype, which is why they loved Hank Greenberg’s ability to disprove it. But Jews have tended to buy into a positive version of this image, believing that their natural role is in intellectual pursuits, not physical ones. To the traditional and observant Jew, sports interfered with Torah and Talmud studies. For the modern assimilated Jew, sports may interfere...

  6. 2 A Beautiful Swing
    (pp. 28-51)

    Among the historic two million–strong wave of Jews who left eastern Europe for America was David Greenberg from the Moldavian town of Roman, in Romania.

    In New York, Greenberg met Sarah Schwartz, who had immigrated from Falticena in a neighboring province of Romania. David and Sarah met at alandsmanshaft, a social club for Jewish immigrants from the same area or district. There were thousands of suchlandsmanshaftnin the beginning of the twentieth century, many of them, like the one where the Greenbergs met, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Today the wordlandsmanis used by Jews to...

  7. 3 Greenberg’s Time
    (pp. 52-61)

    A jew rising to prominence in America could not have chosen a more difficult time in all of American history than the 1930s. Among Jews there was a growing belief that any time a Jew was celebrated he or she was “asking for trouble.”New York Timespublisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger and Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau were among the notable Jews who opposed the 1939 Supreme Court nomination of Felix Frankfurter on the grounds that it would provoke anti-Semitism. In 1936 Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, one of two Jews on the Court, along with Benjamin Cardozo, reluctantly...

  8. 4 Becoming Hank
    (pp. 62-94)

    At the time Hank Greenberg received his first paycheck of $6,000 as a major league baseball player, the average annual income in the United States was $1,970, and the average cost of a new car was $640. Greenberg, always serious about the management of his money, invested it in tobacco stock. If he had sold the next day, he would have made an $800 profit. But this was September 1929, and with the market climbing to unprecedented heights, it seemed prudent to hold onto his stock. A month later the biggest crash in the history of the market obliterated Greenberg’s...

  9. 5 Henry B. Interrupted
    (pp. 95-123)

    Hank Greenberg had become one of the nation’s most respected baseball players, though no one forgot that he was aJewishbaseball player. Jewish fans idolized him, anti-Semitic ones hurled epithets at him, as did some opposing players, and the press, which covered him constantly, seldom mentioned Greenberg without the adjective Jewish or Hebrew.

    In 1940 Greenberg helped the Tigers win another pennant by batting .340, hitting 41 home runs, and driving in 150 runs. He also contributed by giving up his position at first base and moving to left field so that young Rudy York, also a great hitter,...

  10. 6 Escaped at Last
    (pp. 124-144)

    Greenberg had signed a one-year contract with the Pirates and announced his intention to retire at the end of the season. It had been a losing season though Greenberg, despite a batting average of .249, his lowest since he played for Hartford in 1930, had delivered exactly on his promise when he had signed to hit 25 home runs. Hank was later amused to recall that the team wanted to lose its final game to secure last place behind the Phillies, which would put them in line for the first draft pick the following year. Instead they won, tied for...

  11. Epilogue: More Holy Days
    (pp. 145-148)

    In 1954, game five of the World Series between the Indians and the Giants was scheduled for Yom Kippur and Cleveland star hitter Al Rosen, one of the best Jewish players of all time, announced that he would not play. The Indians’ general manager, Hank Greenberg, understood. But the Giants swept the Indians in four games and the Series never made it to Yom Kippur.

    Rosen may have been influenced by the fact that, growing up a Jewish kid in Miami, he idolized Greenberg, and he remembered the 1934 incident, when he was a ten-year-old. Rosen had experienced enough anti-Semitism...

    (pp. 149-152)
    (pp. 153-154)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 155-165)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 166-167)