Hank Greenberg was not only an inspiration to future players, but also broke barriers for Jewish players in the world of baseball. He endured hash criticism and threats while a player, especially since he played during World War II and some Americans blamed the Jews for America’s involvement in Nazi Germany. He saw racism first hand, while being benched at two All Star Game appearances, which led to his refusal to ever participate in another All Star event. However, this harsh treatment gave Greenberg compassion and understanding. It was by this compassion that African-American baseball players, when the Negro Leagues dissolved, turned to Greenberg for acceptance and support, as they were both “outsiders”. Greenberg’s accomplishments on the field, and openness about his religion allowed him to be the first Jewish player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, which occurred in 1956.
When “Hammerin Hank” first began playing professional baseball, he signed on with the Detroit Tigers. He played with the Tigers in 1930, 1933-1941, and from 1945-1947. Taking a break from professional baseball, Greenberg enlisted in the military during the height of World War II, and served from 1941-1945. During his time with the Tigers, Greenberg was voted the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1935 and 1940. After his time with the Tigers organization ended, Greenberg went on to play his last season (1947) with the Pittsburg Pirates. During his time as a professional baseball player, Greenberg played in twenty-three World Series games. He was also two runs short of Babe Ruth’s 1938 season, as Greenberg hit fifty-eight runs, and Ruth had his best season and hit sixty. Later, Greenberg’s accomplishments allowed him to be inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1979, and the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1996. His #5 jersey was retired by the Detroit Tigers in 1983. He is also listed as #37 on The Sporting News’ 100 Greatest Baseball Players. In 2006, Greenberg was featured on a U.S. postage stamp. His movie,Gree The Life and Times of HankGreenberg, is one of the most popular baseball documentaries available. Much discussion has taken place within the baseball community as to whether or not any records would be broken by Greenberg, had the war not taken place, however, as it stands, Greenberg made significant contributions to the record books to include:
Home runs – 331 (tied for 82nd place overall)
Runs batted in – 1276 (tied for 97th place overall)
Batting average – .313 (68th place overall)
On-base percentage – .412 (29th place overall)
Slugging average – .605 (7th place overall)