Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hank Greenberg's Trouble Getting into Cooperstown

Hank Greenberg was to many people of Jewish descent what Joe Louis was to people of his descent as well as people being from the United States of America. It's hard to find anyone who did America prouder than the Brown Bomber during World War II, except maybe Jesse Owens?

Hank Greenberg was someone who had to withstand all sorts of heckling by fellow ballplayers because of his descent. While the African-American race has been subjected to much abuse by ignorant people who had this idiotic belief that they were of an inferior race, I really can't think of anything being worse than people abusing you even though you were "allowed" to work with them. The people in position of hiring and firing people, for the betterment of their place of business, have never ever figured out the most humane way of how to hire WHO,over the course of civilization. Always there was a point in the interview when somebody had to know this person or a reference of some kind by a source who didn't bring anything to the job other than being of limited perspective when it came to hiring new people into the fold. And when I think about it there had to be one race that was the majority of employees that the owner had a preference for which may not have been the same as his own ethnicity. You would think that whomever was placed, or put themselves, in the nefarious position to have the leeway to pick and choose people based on something other than the skills needed for the job (these unfortunate folks were applying for) would have been the owner or perhaps a relative or close friend. Some kind of nepotism was almost always involved and has been since the need for filling out applications has come into existence. We've all been on the receiving end of an unfair or unlikely correspondence that told us we would be put on file even though we were looking as good as one could possibly fill another's eyes and yet somehow, some way we just weren't good enough for the mindless person whose purpose was to make the company they were hired by be a more productive place and a place ambitious people wanted to work. But as one learns through absorbing some bumps in the road (of life), it's usually a good thing when you encounter such an experience because you get the better feeling that it really would not have been a good fit. Hey, anyone that doesn't want me I probably don't want them either. It's one way to keep on keeping on.
( Here are some excerpts from this website that speak of the prejudice bestowed on those who played baseball.

But unashamed prejudice was not confined to people of color. For example, prejudice against Italians is reflected in Life Magazine’s May 1, 1939 profile of Joe DiMaggio:

Although he learned Italian first Joe, now 24, speaks English without an accent and is otherwise well adapted to most U.S. mores. Instead of olive oil or smelly bear grease he keeps his hair slick with water. He never reeks of garlic.

Life Magazine was hardly a fringe publication! Prejudice was mainstream.

And this prejudice certainly extended to Jewish folks. Father Charles Coughlin provides a perfect touchstone for this, since he was an immensely influential figure, reaching millions of devotees through his radio show. A couple of quotes give a taste of what was in the minds of Coughlin and followers:

"… the word 'fascist' is merely bandied about as part of Communism's offense mechanism…. the term 'anti-Semitic' is only another pet phrase of castigation in Communism's glossary of attack." (

"If Jews persist in supporting communism directly or indirectly, that will be regrettable. By their failure to use the press, the radio and the banking house, where they stand so prominently, to fight communism as vigorously as they fight Nazism, the Jews invite the charge of being supporters of communism." (
The Catholic church tolerated Father Coughlin’s bile; it did not feel pressured to order Coughlin to either desist or be defrocked. Prejudice was mainstream.

Hank Greenberg certainly experienced this anti-Semitism. Greenberg’s career was full of incidents where he got into arguments and fights when standing up to players who called him names because of his religion. His own words show the flavor of the times:

How the hell could you get up to home plate every day and have some son-of-a-bitch call you a Jew bastard and a kike and a sheenie and get on your ass without feeling the pressure? If the ballplayers weren't doing it, the fans were. I used to get frustrated as hell. Sometimes I wanted to go into the stands and beat the #### out of them.
Prejudice was mainstream, even in the stands of the National Pastime. So it is quite understandable for people to wonder whether the prejudices of 1930s America extended to American League managers and pitchers to the point that they deliberately kept Greenberg from breaking the Babe’s record.

But now that we have the Retrosheet data, what does it tell? Megdal says it shows that prejudice was a factor. In his own words:

[I]t is also impossible to ignore the statistical record. In short, the American League didn’t seem exactly thrilled with Greenberg’s pursuit. Until the Web site recently published game logs for the 1938 season, the subject of anti-Semitism during Greenberg’s record chase was a matter of opinion…. Almost no other hitter going after the home run record had anything like Greenberg’s late-season spike in bases on balls.

Megdal cites the following stats mined from the Retrosheet data as evidence that this spike existed:

"Greenberg walked in 15.9 percent of his plate appearances through the end of August 1938. In September, that rate jumped to 20.4 percent."

"…the way pitchers handled Greenberg early in the season was clearly different than the way they approached him as Ruth’s record came into view. Greenberg had four three-walk games in the final two months of the 1938 season, three in September."

For all those who say Jackie Robinson had it rough entering the big leagues I concur. But right with him (and a man who supported Jackie) was Hank Greenberg. If you think otherwise, you would be badly mistaken.

Greenberg missed all but 19 games of the 1941 season, 1942, 1943, 1944, and most of 1945, due to World War II. And he missed the majority of another season because of a broken wrist. I wonder if that was an accident?

In the 13 years he played he was in 1394-Games, had 5193-AB, Scored 1051-runs, had 1,628-hits, 2B: 379, 3B: 71, HR: 331 RBI:1276 and career average of .313. In his lifetime he had 852 bases-on-balls and struck out 844 times. Not bad for a slugger!

Much like Ted Williams, if you just give an average for the years he missed and he plays those 5 seasons you know he's passing 500-home runs. Because he was such a good hitter, there may even have been the possibility of him amassing 3,000 hits.

And yet it took Hank Greenberg 9 years to get into Cooperstown. Back when there was no waiting period. Don't you give a guy who gave so much to his country the benefit of the doubt when he puts up the numbers he did or was this a racist thing? Jackie Robinson got in on the first ballot and it was well deserved. What happened with Hank Greenberg?

(In 1936, Joe Louis lost to Max Schmeling in a heavyweight bout and was praised by non other than Adolf Hitler. World War II was seemingly inevitable at this point of American history. But the Brown Bomber came back to knock Schmeling out in the first round of their rematch in 1938.)

In 1937, Greenberg challenged a record that had been set six years earlier by Lou Gehrig. While “Hammerin’ Hank” was still working his way up through the minor leagues, “Larrupin’ Lou” had driven in an American League record 184 runs, a mark bettered by only one other man in major league history, before or since . Entering the final game of the 1937 season, Greenberg had 182 RBI, with a young pitcher on the mound. It appeared that he would have ample opportunity to remove Gehrig from the record book, especially after driving in run number 183 in the first inning. Karma was not on Hank’s side, however; the youngster settled down and pitched well; the game ended 1-0. And 75 years later, the American League record still belongs to Gehrig.

The following year, with the Tigers spiraling out of the pennant race by mid season, Greenberg began to hit homeruns at a record pace. It had been only eleven years since Babe Ruth had become the first man to reach the magical number of 60; unbeknownst to those watching during that season, it would be another twenty-three seasons until another hitter would follow suit. In the summer of 1938, however, Hank Greenberg had a chance. He kept hitting homerun after homerun after homerun—with the Tigers hopelessly behind in the pennant race, he did not have to concentrate so much on driving in runs and hitting for a high average. He could swing for the fences. And he did, reaching the 58 homerun mark with five games left in the season. As in the year before, the native New Yorker had a chance to steal one of baseball’s biggest records from a New York Yankee. And, as in the year before, he could not quite seal the deal, going without a homerun in those final five games.

Then think back to 1938 when he had 58 homers and the pitchers stopped pitching to him because of his Jewish descent. He was no longer allowed to play the game the way he knew how because there could not be someone of Jewish descent that could be the all-time home run hitter for a single season.

(Thanks to some of the aforementioned information by,Author: Brian Moynahan ©. Published: 2003. Appeared On: Baseball Almanac and the website given with even more in-depth information on the way Hank Greenberg was treated because he was Jewish.)

Kevin Marquez