Tag Archives: Hank Greenberg

A STORY FROM FEB 19 IN BASEBALL HISTORY – DIFFICULT EVEN FOR TED WILLIAMS

TODAY IN BASEBALL TAKES US TO SEOUL, KOREA FEBRUARY 19, 1953. Ted Williams told the Associated Press (AP) on this date that trying to find a target with a Marine Panther jet “is harder than trying to hit that ball.” It was difficult even for Ted Williams.

The Boston Red Sox slugger had just returned from his sixth combat mission into North Korea. He was on the second military tour of his major league career. He served three years during World War II, and two more in Korea.

Williams was not alone among major league stars to interrupt some of their most productive years to get involved when the country was at war. Detroit Tiger slugger Hank Greenberg and Cleveland Indians pitcher Bob Feller were some of the first to enlist after Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941 ushering the United States into World War II.

Baseball Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis asked President Franklin D. Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor if major league baseball should cease operations for the duration of the war and FDR said no, it would be good for morale.

While baseball continued during World War II, quality of play diminished significantly. If you were able-bodied enough to play baseball you were able-bodied enough to be drafted. Most players who hadn’t enlisted here.

By 1945, the last year of World War II, teenagers such as Joe Nuxhall of the Cincinnati Red-Legs and men with conditions which kept them out of the service, such as one-armed Pete Gray of the St. Louis Browns were filling up MLB rosters. After June, 1945 many of the players began to return from military duty, which was difficult even Ted Williams, and get back to what they knew best – baseball.

Contributing sources:
David Whitley, ESPN.com on Ted Williams
David Hornestay, Baseball Survives World War II, January 7, 2008

JAN 1 IN BASEBALL HISTORY – A STAR IS BORN

JANUARY 1, 1911 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK • A star is born. Slugger Hank Greenberg was born to an orthodox Jewish family on this date in baseball history. He broke into the major leagues with the Detroit Tigers in 1930, just 19 years later.

Greenberg was a 2-time Most Valuable Player (MVP) and 5-time all-star, though he only played 9 full seasons. Henry Benjamin Greenberg, like many major leaguers, had some of his best years interrupted by military service in World War II. He missed 3 full seasons and parts of 2 others.

Greenberg was a fearsome hitter. He hit 58 home runs in 1938 – at the time only Babe Ruth had hit more (Jimmie Foxx hit 58 home runs in 1932). Greenberg’s 183 RBI in 1937 are eclipsed only by Hack Wilson‘s 191 in 1930 and Lou Gehrig’s 184 in 1931. Only a handful of players have a higher lifetime slugging percentage than Greenberg’s .605.

As a youth, Greenberg was an all-around athlete in New York City. He led James Monroe High School to the New York City basketball championship, but his favorite sport was baseball. The Yankees showed interest in the first baseman in 1929, but he decided the odds of cracking the lineup were pretty slim with another New York born slugger already a fixture at first – Lou Gehrig. Greenberg enrolled at New York University, but signed with the Detroit Tigers the following year.

Greenberg quit playing in 1948 to become farm director of the Cleveland Indians. He moved into the Indians front office as general manager and part-owner with Bill Veeck two years later. He became a part-owner of the Chicago White Sox with Veeck in 1959. Their timing couldn’t have been better. The Sox won the pennant for the first time in 40 years. Greenberg and Veeck sold their interests in the White Sox in 1961, and Greenberg went on to a successful career in private business.

He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1956. Hank Greenberg died September 4, 1986 in Beverly Hills, California.

Contributing sources:
More on Hank Greenberg
Jewish Virtual Library

 

DEC 2 IN BASEBALL HISTORY: RUNNING OFF AT THE MOUTH

DECEMBER 2, 1952 | PHOENIX, ARIZONA – New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel went on a verbal rampage on this date in 1952. His running off at the mouth was targeted at several teams and Jackie Robinson.

Robinson, who became the major league’s first Black player five years earlier, stirred up emotions a few days earlier by criticizing the Yankees for not having hired a Black player. According to the United Press news service, while at a banquet in Phoenix Stengel let fly:

“I don’t care who you are in this organization, you’re going to get along and make the big team if you’ve got the ability. We’ve got good coaches, a good front office, good scouts and good minor league managers, and we’re not going to play a sap at second base just because somebody said we ought to put him there.”

Even after Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 it took a while for most teams to integrate. The Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Browns also integrated in ’47, but it took thirteen more years for all sixteen teams to put African Americans on their rosters.

Stengel also lashed out at the Cleveland Indians boss,

“Why does Hank Greenberg of Cleveland say, ‘I hate the Yankees?’ He should say that he ought to hate himself for not winning the pennant with the kind of a pitching staff he’s got. When do teams in this day fail to win pennants with three twenty-game winners on their pitching staff. The Yankee players don’t hate the Cleveland players, they hate you Mr. Greenberg.”

Stengel also blasted Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith who had accused the Yankees of shady dealing in going after one of their players.

The Yankee manager finished running off at the mouth by promising a 5th straight American League pennant in 1953, which is exactly what the Yankees did, and went on to win their fifth straight World Series.

Contributing Sources:
Carl Lundquist, United Press (UP), December 3, 1952
When teams integrated
World Series results