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.