Historic Baseball

Historic Baseball

Bringing Baseball History To Center Field

Hank Greenberg

Henry Benjamin Greenberg
Nickname: Hammerin’ Hank
Born: Jan. 1, 1911 in New York 
Died: Sept. 4, 1986 in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Debut: 1930 | Pos: 1B/OF
Ht: 6’4″ | Wt: 210 | B: R | T: R

13 1394 5193 1628 331 1276 58 .313

>> Visit the Hank Greenberg biography on Baseball Almanac for complete statistics.

Hank Greenberg played less than 10 full seasons in the Major Leagues, but he certainly made a statement. He was the first Jewish player not to hide his ethnic background. He was one of the first baseball players to leave the game to enlist in the service in World War II. He earned an MVP at first base and then, after switching positions, earned one while he was playing left field.. 

Greenberg was a massive player for his time, standing 6’4 and weighing 215 pounds. The son of Jewish immigrants, Greenberg graduated from a high school in the Bronx and played one semester for New York University. He had a tryout with the New York Giants, but manager John McGraw thought Greenberg was too clumsy. Despite this rejection, Greenberg received lucrative offers from the Yankees and the Senators. With the Yankees, Greenberg saw little future as a first baseman if he had to wait to play behind Lou Gehrig.

He turned down both those offers and signed with the Detroit Tigers in 1930. He appeared in one game that season for the Tigers, picking up a single at-bat.

Career Numbers

In his career, Greenberg hit .313 with 331 home runs and 1276 RBI. This came despite two broken wrists and nearly three seasons missed due to military service.

Jackie Robinson gave credit to Hank Greenberg for an incident that happened during the early part of his career as the first black player in Major League Baseball. In his retirement article that appeared in “Look” magazine, Robinson recalled his meeting with Greenberg. Robinson was standing on first base while Greenberg was in the field for the Pirates.

Robinson wrote, “He (Greenberg) suddenly turned to me and said, ‘A lot of people are pulling for you to make good. Don’t ever forget it.’ I never did.”

After Baseball

Following his career as a player, Greenberg moved on to other avenues in baseball. In 1948, Bill Veeck hired Greenberg to serve as the director of the Cleveland Indians’ farm system. In 1950, he became the Indians’ general manager and helped to put together the team that ended the Yankees’ streak of pennants in 1954. In 1959, he became part owner and vice president of the Chicago White Sox. He retired from baseball completely in 1963 and became a successful investment banker.

Later, he was one of the few former baseball players to testify in Curt Flood’s case against baseball that challenged the reserve clause.

Career Highlights

1930 — Hank Greenberg made a brief appearance with the Detroit Tigers. He appeared in just one game and had a single at-bat.

1933 —  Greenberg returned again to the Major League level with Detroit. In 117 games at first base, he hit .301 with 12 home runs and 87 runs batted in. Greenberg adds six stolen bases as the Tigers finished fifth in the American League.

1934 — The Detroit Tigers surged to first place in the American League, finishing 7 games ahead of the second-place Yankees. Greenberg led the team with 139 runs batted in, batting .339 and connecting on a team-high 26 home runs. The Tigers lost the World Series to the Cardinals, 4-3. Greenberg hit .321 in the series with a triple, a home run and 7 RBI.

1935 — Detroit started out the season slowly, falling into the cellar. By the end of the 1935 season, Detroit was back in first, 3 games ahead of the Yankees. Greenberg, the MVP in 1935, finished the season with a .328 average, 36 home runs and 170 RBI. Greenberg had a home run and  2 RBI in the World Series. He broke his hand in the second game, but the Tigers were still able to beat the Cubs 4-2 to win the series.

1936 — The injury problems from the 1936 series followed Greenberg into the 1936 season. Greenberg broke his wrist only 12 games into the season. He hit 1 home run and drove in 16 runs in 46 at bats.

1937 — Pitching problems relegated the Tigers to a second-place finish, 13 games behind the Yankees. Greenberg, however, returned to form, hitting .337 with 40 home runs and a league-high 183 runs batted in.

1938 — Despite a superior season from Greenberg, the Tigers fell to fourth place in the American League. Greenberg led the AL with 58 home runs and he drove in 146 runs. He finished with a .315 batting average. Some claim that Greenberg was intentionally walked to keep from breaking Ruth’s record because of anti-Jewish sentiment. Greenberg called the notion “crazy stories” throughout his life. He reached 58 with 5 games to go in the season and went 5-for-18 over those games. He was walked only 4 times — the same rate at which he had been walked all season. He did lead the AL with 119 walks (up from 102 in 1937) but the mark was the same as that of the National League leader.

1939 — The Tigers fell to fifth in the American League, 26.5 games behind the Yankees. Greenberg hit .312 with 33 home runs and 112 runs batted in. 

1940 — Manager Del Baker made the decision to move Greenberg from first base to the outfield. Greenberg responded by hitting .340 with league highs in home runs – 41- and RBI – 150. The Tigers finished in first place, a mere game ahead of the Indians and two games ahead of the Yankees. Greenberg again was named League MVP. In the World Series, the Tigers lost to the Reds, 4-3. Greenberg hit .357 with a triple, a home run and 6 RBI.

1941 — World War II took its toll on baseball. Greenburg went into the armed forces after playing in 19 games. Greenberg hit .269 with 2 home runs and 12 RBI. Greenberg was discharged from the service on Dec. 5, two days before the Pearl Harbor attack. He immediately re-enlisted and served in the Far East.

1945 — Greenberg returned from military service and played in 78 games. He hit .311 with 13 home runs and 60 RBI. In his first game back from military service, Greenberg hit a home run. In his final game of the season, Greenberg hit a grand slam. Thanks to Greenberg’s blast, the Tigers finished in first, 1.5 games ahead of Washington. The Tigers beat the Cubs in the World Series, 4-3. Greenberg hit .304 with 2 home runs and 7 RBI.

1946 — Hank Greenberg returned to form, hitting .277 with a league-leading 44 home runs and 127 runs batted in. The Tigers finished in second place, 12 games behind the Red Sox.

1947 — Hank Greenberg played in his last season in Major League Baseball. Greenberg played first base for the Pirates, hitting .249 with 25 home runs and 74 RBI. He also had a league-leading 104 strikeouts. Although he had a disappointing season, Greenberg served as a mentor to Ralph Kiner.