Bob is a longtime member of the Florida sports media, having served as a reporter and copy editor for more than 30 years. His true sports passion, however, is the history of the various games, exhibited by his in-depth book reviews and hobby of collecting cards and other sports memorabilia. He blogs for TBO.com on both subjects, transferring his work for the Tampa Tribune to the realm of cyberspace.
E-Mail The Bookie:
Have a question or comment for Bob?
Follow Bob here:
Most Recent Entries
- Rays @ O’s: Moore looking to go 8-0, Rays looking for sweep
- Collect call: 2013 Bowman baseball
- Rays @ O’s: Rays on FOX game of the week
- Seffner Christian’s Hanson picks Liberty
- Current Baseball America prospect list boasts five locals
- Rays @ O’s: Hellickson returns to mound to start trip
- Former Newsome tennis standout, Hersh, named POY
- Bishop McLaughlin sophomore OH Alyssa Mathis commits to San Diego State
- Rays v BoSox: Price looks for 2nd win, Escobar moved to 5th in order
- Area athletes sign and commit to colleges
- Steinbrenner announces athletic signings
- Mitchell P/INF Chris McCormick commits to PHCC
- Three Hudson girls soccer players, including first the Division I scholarship, to sign Friday
- Connors holds serve in autobiography
- Allergies might be behind Price’s poor start
- Bucs Report -Tribune staff
- Rays Report - Roger Mooney
- Bolts Report - Erik Erlendsson
- Bulls Report
- Prep Report - Hillsborough
- Prep Report - Pasco
- Prep Report - Region
- Prep Report - Recruiting Updates
- Prep Report - Football
- Go Fishing: On The Waterfront
- The Sports Bookie - Bob D'Angelo
- Gators Report - Tribune staff
- Youth Sports Report
- NFL Draft Report
- Go Ask: Frank's Tacklebox
- Bucified Bert Blog
- BUK Power - Bucs Fan Blog
- Pigskin Preacher - NFL Fan Blog
- Breakfast Bonus - Tom McEwen
- Highlands Sports
Book on Greenberg presents balanced, accurate look at Tigers HOF slugger
Posted Mar 8, 2013 by Bob D'Angelo
Updated Apr 6, 2013 at 07:33 PM
Jackie Robinson showed extraordinary courage and determination when he broke major-league baseball’s color barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Baseball fans could see the difference when Robinson played; he was black in a game filled with white faces.
That baseball had racial stereotypes is no secret; however, in the years before Robinson, there was a more subtle form of racism at work, one not readily apparent: anti-Semitism.
In the 1930s, stereotypes about people of the Jewish faith were set in stone: sharp in matters of finance, but not athletically gifted. Worldwide, Jews were coming under fire. Adolf Hitler was consolidating his power and was preparing to “purify” the Aryan race in what would evolve into a horrifying Holocaust. In the United States, Jews were barred from country clubs and from living in certain neighborhoods or staying in certain hotels.
Hank Greenberg helped change that perception and knocked down some barriers in the process. A 6-foot-4, 220-pounder from the Bronx, Greenberg was a powerful slugger who could launch towering drives. The Hall of Famer helped the Detroit Tigers win four American League pennants and two World Series. He came within one RBI (183) of tying Lou Gehrig’s AL record. And in 1938, he came within a whisker of tying Babe Ruth’s home run record when he smashed 58 round-trippers.
Whether Greenberg liked it or not, the Jewish community pinned its hopes on him, rejoicing in his successes and bemoaning his adversity.
One cannot discuss the career of Greenberg without mentioning his religion. Author John Rosengren explores that angle in depth in his book, “Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes” (New American Library; $26.95, hardback, 392 pages). Rosengren jumps right to the fore of Greenberg’s religion in the opening chapter, as the first baseman agonizes whether to play or sit out the Sept. 10, 1934, game to observe Rosh Hashanah. The Tigers were in the middle of a hot pennant race, and his ultimate decision to play (after attending services in the morning) was cheered in most sectors while reviled by more religious orthodox followers.
Greenberg hit a pair of homers that day, including a walk-off shot in the bottom of the ninth, as the Tigers defeated the Boston Red Sox 2-1.
“By attending religious services in the morning and paying baseball in the afternoon, he struck the perfect balance for the Jewish-American,” Rosengren writes.
Rosengren provides plenty of balance in his well-researched look at a man who was an outstanding athlete on the field and led an interesting life away from it.
Here is the type of stereotypes Greenberg faced. In his book “Nice Guys Finish Last,” Leo Durocher tells an anecdote about Dizzy Dean addressing Greenberg as “Mo” during batting practice before Game 1 of the 1934 World Series. “Mo” was a shortened version of “Moses.”
“The ‘Mo’ was just what you think it is, the casual anti-Semitism of the locker room,” Durocher wrote. “What did it mean? Well, it meant what it meant. Depending on who said it and how you chose to take it.
“Given a certain inflection, it can be a sign of affection. Given another inflection, it can be something else again.”
Durocher always had a keen eye for talent and was instrumental in paving the way for Robinson to play in Brooklyn. But he also was a consummate bench jockey. He notes that Dean was indulging in banter, which was common at the time.
“Throw the (SOB) a ham sandwich,” Rosengren quotes Durocher calling to Dean during Game 1 with Greenberg at bat. “He won’t touch it.”
Greenberg struck out.
That was tame compared to some of the slurs Greenberg faced during his career, particularly from the Chicago Cubs during the 1935 World Series.
Rosengren documents Greenberg’s contract hassles with the Tigers’ owners, first with Frank Navin and later with Walter Briggs. Greenberg had a knack for negotiations and was one of few players in that era who could command, demand — and receive — a high salary.
There was controversy surrounding Greenberg’s induction into the Army in 1941. Rosengren writes at Greenberg’s initial hesitance to leave in the middle of the 1941 season, but he eventually gave up his $55,000 annual salary to serve in the military for $29 a month. He was discharged late in 1941 but re-enlisted right after Pearl Harbor.
Greenberg served 47 months in the military and did not play baseball during that time. When he returned, there was concern he might be washed up. Certainly, the years away from the game had taken its toll. But he homered in his first game back and then hit a grand slam on the final day of the 1945 season propelled the Tigers into the World Series.
Despite his research, Rosengren does stumble in a few places. He incorrectly refers to St. Louis Cardinals owner Sam Breadon as the owner of the crosstown Browns. And in a narrative about the Cleveland Indians (where Greenberg played in 1947), Rosengren correctly notes that team owner Bill Veeck considered trading playing manager Lou Boudreau but has the time frame wrong. Rosengren puts that incident in 1949, when in fact, Veeck considered swapping Boudreau for Browns shortstop Vern Stephens during the 1947 World Series. It never happened, but it certainly touched off a firestorm in Cleveland.
For the most part, however, Rosengren is on the money. He traces Greenberg’s career as a general manager and delves into his family life. Many books have been written about Greenberg, with the player writing his own autobiography shortly before his death in 1986.
Those books — and even Greenberg’s account — are laced with errors and inaccuracies. Rosengren does a fine job setting the record straight.
Through it all, Rosengren accurately paints Greenberg as the standard bearer for the Jewish faith. It’s a massive burden for one player, and Jackie Robinson certainly faced much more overt obstacles. But Greenberg handled his own adversity well and doggedly earned the respect of his teammates, his peers, and a nation.
That Rosengren chose to label Greenberg “The Hero of Heroes” is not a stretch. It’s an accurate portrayal, and his look at Greenberg is a valuable addition to the library of baseball books.