As the first major Jewish sports star in the United States, Hank Greenberg led the charge for social acceptance for future Jewish players. Like many on the list of the eight greatest Jewish baseball players of all time, Greenberg‘s accomplishments are not confined to the baseball diamond. His contributions to the game of baseball and to the United States will continue to be felt for generations to come.
Hank Greenberg played 13 seasons in Major League Baseball. The first 12 were spent with the Detroit Tigers before finishing his career with a single season with the Pittsburgh Pirates. During his 13 seasons, Greenberg batter .313, with 1,051 Runs Scored, 1,628 Hits, 379 Doubles, 331 Home Runs, 1276 RBI, 852 Walks against 844 Strikeouts, with a .412 On Base Percentage, while Slugging .605, and having an OPS of 1.017. Additionally had had a career .990 Field Percentage.
In 1934, Greenberg refused to play games schedule for both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Ultimately he would play on Rosh Hashanah, after much discussion with his Rabbi, but not on Yom Kippur. He was criticized for his decision, as many fans felt he should have played on both holidays. Regardless if you are Jewish or not, one cannot argue against the courage it took for Greenberg to take such a stand for his faith, including the fact that both holidays occurred during the Tigers pennant chase. Greenberg’s actions were taken long before the idea of activist athletes was even considered, much less a reality.
A five time All Star, Greenberg twice won the Most Valuable Player Award (1935 and 1940). He also led the American League in several offensive categories, including: Runs (1938), Doubles (1935, 1940), Home Runs (1935, 1938, 1940, 1946), RBI (1935, 1937, 1940, 1946), Walks (1938, 1947), Strikeouts (1939). His OPS stayed above 1.000 in every season from 1934 through 1940.
The career statistics for Greenberg are impressive, and are staggering when you consider he only player in 19 games total from 1941 through 1944 when he was in his early thirties and his prime. In 1940, Greenberg was the first American League player to be drafted during World War II. He would be discharged shortly before the bombing of Pearl Harbor and then volunteer to return to duty. When he was discharged for good in June 1945. He service time in the military during World War II was the longest of any Major League player.
Following his retirement from playing, Greenberg worked with the Cleveland Indians beginning in 1948, eventually becoming the General Manager, as well as part owner, and leading the team through a successful period in the 1950’s. He resigned following the 1957 season. He would also work with the Chicago White Sox as their General Manager from 1959 through 1961.
Hank Greenberg’s career numbers and individual season achievement saw him elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1956. He is among the greatest baseball players of all time. His achievements and service both on and off the field rightly give him the distinction as being the second greatest Jewish baseball player of all time.