January 1 will be the 100th anniversary of the birth of Hank Greenberg. And Greenberg’s 25th yahrzeit will be marked next August.
When you think of dynamic duos on the same team, you think of the Yankees’ Gehrig and Ruth or the M & M Boys, Mantle and Maris. But the Tigers’ Hank Greenberg and Charlie Gehringer – the G-Men – were baseball’s main run producers from the mid-1930s through 1940.
From 1937 through 1940, Greenberg blasted 172 home runs, an average of 43 per year. During that span, Hammerin’ Hank drove in 591 runs, an average of just under 148 per season.
Gehringer, a smooth-fielding second baseman, had a .320 lifetime batting average in 19 years with the Tigers and led the league in 1937 with a .371 average. The G-Men were models of consistency during their careers, both in the regular season and in post-season play.
(L-R) Hank Greenberg, Babe Ruth, Charlie Gehringer and Lou Gehrig in 1934. The pennant-bound Tigers would finish seven games ahead of the Yankees. The entire Tigers infield played every single game that season – with the exception of first baseman Greenberg, who chose not to play on Yom Kippur.
While Gehringer batted .321 over three World Series, Greenberg holds the Tigers’ record for appearing in the most Fall Classics (1934, 1935,1940 and 1945). In 85 Series at-bats, Greenberg hit five home runs and batted .318, which correspond to his regular season career numbers.
Greenberg posted a .310 career average and 331 home runs despite missing four and a half seasons while serving in the military. He also had an amazing on-base percentage. He led the league in walks a couple of times and if his bases-on-balls were added to his hits, his average would be .410
Translation: Greenberg averaged being on base 41 times for every 100 at-bats.
Let’s take a look at another superstar from the same era – Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio. DiMag had a .325 career average and hit 361 home runs, but had 1,628 more career at-bats than Greenberg. Even with more career at-bats than Greenberg, DiMaggio walked less often (710 times to Greenberg’s 852). So Joltin’ Joe’s on-base percentage was .395.
Greenberg also bested DiMaggio in the long ball category, homering every 15.69 at-bats to DiMaggio’s once every 18.79.
While on the baseball beat, I was lucky enough to meet both men, long after they’d retired, of course. DiMaggio was more guarded and distant while still exuding a quiet grace. Greenberg was far more engaging and charismatic and enjoyed the give and take of being interviewed.
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Sparky Anderson, who passed away a few weeks ago, was one of baseball’s greatest personalities. More important, though, he was one of the most charitable people in the world. He spent countless hours visiting youngsters in hospitals and started a charity in the Detroit area raising funds to help hospitalized children.
Everyone loved the charismatic former manager of the Reds and Tigers. From the stadium sweepers to the biggest big shot, Sparky treated everyone the same. Hours before night games, Sparky would sweep through the front office to chat with employees regardless of rank.
Detroit was hit hard with the passing of four of its most popular baseball personalities in the last 20 months – Hall of Fame third baseman George Kell, who became a popular broadcaster; Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, the most popular player in Tigers history; Ernie Harwell, the great play-by-play man; and Anderson. All were great people to be around; they’ll certainly always be around in my memories. And all play a big part in my upcoming book.
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The media generally tag a player as “Jewish” if he has one Jewish parent. Players are routinely referred to as Jewish even if their one Jewish parent is or was the father and the player himself is married to a non-Jewish woman and their children are being raised as non-Jews. In other words, even if their alleged Jewishness is tenuous at best (never mind the fact that it doesn’t meet basic halachic criteria), sportswriters still refer to them as “Jewish.” So unless one has a player’s genealogy handy, it’s hard to figure out who’s Jewish according to our halachic umpires.
With this in mind, I’ll tell you about a great website – JewishBaseballNews.com, operated out of St. Petersburg, Florida, by transplanted Chicagoan Scott Barancik. It counts players as Jewish even if they only have a Jewish father, but it’s well written and informative. The site also includes minor leaguers. Scott works hard on it and I check it out several times a week.
“Time in the Minors” is a documentary DVD telling of the trials and tribulations of playing and staying in the minor leagues in the hope of advancing to the major leagues.
Tony Okun, born, raised and bar mitzvahed in Omaha, Nebraska, produced this great documentary. I saw the 85-minute version and recommend it. You follow the lives of two minor leaguers, one of whom, according to Tony, is Jewish.
The real expert on which players are really Jewish is Shel Wallman of Jewish Sports Review. Shel works hard digging up facts and I recommend a subscription.
Irwin Cohen – whose eighth book, out next month, tells the story of an Orthodox Jew in baseball – is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul. He can be reached in his dugout at email@example.com.