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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘George Kell’

Hammerin’ Hank’s 100th

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

   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.

 

   For further info on how you can get a copy, click on to ohshowproductions.com.

 

   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 irdav@scbglobal.net.

Reflections On A Pair Of Detroit Favorites

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Detroit is in mourning.

 

The most popular sports figure around these parts will no longer be wearing a Detroit Tigers uniform.

 

Curtis Granderson, as you know, will be patrolling center field for the New York Yankees next year and probably for several years.

 

There were days of ranting and venting against Tigers’ management on Detroit’s sportstalk radio programs, but most didn’t realize the Granderson deal is a good one for both the Yanks and Tigers.

 

As you recall, in the three-team trade the Tigers gave up Granderson and pitcher Edward Jackson. The Yankees gave up center field prospect Austin Jackson (“A-Jax”) and pitchers Phil Coke and Ian Kennedy. The Arizona Diamondbacks surrendered pitchers Max Scherzer and Dan Schlereth.

 

The Yanks only get Granderson while Edward Jackson and Ian Kennedy go to the Diamondbacks and Detroit ends up with A-Jax, Coke, Scherzer and Schlereth.

 

The swap pays immediate dividends for the Yankees and will prove to be a great deal for the Tigers in the long run. The Diamondbacks may be the only losers.

 

A college grad whose parents are both teachers, Granderson is a great ambassador for baseball and a model citizen with an engaging personality. He’s glib, graceful, helpful and a favorite of groundskeepers and teammates. The New York stage will catapult him to superstardom.

 

Many of the off-the-wall doubles Granderson hit in Detroit’s Comerica Park will be home runs in cozier Yankee Stadium. Also, Yankee Stadium gives Granderson less area to patrol than the vast outfield at Comerica. With better hitters surrounding him in the Yankees’ lineup, Granderson should easily post a .280 batting average with 35 home runs.

 

*     *     *

 

As popular as Granderson has been among followers of the Tigers, George Kell enjoyed several decades of being loved during his long association with the Tigers.

 

   Kell died last year at 85 and I think of him often. An All-Star third baseman and American League batting champion (he hit over .300 nine times) when I started following baseball 60 years ago in 1950, Kell joined Ernie Harwell in the Tigers’ broadcasting booth in 1960 and the pair was the best play-by-play team I’ve ever heard.

 

Kell’s voice was a combination of Mel Allen, Red Barber and Vin Scully. A friendly man with an Arkansas twang, Kell was also a great storyteller. A bad back and knee made traveling difficult and Kell left regular broadcasting duties after the 1996 season. But he would occasionally visit the broadcast booth and fans were treated to his calls at Tiger Stadium’s final game ever in 1999.

 

Kell was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1983. I sent him a letter of congratulations and he responded with a longer letter. We corresponded at times through the years and I still have his letters.

 

In person, I enjoyed his stories; the modest Kell would always tell of the accomplishments of others, never his own. He broke into the majors a couple of years before Jackie Robinson and promised himself he would do what he could to help alleviate the plight of blacks. After gaining fame, Kell ran for the school board in his native Arkansas and was instrumental in integrating the schools.

 

I often prodded Kell to tell me about Hank Greenberg.

 

“Connie Mack traded me from the Philadelphia Athletics to the Tigers in 1946,” Kell said to my tape recorder. “That was Hank’s last year with the Tigers and the fans and writers loved him.

 

“I was in awe of him. I was a teenager in Arkansas and he was a big star and slugger in the late 1930s. Because of the war I never played against him until he returned late in the 1945 season and didn’t have much of a chance to get to know him.

 

“But when I came to the Tigers the following year, Hank greeted me warmly and took me out to dinner, something he did with all the new arrivals. He was a great charismatic guy and one of the smartest ballplayers of all time.

 

“Hank was the best I’ve ever seen at stealing signs when he was on second base. He would study the catcher’s moves and figure which pitches were coming and telegraph them with his own signs to us.”

 

Greenberg was the first inductee into the newly formed Michigan Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1986. He was, however, too ill to attend (cancer would claim him only a few weeks later).

 

Pinch-hitting for Greenberg at the kosher-catered affair attended by more than 300 people was Greenberg’s teammate and friend George Kell.

 

 

Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring working as a department head in a major league front office. Cohen, whose column appears the second week of each month, is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul and may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/sports/reflections-on-a-pair-of-detroit-favorites/2010/01/06/

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