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

Posts Tagged ‘Tiger Stadium’

Hank Greenberg’s 25th Yahrzeit

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

It was Hank Greenberg’s 25th yahrzeit recently and I said Kaddish for baseball’s biggest Jewish superstar.


 


Greenberg had children, but I doubt any said Kaddish, and if it was said, it more than likely wasn’t in an Orthodox shul.

 

If I hear otherwise, I’ll let you know.

 

I have vivid memories of Hank’s passing 25 years ago.I was working for the Detroit Tigers at the time and was in my Tiger Stadium office.

 

The newspapers called, looking for some quotes.I was the lone Jewish employee around and gave them some memories.Outside of seeing Greenberg in old films, I’d never seen him play; his last season as a player was 1947 and I only began to follow baseball a couple of years later.

 

My personal memories of Greenberg were forged in 1983, when I had the chance to talk to him prior to a doubleheader. The occasion was the retirement of Greenberg’s uniform number between games.I was on the field for the ceremony, covering the event as a photographer for a national publication and some upper management folks of the Tigers.

 

I taped our conversation. Here are some highlights:

 

COHEN: You grew up in the Bronx, not far from Yankee Stadium and not too
far from the Polo Grounds. Did you root for the Yankees or the Giants?

 

            GREENBERG: I was a Giants fan. Most of the kids were, because the Giants were the outstanding team at the time. But the Yankees were the first to scout me and they made the mistake of taking me to the ballpark to watch the team play and they gave me a seat right behind the Yankees dugout. Paul Krichell, who was then the head scout of the Yankees, showed me where Lou Gehrig was. I took one look at Gehrig and saw those shoulders and he looked like he was going to last forever.

 

Fortunately, the Detroit club was interested in me and Detroit, even back then, had a reputation of being a great baseball town. So I decided to cast my lot with the Tigers and it was a great ballpark for a right-handed hitter to hit in and it was a great baseball town.

 

COHEN: What was your parents’ reaction to your chosen occupation?

 

GREENBERG: Growing up in the Bronx with Jewish parents, they wanted me to be doctor or a dentist or a lawyer. I decided to be a ballplayer, which automatically characterized me as a bum. The neighbors used to say my parents had three nice children and one bum. But little did they realize that 40 years later the athletes [would be] the millionaires and the lawyers and the dentists and doctors are the working stiffs. I was just a little ahead of my time.

 

COHEN: Did the Giants have any interest in you?

 

GREENBERG: I tried to get a tryout with them and I was the all-scholastic first baseman for the entire city of New York but they said they saw me play and that I didn’t have a chance to make it in the big leagues. They wouldn’t even let me in the ballpark just to shag balls.

 

 


Irwin Cohen took this picture of Hank Greenberg at the

Tiger Stadium ceremony to retire Greenberg’s uniform number.

 

 

COHEN: In 1934 – your second season in the majors – you batted .339 and hit 26 home runs, helping lead the Tigers to the pennant. Was that your biggest thrill?

 

GREENBERG: I can’t say it was the biggest. We had a great infield that year. The Detroit infield played in every game except one. I played in every game except one. I played 153 games and everyone else [third baseman Marv Owen, shortstop Billy Rogell, second baseman Charlie Gehringer] played in all 154 games. And we drove in 462 [a record that still stands]. I guess the “Million Dollar Infield” of the old Philadelphia team didn’t even have half that much.

 

COHEN: You had some fantastic years. In 1937 for example, you hit 40 home runs and knocked in a staggering 183 runs while hitting .337. In 1938 you had 58 home runs. Were you disappointed you didn’t break Babe Ruth’s record?

 

GREENBERG: No. It wasn’t that much of a disappointment to me, as Babe Ruth was head and shoulders above everybody. I wasn’t in his class as a home run hitter.

 

 COHEN: You had five games to go and already had 58 home runs. What happened?

 

GREENBERG: Of the last five, two were in Detroit and three in Cleveland. The
last two – the doubleheader – they moved from old League Park to Municipal Stadium and it wasn’t very easy to hit a home run there because they didn’t have the enclosed fences in those days. You had to hit home runs into the seats.

 

Some Jewish fans still feel pitchers didn’t want a Jew to break Babe Ruth’s record.Greenberg disagreed.He felt many opposing players wanted him to break the single-season home run record, which at the time was 60.Greenberg went on to say that his 57th homer was a gift. He tried to stretch a triple into an inside-the-park home run andI was out by a mile at the plate but the umpire was a friend of mine and so was the catcher, who didn’t argue the call.”

 

            I can still hear Greenberg’s voice and his charismatic manner of speaking with a trace of the Bronx. Even though it’s 64 years since he played, he remains the biggest Jewish sports star of all time.


 


Irwin Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years and earned a World Series ring. To read his illustrated biography on how he made it to the baseball field, send a check payable for $19.95 to Irwin Cohen, 25921 Stratford Place, Oak Park, Michigan, 48237. Cohen, the president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

My Half-Century At Tiger Stadium

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

   It’s been 10 years since the last game was played at Tiger Stadium. Memories of the storied ballpark have been turned into books and tapes, audio and video (I had a hand in adding to the aforementioned).

 

   Fifty years. Half a century. That’s how long my relationship lasted with the old stadium near the western edge of downtown Detroit.

 

   They started demolishing the ballpark of Ty Cobb and Hank Greenberg last year and recently completed the job. I went to the site the other day and the memories flowed.

 

   It was the summer of ’49 and our yeshiva bus for little day-campers was heading to the stadium, but so were the big dark clouds.

 

   We were ushered in to the lower deck left-field grandstand and sat there waiting for the game to start. It never did. The rain didn’t stop. The yeshiva tried again a few weeks later with the same result. Seeing nothing but rain hitting the tarp during my first two visits to the stadium did nothing to dampen my interest in baseball, however.

 

   I started to follow baseball seriously during the 1950 season. I listened to the games on the big old radio and got to know the names of all the Tigers players. For some reason, Hoot Evers caught my fancy. He was the Tigers’ left fielder and one of the leading hitters in the American League at the time.

 

   It was a beautiful day when the yeshiva day camp bus arrived in July 1950. My day was even more beautiful when I realized I would be sitting behind the area patrolled by my favorite player.

 

   It took a while to get acclimated, as it was the first time I had seen the infield; the tarp had covered the area on my previous two visits. I was surprised to see grass in the infield – I’d expected the kind of dirt infield generally found in municipal parks. I also expected radio play-by-play man Harry Heilmann to describe the game on the loudspeaker. By the time Hoot Evers lined a double off the left field fence a couple of rows in front of me, I was able to follow the events.

 

   I saw my first night game in August 1951 and I can recall Joe DiMaggio popping up to end the game.

 

   The following year was a sad time for me as the Tigers traded Evers to the Boston Red Sox. I saw the legendary Satchel Paige baffle the Tigers with an assortment of pitches in 1953 and watched in awe as Ted Williams hit four long home runs in a doubleheader in 1954.

 

   In ’54 my mother gave me permission to take my first city bus ride by myself. I went to a midweek day game to see Evers play against the Tigers. He didn’t play, but I saw him after the game. I stationed myself under the stands on the first-base side about 60 feet from the entrance of the visitors’ clubhouse.

 

   I didn’t have long to wait. Evers was one of the first players to exit. My heart was pounding. He was just standing there waiting for the other players to come out.

 

   Before I knew it, my skinny little body was looking up at his trim 6-foot, 2-inch frame. He looked somewhat like Tab Hunter and Troy Donahue, popular young actors of the era.

 

   “May I have your autograph?” I heard myself ask politely.

 

   “Beat it kid!” my hero said gruffly.

 

   “But you’re my favorite player,” I pleaded.

 

   “That’s what they all say,” he said. “Now beat it.”

 

   I quickly went in the other direction. Some 20 years would pass before I met Evers again – and he would be responsible for the birth of my writing and baseball career. But that’s another story for another time.

 

 

Rabbi Steven Weil (right) and his friend from New Jersey take a last look around Tiger Stadium as the lights go out for the final time.

 

 

   The 1955 season belonged to Al Kaline. I was there when the 20-year-old Tigers right fielder hit two home runs in one inning. He went on to slug 27 home runs and hit .340 that year, becoming the youngest player ever to win a batting title.

 

   Fast forward to 1974, Kaline’s last year as a player and my first as a baseball writer and photographer. I was granted field, clubhouse, and press box privileges and got to really know the ballplayers, the old ballpark and the people working behind the scenes and in the front office.

 

   I went to work for the Tigers after the 1983 season. The maintenance guys took a big old brown desk and chair out of the storage room and dusted it off for me. Decades before, club owner Frank Navin used it and there were pictures of Cobb and Greenberg signing contracts on the desk and using the chair I was now sitting in.

 

   While I saw many great games and many star players in my half-century of experiencing the stadium as a fan, writer and front office department head, I’ll never forget the final game of the 1999 season, which also was the final game played at Tiger Stadium.

 

   It was a beautiful day and I was able to arrange for two minyanim of tickets in the upper deck just behind the infield on the third base side. Mincha was held after the sixth inning in the upper left field corner concourse behind the concession stands.

 

   I wanted to get to Tiger Stadium about three hours before game time to soak up the atmosphere. So did Rabbi Steven Weil, the then-spiritual leader of the Young Israel of Oak Park, about a half-mile from my home dugout. We decided to go together, but first we stopped at the airport to pick up a friend of the rabbi’s from New Jersey who was coming in for the day just to be part of baseball history.

 

   The Tigers won that final game and the ceremonies afterward were unforgettable. Former Tigers as far back as the Greenberg era were introduced one-by-one and walked, trotted or were carted to their former positions while the scoreboard showed their career highlights.

 

   We were among the first to arrive and last to leave. It was Sukkot at the time, and later in the evening I went around the corner to Rabbi Weil’s sukkah. The Weils were doing what they usually did – teaching. They were hosting a family eating in a sukkah for the first time.

 

   The Weils eventually left the Detroit community for Beverly Hills. Now, of course, Rabbi Weil is the executive vice president of the Orthodox Union in New York.

 

   Even before Tiger Stadium closed, those of us in Detroit knew Rabbi Weil was destined for the national stage. We also knew his rebbetzin, Yael, was a fantastic teacher and lecturer in her own right. The OU pulled off a double steal.

  

  

      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. His column appears the second week of each month. Cohen, who is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.           

  

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/sports//2009/09/09/

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