Was Baseball Great Hank Greenberg Even Braver Than Sandy Koufax?

Detroit's Hero Fought Yankees and Anti-Semitism

Ford Tough: Among the surprising facts unearthed about Hank Greenberg was that he worked as an investigator for Henry Ford.
getty images
Ford Tough: Among the surprising facts unearthed about Hank Greenberg was that he worked as an investigator for Henry Ford.

By Dan Epstein

Published April 05, 2013, issue of April 12, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 3 of 3)

Rosengren’s superbly researched biography is easily the most comprehensive book ever written about the first Jewish player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and it nimbly separates fact from the many fictions and half-truths that have long surrounded the subject. From Greenberg’s days as a homesick minor leaguer through his rise to superstardom with the Tigers, his four-year stint in the U.S. Army Air Forces, his postwar comeback, and his tumultuous second career as a general manager and part-owner of the Cleveland Indians and, later, the Chicago White Sox (legendary baseball promoter Bill Veeck was his partner in both teams), Rosengren does a fine job of chronicling the triumphs, frustrations and controversies that studded his life and career. He also paints a vivid picture of the virulent prejudice that Jews faced in America of the 1930s, and illustrates how the handsome, heroic Greenberg almost single-handedly upended the popular stereotyping of Jews as cowardly weaklings and avaricious shylocks — and how he helped an entire generation of Jews assimilate into American life.

Still, the man himself remains elusive. Other than some occasional tension over his star status (or his high salary, or his Jewishness), Rosengren doesn’t give us much insight into Greenberg’s relationships with his teammates and fellow players, though he and Ted Williams do seem to have formed a friendship over their love of hitting. And for a player who bore the whimsical nickname Hankus Spankus, Greenberg mostly comes off here as introverted, hypersensitive and hot-tempered, though there are brief moments in the narrative — like the time in basic training where he’s caught speeding by police an hour and a half after his superior officer had checked him into bed — when a lustier, more fun-loving Hank peeks through.

That said, “Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes” is no hagiography, a la Jane Leavy’s “Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy.” Rosengren doesn’t shy away from chronicling some of Greenberg’s less immaculate moments, like moodily refusing to sign autographs for young fans, accidentally breaking the arm of a girl he’s bedding, or (more ominously) working one off-season for Henry Ford, of all people, as a “special investigator” whose duties may have included spying on union supporters in Ford’s company. But while these fleeting glimpses of a more complex man behind the furrowed brow and bulging muscles pass by all too quickly, Rosengren ultimately makes a persuasive case for Greenberg’s greatness, both as a ballplayer and as a Jewish icon — the “hero of heroes.”

Dan Epstein is the author of “Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging 70s” (Thomas Dunne Books, 2010).


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.