Hammerin' Hank Greenberg: Baseball Pioneer


The first Jewish baseball hall-of-famer, Hank Greenberg battled anti-Semitism on and off the field. He was raised in New York City, the son of Romanian-Jewish immigrants, and went on to become a baseball legend. This thought-provoking biography follows him from his service during World War II, through his long career with the Detroit Tigers—where the moniker Hammerin' Hank came to life—and finally to his role as a baseball executive. Readers will experience the prejudice Greenberg endured, even as he made his way...

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The first Jewish baseball hall-of-famer, Hank Greenberg battled anti-Semitism on and off the field. He was raised in New York City, the son of Romanian-Jewish immigrants, and went on to become a baseball legend. This thought-provoking biography follows him from his service during World War II, through his long career with the Detroit Tigers—where the moniker Hammerin' Hank came to life—and finally to his role as a baseball executive. Readers will experience the prejudice Greenberg endured, even as he made his way into the annals of baseball history: two-time American League MVP, 331 home runs, and first Jewish baseball player inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Archival photos add to the appeal of this Sydney Taylor Honor Book.

A 2012 Sydney Taylor Honor Book for Older Readers

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Barbara L. Talcroft
Teen baseball fans will know about Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and, especially, Jackie Robinson, but here is a hero whose story may not be quite so familiar. Greenberg, born in 1911 to immigrant Jewish parents, fell in love with baseball as a boy and went on to reach the heights, which eventually included the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1956. Tall, strong, and determined, Greenberg passed on college (to his parents' chagrin), refining his hitting and fielding skills on minor league teams, and finally achieving his dream of making the majors with the Detroit Tigers in 1933. As first baseman, later an outfielder, Greenberg piled up an impressive record as a hitter, was voted Most Valuable Player twice, and played in several World Series. Fans may be surprised to learn that, strange as it seems to us, Greenberg endured a great deal of prejudice as the first Jewish player in the major leagues, often being insulted by opponents during a game and sometimes by spectators. Through it all, he maintained his equilibrium, becoming a hero to Jewish fans and eventually to everyone, when, despite pressure, he refused to play on Yom Kippur, remaining true to his religion's tradition. Sommer does not reveal too much about Greenberg's private life, but she is very good on helping readers understand his world—the Depression, anti-Semitism, tensions in other sports (like boxing and the 1936 Olympics), anxiety over Hitler's rise, and World War II. Greenberg was drafted, later enlisted in the Air Force, and after the war, went into administration. When he died in 1986, he was remembered with admiration and affection by friends and fans alike. A multitude of period photographs (especially from the days when fans got dressed up and stadium employees wore uniforms) bring alive Greenberg's career and the sport he loved. Reviewer: Barbara L. Talcroft
VOYA - Mary Ann Darby
Hank Greenberg became a superstar in the middle of the twentieth century. He had to endure jeering because he was Jewish, but he used the taunts as fuel to do his best. Sommer starts Greenberg's life story with a look at his boyhood in the Bronx, where he grew up with Yiddish-speaking parents from Romania who did not understand why their son spent so much time on a game, but it was a game that would become Greenberg's key to fitting in and to a stellar career. Greenberg was already six-feet-three inches tall in junior high. He played basketball, but baseball was his first love. His time with the Detroit Tigers became an inspiration for many, as he led his team to several World Series. His career was interrupted by his service during the war, but he came back to the game afterward, to the delight of his fans. Throughout his life, he was regarded by all as a fine gentleman, a good man for his actions both on and off the baseball field. This is a terrific addition to middle school and junior high libraries looking for a readable biography that carries extra dimension. This is more than the story of Greenberg, an inspirational Hall of Fame baseball player who happened to be Jewish. This is also the story of the times in which he lived, highlighting the flavor of America during the Depression, during World War II, and during a time when being Jewish or of color engendered blatant prejudiced behavior by too many Americans. For baseball fans or teens who love to read about people who have shaped history in a positive manner, this is a well-researched biography with interesting supporting materials, including Hank Greenberg's picks for an all-star baseball team from players of old. Reviewer: Mary Ann Darby
School Library Journal
Gr 4–8—Sommer offers a well-rounded account of the Hall of Famer's life and career. She opens with the famous on-field encounter in 1947 when Greenberg, in his final season, offered words of encouragement to the rookie Jackie Robinson. As a pioneering Jewish sports star, the veteran player faced prejudice throughout his years in the major leagues. The author includes plenty of interesting historical detail. Greenberg spent most of his career in Detroit, home to the "Radio Priest," Father Charles Coughlin, who frequently targeted Jews in his mean-spirited sermons. Greenberg's career peaked during the Great Depression; in 1938, he hit 58 home runs and came within two runs of tying Babe Ruth's single-season record. Black-and-white pictures add to the book's appeal: one, from 1946, depicts Greenberg and Boston great Ted Williams with a young John F. Kennedy. Another charming photo shows Greenberg ruefully pushing a wheelbarrow full of vegetables that fans had thrown onto the field before a championship game. Sommer concludes with tributes to the player following his death in 1986. Straightforward narrative and fascinating historical detail combine to make this an engaging introduction to a significant ballplayer and his times.—Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA
Kirkus Reviews

Hank Greenberg was an anomaly who challenged the stereotypes of his era. He was a Jewish boy from New York City who was neither weak nor small nor academically inclined. He was well over 6 feet tall, strong and healthy, and he could hit a baseball as well as or better than most major leaguers. He played with the Detroit Tigers, leading his team to several pennants and World Series. Throughout his career there were cheers, but he also had to endure endless, vitriolic anti-Semitic curses. His decision to miss a season-ending game in a tight pennant race in order to observe Yom Kippur became a national issue. At the end of his own career, with customary grace and integrity, he openly empathized with rookie Jackie Robinson, encouraging him to persevere. In many ways this is a typical baseball biography, covering Greenberg's accomplishments season by season, as well as his family life and military service in World War II. Sommer ably puts it all in perspective for young readers. Employing straightforward, accessible language, she carefully incorporates historic events, well illustrated with personal and archival photographs and laced with copious quotes from Greenberg and his contemporaries. The result is a multilayered portrait of a man who was content being remembered as a great Jewish ballplayer. (source notes, bibliography, resources) (Biography. 10-14)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590784525
  • Publisher: Highlights Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2011
  • Pages: 136
  • Age range: 10 - 13 Years
  • Lexile: 1080L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 7.80 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Shelley Sommer is a teacher and the director of the Inly School Library in Scituate, Massachusetts Prior to that, she worked for the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. She received her master's degree in children's literature from Simmons College. After marrying a lifelong Red Sox fan in 1986, she became a proud member of Red Sox Nation and now considers herself a fan of both the Red Sox and Hank Greenberg's Detroit Tigers.

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