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Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes

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Baseball in the 1930s was more than a national pastime; it was a cultural touchstone that galvanized communities and gave a struggling country its heroes despite the woes of the Depression. Hank Greenberg, one of the most exciting sluggers in baseball history, gave the people of Detroit a reason to be proud.
 
But America was facing more than economic hardship. With the Nazis gaining power across Europe, political and social tensions were ...

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Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes

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Overview

Baseball in the 1930s was more than a national pastime; it was a cultural touchstone that galvanized communities and gave a struggling country its heroes despite the woes of the Depression. Hank Greenberg, one of the most exciting sluggers in baseball history, gave the people of Detroit a reason to be proud.
 
But America was facing more than economic hardship. With the Nazis gaining power across Europe, political and social tensions were approaching a boiling point. As one of the few Jewish athletes competing nationally, Hank Greenberg became not only an iconic ball player, but also an important and sometimes controversial symbol of Jewish identity and the American immigrant experience.
 
When Hank joined the Detroit Tigers in 1933, they were headed for a dismal fifth-place season finish. The following year, with Hank leading the charge, they were fighting off the Yankees for the pennant. As his star ascended, he found himself cheered wherever he went. But there were other noises also. On and off the field, he met with taunts and anti-Semitic threats. Yet the hardship only drove him on to greater heights, sharing the spotlight with the most legendary sluggers of the day, including Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, and Lou Gehrig.
 
Hank Greenberg offers an intimate account of the man’s life on and off the field. It is a portrait of integrity, triumph over adversity, and one of the greatest baseball players to ever grace the field.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
On one level this is a traditional sports biography. We learn of great Detroit Tiger player Greenberg’s life in baseball, especially his 1937 quest to top Lou Gehrig’s American League record for RBIs in a season (he fell one short) and to best Babe Ruth’s major league home run record (he missed by two). Of more importance, this account of Hank (born Hyman) Greenberg’s life is a reminder that bigotry is an equal opportunity monster. Few today recall that, in 1930’s America, Jews were seen as “others” and scorned almost as much as African Americans were. Greenberg became an icon for American Jews and filled that role with dignity, going about his business effectively and fighting when treated unjustly. This is what made him “the hero of heroes.”
VERDICT Rosengren’s well-written book is recommended to all fans looking for a full Greenberg biography to complement Mark Kurlansky’s entry in Yale University Press’s “Jewish Lives” series, or Greenberg’s own autobiography, The Story of My Life , written with Ira Berkow. This should also appeal to readers seeking to learn about social justice. [See also LJ baseball reviewer Robert C. Cottrell’s Two Pioneers: How Hank Greenberg and Jackie Robinson Transformed Baseball—And America.—Ed.] —JB

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews
A veteran sportswriter fondly recalls the life of "the greatest Jewish ballplayer of all time." While not the first Jew to play major league baseball--and Sandy Koufax fans will argue he wasn't the greatest--Hank Greenberg (1911–1986) was the first to succeed spectacularly, paving the way for Jews in the national pastime as Jackie Robinson did for African-Americans. In this cradle-to-grave biography, Rosengren (Journalism/Univ. of Minnesota; Hammerin' Hank, George Almighty and the Say Hey Kid, 2008, etc.) pays particular attention to Greenberg's playing days, to his towering achievements in the game, to the 47-month chunk of his prime lost to World War II and to his later career as a baseball executive. We learn, as well, about the man: his devotion to his parents, his tireless work ethic, his modesty, his short fuse and his popularity with the ladies. Though not especially devout, the "Jewish Babe Ruth" famously refused to play on Yom Kippur in 1934, a decision that simultaneously chanced the ridicule of gentiles and signaled to Jews that tradition need not be wholly sacrificed to assimilation. The slugger fully understood his symbolic role, the feature of Greenberg's story that most clearly engages Rosengren. During this feared hitter's heyday--a time when Hitler assumed power in Germany, when the KKK thrived in America's South, Detroit's own Henry Ford was the nation's best known anti-Semite, "an age when Jews were considered weak, unathletic and impotent,"--Greenberg emerged as a powerful figure, an accomplished and unapologetic ethnic standard-bearer. Rosengren traces the steps toward Greenberg's triumph, vividly reminding us of his hard-earned, path-breaking role. A sensitive look at the cultural impact of the man who once was "the face of Judaism in America."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780451235763
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 3/5/2013
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

John Rosengren is an award-winning author whose other books include Hammerin' Hank, George Almighty and the Say Hey Kid: The Year That Changed Baseball Forever and Blades of Glory: The True Story of a Young Team Bred to Win. His articles have appeared in Men's Journal, Reader's Digest, Runner's World, Sports Illustrated and Utne Reader, among other publications. He is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and the American Society of Journalists and Authors. He lives with his wife Maria and their two children in Minneapolis and plays catcher in a 35-over league.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 3, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Review: Before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major

    Review:

    Before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, another player had to endure taunts from ignorant players and fans as well as wonder what would become of his people as he played the game during a tense time in world history. Hank Greenberg was a New York kid who became a star first baseman for the Detroit Tigers. Born of Jewish descent, Greenberg’s best years on the field coincided with the rise of Hitler in Europe and his plan to wipe out the Jews. Author John Rosengren writes a wonderful biography with the emphasis on this time in Greenberg’s life that is filled with much success as well as trouble.

    The book covers events in the world at the time as skillfully as it does Greenberg’s baseball career which included many records, including becoming the first player in baseball history to win the Most Valuable Player award twice in different positions. Greenberg also lost time to military service – nearly four years – and this part of his life, as well as his comeback is well documented. The book wraps up with Greenberg’s career in the front office of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians, his subsequent divorce and remarriage and his later years when the Tigers gave him a long overdue day of honor.

    While these topics are well researched and documented, the book is also a very good source of information on some of the hot-button topics in baseball of that era. Race relations in baseball were mentioned, including Greenberg’s interactions with Robinson as they both felt the heat of being a “minority” in a game with mostly white Christian males as players. Salaries and negotiations with players are frequently covered as the yearly negotiations Greenberg had with the Tigers always seemed to show his petulant side, yet there was always an agreement reached. It was especially ironic when Greenberg was later a general manager and would employ the same negotiating tactics with his players that infuriated him during his playing days.

    This book is a thorough and enjoyable read on the life of one of baseball’s greatest players. Fans of all generations of baseball should read this book to gain insight into not only one of the best players but also into the events and mindset of that time. Excellent book.

    Did I skim?

    No

    Did I learn something new?

    Yes. Many things, but what struck me the most was how much of a hero Greenberg was considered for Jewish people all across the country. I was also fascinated with his seemingly petulant behavior every year when he negotiated his contract. Considering this was during the time of the reserve clause and no agents, it was understandable, as it was usually the only leverage a player had during negotiations. But it was still surprising to me as it seemed to be the complete opposite of the persona that was portrayed.

    Pace of the book:

    Excellent – the narrative never was bogged down with unimportant information or overloaded the reader.

    Positives:

    Negatives
    Do I recommend?
    Yes. For any baseball fan or historian, this is a complete and entertaining account of Greenberg’s life and baseball career.

    Book Format Read: Hardcover

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 11, 2014

    One can only consume "so much" re. repetitive descript

    One can only consume "so much" re. repetitive descriptions of baseball games. It became obvious (to me) that the mission of the story was noit
    baseball, nor Hank Greenberg, but religious discrimination. Never finished. Returned to the library unfinished.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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