Hank Green­berg: The Hero of Heroes

  • Review
By – April 11, 2013

Israel didn’t exist then. Hank Green­berg did. He was the equiv­a­lent to the state of Israel.” That quote sums up why so much has been writ­ten about Green­berg. After all, Han­kus Pankus” was a Hall of Fame slug­ger, but real­ly no more than the third-best first base­man of the 1930s, no more an unfor­get­table play­er than, say, his Detroit Tigers team­mates Char­lie Gehringer or Mick­ey Cochrane. Still, as John Rosen­gren explains at some length in this new biog­ra­phy, Green­berg (19111986) was a remark­able and sig­nif­i­cant fig­ure, par­tic­u­lar­ly for Jew­ish Amer­i­cans, who spent much of the 1930s threat­ened and mar­gin­al­ized and eager to place their faith in a tall, hand­some ath­lete who nev­er ran away from his Judaism.

Rosen­gren aims high with this book, shoot­ing to cor­rect some of the mis­con­cep­tions that have arisen from past books and movies. In doing so, he goes over some famil­iar sto­ries and fresh­ens them up: the sto­ry of Greenberg’s much-dis­cussed deci­sion to not play on Yom Kip­pur 1934, his attempt to break Babe Ruth’s home-run record, his four and a half years of mil­i­tary ser­vice in World War II, and his encour­age­ment of Jack­ie Robin­son dur­ing the dark­est days of Robinson’s rook­ie year. 

The author also shares sto­ries about Green­berg that make him seem total­ly human, cov­er­ing not only his great­est hits but some of his famous fail­ures. At one point, the slug­ger is described as thin-skinned, stub­born and undiplo­mat­ic,” and that seems to fit, giv­en some of his out­bursts of tem­per. This is a well-round­ed profile.

One might ques­tion if anoth­er book on Hank Green­berg was real­ly need­ed. The answer is: If you only read one book on the Jew­ish base­ball great, this is the one to pick. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, foot­notes, index, photographs.

Relat­ed: Jews and Base­ball Read­ing List

David Cohen is a senior edi­tor at Politi­co. He has been in the jour­nal­ism busi­ness since 1985 and wrote the book Rugged and Endur­ing: The Eagles, The Browns and 5 Years of Foot­ball. He resides in Rockville, MD.; his wife, Deb­o­rah Bod­in Cohen, writes Jew­ish children’s books.

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