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With 40 Hall of Famers ready to come home to Cooperstown in a few weeks, there’s a wonderful spirit in the air in Central New York.
But thanks to some tireless work by author John Rosengren, the spirit of one more legend – former Tigers and Pirates star Hank Greenberg – has come to life at the home of baseball.
Rosengren’s biography “Hank Greenberg: Hero of Heroes” was published this spring by New American Library and is available at booksellers throughout the country. The 392-page work is a must-read for fans of the slugging first baseman, who later became a respected general manager.
Rosengren documents Greenberg’s entire life, which began on Jan. 1, 1911 in New York City. The son of Jewish immigrants from Romania, Hyman Greenberg was the third child of David and Sarah – his name was recorded on his birth certificate as “Henry” by mistake. By the time he reached his early 20s, “Hank” had become one of the most famous Jews in America – a symbol of pride for his race.
Rosengren meticulously documents Greenberg’s battle with prejudice and his own conscience as he established himself as one of baseball’s most dangerous hitters. He brings to life Greenberg’s pursuit of Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in the 1938 season, when Greenberg fell just short with 58 round-trippers. And readers get an inside look at a man driven to perfection – who was his own harshest critic despite two American League Most Valuable Player Awards, four AL home run crowns and four RBI titles.
“Hank was no longer being asked to carry his team,” Rosengren wrote. “He was being prevailed upon to carry his people.”
One of the most influential Jewish athletes of all-time – and a man who inspired countless Jewish children to strive for greatness – Greenberg is often underrepresented in the analysis of baseball’s greatest sluggers. But despite losing the equivalent of more than four prime seasons during World War II, Greenberg still hit 331 home runs and drove in 1,276 runs in what amounted to nine-and-a-half full campaigns. His career slugging percentage of .605 ranks sixth all time (only Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx and Barry Bonds rank higher), as does his career on-base plus slugging (OPS) average of 1.017.
Greenberg was also the first major leaguer to re-enlist in the armed forces following the Dec. 7, 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor, having been honorably discharged from the Army after serving eight months in 1941.
Greenberg was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1956 and called it his “greatest” thrill in baseball.
Rosengren captures all this and more in a volume that brings Hank Greenberg back to life. A fitting tribute to a man whose greatness transcended the game.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum