Here are some tidbits that were too far afield to be included in the book but further illuminate the characters and events in the story.
• Many Romanian Jews formed groups at the turn of the century known as feess-gehers (foot-walkers) that walked to the borders and found transportation from there to European ports. There’s no evidence--either documented or among family lore--that David Greenberg and Sarah Schwarz were among the foot-walkers, though they likely knew fellow Romanians who were.
• Hank’s first home was at 16 Barrow Street, between Bleecker and Fourth Street. Today, there is a plaque on the front of the building that shows the silhouette of a boy grasping a bat and reads: “First home of Henry Greenberg, 1911-1986, Hall of Fame Baseball Player Detroit Tigers.”
• The field in Crotona Park where Greenberg practiced so many hours was known as the PSAL field, for Public School Athletic League. Today, the field is called “Hank Greenberg Ballfield.”
• Paul Krichell, the Yankee scout who failed to land Greenberg, hardly made an impression as a major league baseball player. He played in eighty-seven games over two seasons with a .222 career batting average. Krichell’s most notable performance occurred on a July afternoon in 1912 when Ty Cobb stole second, third and home against him.
• Krichell got an unusual scouting tip from a bellhop at a hotel who introduced himself as a pitcher. Krichell gave the young man, Johnny Allen, a tryout, and in his rookie year, 1932, he went 17-4 with a 3.70 ERA. Allen ended up pitching thirteen seasons in the majors, posting a career record of 142-75, a .654 winning percentage. Not bad for a bellhop.
• The day that Hank Greenberg first saw Lou Gehrig play at Yankee Stadium, Gehrig needed at least two hits to finish the season at .300. He was hitless in his first two trips. The next time up, he bunted. Jimmy Dykes, the Philadelphia Athletics’ third baseman, fielded the ball but didn’t try to throw out Gehrig. Same thing happened his next at-bat: Gehrig bunted, and Dykes let him reach safely. Hank recognized that as unusual, but since the Athletics had already clinched the pennant and the game was meaningless beyond personal statistics, he figured Dykes did Gehrig the favor because Larrupin’ Lou was so likeable. Gehrig finished the season at an even .300.
• Greenberg was not able to follow in the path of Moe Berg, one of the few Jews to gain admission to Princeton. The erudite Berg--reputed to be able to speak seven languages but not hit in any of them--went on to play fifteen years of major league ball before retiring to become a wartime spy for the United States.
• At the end of the 1930 season, The only interaction Hank had with Bucky Harris, the manager, happened one day when Hank was inside the locked clubhouse. He heard someone pound on the door and hurried to open it. The five-foot-nine Harris looked up at Greenberg, nodded and walked by him.
• Earl Whitehill, a handsome man, had married a beautiful woman, Violet Geissinger, in 1924. She was an ex-Broadway chorus girl and onetime Miss California. The story frequently circulated in books and online is that she was also the model for the original Sun-Maid Raisin Girl in 1915. According to the Sun-Maid company, however, the model was another curly-haired California beauty, Lorraine Collett Petersen. Violet did pose for a 1921 Sun-Maid single-page calendar printed as a supplement in the Sunday, February 13, 1921 edition of the Philadelphia Record newspaper.
• C. Paul Rogers gives us this insight on Hughie Jennings in his SABR Biography Project writeup of the manager: “Although generally cheerful and enthusiastic, Jennings as manager would do anything to win, a definite carryover from his playing days with the Orioles. He baited umpires and opposing players and even resorted to buying rubber snakes and jack-in-the boxes when A's man-child Rube Waddell pitched against the Tigers. Since Rube was a southpaw, Hughie would station himself in the first base coaching box with the toys and yell, ‘Hey, Rube, look at this!’ while he popped the jack-in-the-box or wiggled the rubber snake. On another occasion when Waddell was pitching for the St. Louis Browns, Jennings and his players brought several dogs into their dugout to distract Rube, who loved animals. Jennings even took a dog out to his third base coaching box.”
• When Bill Yawkey died, he left his $40 million estate to his nephew and adoptive son, Tom Yawkey, who later used his inheritance to purchase the Boston Red Sox.
• Arnold Rothstein, a Jewish gangster and one of America’s best-known criminals, was a professional gambler, racetrack owner and venture capitalist. Rothstein never had direct contact with Chick Gandil, the White Sox first baseman credited for coming up with the scheme to throw the 1919 World Series or with other Chicago players willing to do so, but Rothstein did put up $80,000 for those players through a middleman and received handsome payoffs on the bets he placed. During the subsequent grand jury investigation in July 1921 when three White Sox players confessed their involvement, Rothstein denied his involvement and claimed he had not gambled on the games. Instead, Rothstein ratted out Abe Attell, the former featherweight boxing champion known as the “Little Hebrew” who’d been dogged by accusations of throwing fights during his twelve-year reign, and “some other cheap gamblers.” The case became moot when the confessions of Eddie Cicott, Joe Jackson and Claude Williams conveniently disappeared--Rothstein denied involvement with that, too--and criminal charges against the ballplayers and gamblers were dropped. (When Joe Jackson sued for back pay in 1924, the confessions resurfaced and Jackson was denied his claim.)
• F. Scott Fitzgerald cast Meyer Wolfsheim, “a small, flat-nosed Jew,” as Arnold Rothstein in his novel The Great Gatsby, published in 1925. When Jay Gatsby tells Nick Carraway that Wolfsheim is the man responsible for fixing the 1919 World Series, Carraway sheds a layer of innocence. “It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people--with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe.”
For Fitzgerald’s readers, “Wolfsheim epitomized rural and small-town America’s fantasies about the threat posed by mysterious and conspiratorial Jewish moneychangers, denizens of the city, to the American way of life,” historian William M. Simons writes in “Judaism, Baseball and the American Dream.” “Here was a Shylock who honored not even the sanctity of the World Series.”
• In 1871, when the National Association began play, Lipman Pike became the first professional league Jewish baseball player. He managed the Troy Haymakers, played first base, second base and outfield; and he tied for the league lead in home runs (with four in twenty-eight games). Playing for the Baltimore Canaries the following year, he led the league outright in homers though there’s some question as to how many he hit. His SABR biography puts the number at six; Baseball-Reference.com credits him with seven. (Both sources agree he played 56 games.)
Pike played nine seasons with seven different teams (and came out of retirement after six years for one more game with another team). He hit 21 total home runs and had a career .322 average.
• Erskine Mayer became the first Jewish pitcher to win more than twenty games in a season, notching twenty-one victories for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1914. He won twenty-one again in 1915.
• Nate Berkenstock, a Civil War veteran of two weeks, holds the unbreakable record of being the first-born major leaguer. He was born in 1831, co-founded the Philadelphia Athletics in 1860 and made his professional debut in a National Association game on October 30, 1871. In the last Athletics’ game of the season, the forty-year-old Jewish ballplayer made three put-outs in right field but went oh-for-four at the plate, striking out three times.
• Plant Field, the combination racetrack and ballfield on the old Tampa fairgrounds where the Tigers held spring training in 1930, was used by many teams over the years, including the Chicago Cubs, the Boston Red Sox, the Washington Senators, Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox. Babe Ruth holds the distinction of hitting the longest home run at the park: a 587-foot blow in an exhibition against the New York Giants on April 4, 1919, his last season with the Red Sox. The longest home run of his career is commemorated by a plaque on the site, which is now part of the University of Tampa.
• Frank Navin wanted to Babe Ruth to come to Detroit so Navin could interview him for the job of managing the Tigers, but Ruth already had plans to head to Japan on a barnstorming tour, where fans welcomed him with cries of "Banzai Babe Ruth!" Rob Fitts tells the story of that tour, which also included Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig and the catcher-spy Moe Berg, in his book Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination during the 1934 Tour of Japan.
• Comiskey Park hosted the first All-Star game on July 6, 1933. Arch Ward, the sports editor for the Chicago Tribune, had suggested an exhibition between the best players of the American and National Leagues at the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago. Since major league baseball was played in only eleven cities at the time, none farther west or south than St. Louis, the national exposition showcased baseball’s top talent to the rest of the country. The Giants’ John McGraw and the Athletics’ Connie Mack--assisted by the fans--picked the squads for their respective leagues. The lineups included Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Babe Ruth. Charlie Gehringer, the Tigers’ reliable second baseman, was Detroit’s only representative.
The game drew 49,200 fans to Comiskey Park and entertained the nation. Arch Ward’s experiment, initially conceived as a one-time event, was so successful--with the Babe slugging a game-winning homer and a share of profits donated to a fund for needy ex-ballplayers--that it became an annual tradition.
• Of the approximately 16,900 men to have played Major League Baseball, only 160 have been Jews, those who either had a Jewish parent or considered themselves Jewish, according to the Jewish Sports Review. That’s only 0.9 percent.
• In April 2012, there were nine Jews playing in the Major Leagues: Michael Schwimer, Craig Breslow, Ryan Braun, Ike Davis, Scott Feldman, Ian Kinsler, Jason Marquis, Danny Valencia and Kevin Youkilis.
• Ryan Braun, the 2011 National League MVP, spent holidays at his maternal grandfather’s home in Van Nuys, California, where he hit Whiffle balls in the back yard. That home used to belong to Hank Greenberg. “It’s very cool, and ironic,” Braun told The New York Times.
• As his skills waned and his waist waxed, Babe Ruth discovered his value as a player had dropped. In January 1934, he signed a contract with the Yankees for $35,000--a $45,000 pay cut from his salary three years earlier. Ruth probably could have made more with the Tigers as a player-manager if he had not antagonized owner Frank Navin with his initial demand.
• Before Sonny Eliot was a beloved comic weatherman in Detroit, known for his corny jokes, non sequiturs and weather reports for obscure Michigan towns, he was Marvin Schlossberg. Born in 1926, Schlossberg became a B-24 bomber pilot in World War II after graduating from Detroit’s Central High. Shot down on a bombing raid over Germany, he spent eighteen months in the Stalagluft I prison camp. Upon returning home, he earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in mass communications at Wayne State University and became Sonny Eliot, the weatherman.
As a boy, Schlossberg wiped down seats at Briggs Stadium for tips. Hank Greenberg often scanned the boys in the stands for volunteers to shag balls while he took early batting practice. One day, he picked Schlossberg out of the stands to shag balls for him. That became a regular practice for the boy who became Sonny Eliot.
Sonny’s mother was one of those fans who did not understand baseball but knew Greenberg was important to the Jewish community, so she listened to Tiger ball games at home on the radio. One afternoon, Ty Tyson mentioned that the pitcher had gone for the rosin bag. “Rosinbeg!” Mrs. Schlossberg exclaimed. “Noch a Yid offen Tigers? (Is there another Jew on the Tigers)?”
• Vera Brown, who reported on Hank’s handsomeness and eligibility in her Detroit Times column “Our Times,” was one of the last of the sob sisters. She was a tough old bird who cranked out her columns with her hat on her head and a cigarette between her lips. On hot days--before the newsroom was air-conditioned--she often removed her dress and worked in her underwear.
• Later in the 1936 season, the New York Yankees acquired Jake Powell for Ben Chapman in a straight-up swap of bigots. Before the World Series, Powell dismissed Giants’ ace and ’36 NL MVP Carl Hubbell as “just another pitcher.” Powell batted .455 in the Series and hit a home run in Game Six.
• On November 10, 1948, three years after Jake Powell’s eleven-year major league career ended, he was arrested in Washington, D. C., on charges of passing bad checks totaling $300. At the time of his arrest, Powell was with a woman who said they had plans to get married that afternoon. (Those plans were news to Powell’s wife.) At the police station, Powell asked to speak to the woman alone. The police granted his request and left the two alone in a room. “To hell with it,” Powell said. “I’m going to end it.” He pulled out a pistol and shot himself, first in the left chest, then in the right temple. By the time an ambulance arrived ten minutes later, he was dead.
• The Brooklyn Dodgers became the first team to wear batting helmets in 1941. After Joe Medwick and Pee Wee Reese were beaned, general manager Larry MacPhail mandated that the entire team wear helmets, which resembled jockey hats. Plastic helmets became a requirement for all MLB players in 1956. The ear flap was added to the design and requirement in 1983.
• After Birdie Tebbetts joined the Tigers, Greenberg invited him to dinner at the London Chop House, one of Detroit’s finest restaurants. The owner liked Tebbetts and invited him to come back. When Tebbetts said he could never afford to eat there on his own, the owner told him he would give Birdie a special menu that featured the food the staff ate at lower prices. Birdie became a regular.
He got to know a young lady who worked as a hostess there and invited her dancing. Saturday nights, he took her on the trolley up Jefferson Avenue to a dance pavilion on Belle Isle. One Sunday afternoon at the ballpark after he had been out dancing with the hostess, the clubhouse boy told Birdie that Spike Briggs, son of club owner Walter O. Briggs and a renowned playboy, wanted to see him upstairs in his office.
Greenberg pulled Birdie aside to warn him that Spike had found out that Tebbetts had been taking Spike’s mistress out dancing. Birdie started to sweat, but Spike surprised him with his friendly manner. Perhaps because Spike was married and figured Birdie had the goods on him, he thanked Tebbetts for the gentlemanly way he had treated the young lady and gave him permission to continue their innocent dates. Birdie continued to dine at the London Chop House but stopped dancing with the hostess.
• Dizzy Dean was also a pitchman for the breakfast of champions. “Sure I eat Wheaties,” Dean reportedly said. “A good bowl of Wheaties with bourbon can’t be beat.”
• Hank Leiber, the Giants’ center fielder who landed in the hospital after being beaned by a Bob Feller fastball, had his day on the mound five years later. On September 25, 1942, with the Giants certain to finish third, Leiber pitched a complete game at the Polo Grounds against the Phillies. Leiber, who had pitched for the University of Arizona, struck out five but gave up nine hits and nine runs in a 9-1 loss, his only pitching appearance in the major leagues.
• In 1938, Lou Gehrig and Charlie Gehringer had been the only two players to play every All-Star game to date. Gehrig was selected to the AL squad but he had strained a leg muscle rounding second base several days before the game. Jimmie Foxx started in his place at first base, though Gehrig later pinch hit and played first with Foxx moving to third in the American League’s 4-1 loss. (Gehringer’s streak ended the next year when he was left off the team in an injury-shorted season.)
• In the 1938 Midsummer Classic, Leo Durocher hit the only inside the park home run bunt in All-Star game history. Durocher bunted toward third in the seventh inning. Foxx fielded the ball, but his throw to first sailed over Gehrig’s head. Rightfielder Joe DiMaggio, backing up on the play, retrieved the ball while Durocher rounded the bases. DiMaggio tried to cut him down at home, but his throw was off the mark.
• Joe Louis was born in Alabama but grew up in Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood, where he developed a love of baseball. He played first base on the sandlots and slugged the ball with power but missed more often. His future was in the ring, not on the diamond, but in 1935 he organized a softball team, the Brown Bombers, and played with them when he could at Mack Park, home of the Detroit Stars (in the Negro National League).
• Louis vs. Schmeling: African Americans had pinned their hopes on Louis, just the way Jews laid theirs on Greenberg. The radio broadcast riveted them to the fight. Henry Aaron remembers listening to that fight as a four-year-old in his Mobile, Alabama home. “We all clung to the radio that night, the only one we had in our house,” he said. “Even though you could just faintly hear the announcer, we kept our ears stuck to that radio.” (from Joe Garner’s book The Crowd Goes Wild).
Poet Maya Angelou also remembered listening to Louis fight on the radio in her grandmother’s store in Stamps, Arkansas. If Louis won, he struck a victory for blacks nationwide. But “If Joe lost, we were back in slavery and beyond help,” Angelou writes in her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. “It would all be true, the accusations that we were lower types of human beings.”
• Regarding the home run hit off his first pitch when summoned from the bullpen for his major league debut on Rosh Hashanah, Harry Eisenstat quipped: “Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?”
• The Curtiss Company long maintained its official story that the Baby Ruth bar, introduced in 1921, was named after President Grover Cleveland’s daughter, not after Babe Ruth, yet it was quick to capitalize on the similarity. Shortly after Ruth’s famous called shot homer at Wrigley Field in the 1932 World Series, the Curtiss Company erected an illuminated “Baby Ruth” sign on a Sheffield Avenue apartment rooftop past center field.
• Hank Greenberg, Harry Danning and Morrie Arnovich set a record for most Jews at an All-Star game in 1939, though Greenberg was the only one among them who played. Three Jews made it to the 2009 All-Star Game--Kevin Youkilis of the Boston Red Sox, Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers, and Jason Marquis of the Colorado Rockies-- Braun was the only starter among them (right field), and Marquis did not play.
• One of the most superstitious players around, Bobo Newsom on his way toward the mound would scoop up a handful of dirt on the foul side of the first base line and another on the inside. The rosin bag had to be one foot behind the mound. When he ended an inning, he would place his glove just five feet outside the foul line and forbid anyone to touch it. The mound had to be completely devoid of paper scraps; Bobo would meticulously pick up any that were there. Players on other teams picked up on that and would strew bits of paper on the mound. Umpires would grimace among themselves when he was slated to work, for they had to be ready for a debate on almost every pitch. One time in Cleveland during a night game, Bobo had a 2-1 lead and was pitching to Lou Boudreau when he tossed up a blooper pitch. Umpire Bill Summers called it a ball, and Bobo in a huff arrived at home plate at almost the same time as the pitch. Summers was not in the mood for debate and said to Bobo, "Scram" whereupon the Great One screamed, "Scram! I ain't even had time to unwrap a cuss word." --excerpt from SABR bio project by Ralph Berger
• Roy Cullenbine gained fame not as a hitter but as a walker. He was among the American League leaders in walks for seven consecutive seasons (1941-47). Despite a lifetime batting average of .276, his .408 OBP is better than that of Honus Wagner, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, and Henry Aaron. “Cullenbine wouldn’t swing the bat,” DeWitt recalled. “Sewell would give him the hit sign, and he’d take it, trying to get the base on balls. Laziest human being you ever saw.” (Bill James quoting from Baseball Goes to War by William B. Mead)
• In the first game of the Tigers’ final series against the Indians in 1940, a man in the upper deck dropped a basket of beer bottles into the Detroit bullpen, aiming for Schoolboy Rowe but clocking Birdie Tebbetts. When Tebbetts came to, he saw the police escorting a suspect out of the stadium. He gave chase and punched the man, in the jaw. Turns out Cleveland’s finest had the wrong guy, and in an odd twist of American jurisprudence, police served Tebbetts with a warrant for his arrest during the next day’s game, and the man, a twenty-six-year-old ice truck driver, sued him.
• Mickey Cochrane’s only son, Gordon Jr., was killed at Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Former major league pitcher Elden Auker wrote in his autobiography, Sleeper Cards and Flannel Uniforms: “The bullet that killed him [Gordon Jr.] had some kind of range. It traveled all the way across the Atlantic, lodged itself into the spirit of Gordon's father, the great Mickey Cochrane, and slowly killed him. Mickey's gravestone shows he died June 28, 1962, but he started dying June 6, 1944. Consider his another life claimed by World War II.” (from www.baseballinwartime.com)
• After Hank re-enlisted but before he had been assigned duty, he ran into sportswriter Bill Corum at Toots Shor’s. Corum asked what it meant for his future to go back into the service. “I have no future as a ballplayer,” Hank told him. “I am not kidding myself--or trying to kid anybody else about that. I am past the thirty-year mark, and this is a long war. All I can hope is that some day, when the war is over and people are talking about baseball again, they will remember that once upon a time there was a guy named Hank Greenberg, who played with the Tigers.”
• The most famous employee at the Willow Run Plant wore a red scarf and wasn’t afraid to roll up her shirt sleeves: Rose Will Monroe, better known as “Rosie the Riveter.”
• The Tigers caught a break when the smooth-hitting Dick Wakefield, who had led the AL in hits and doubles the previous season, got a reprieve. After Wakefield took his preflight course, the Navy decided it had a surplus of pilots so gave him a ninety-day leave to return to the Tigers in July. Dynamite Dick batted .355 in seventy-eight games.
• Rudy York had the best day of his career on July 27, 1946, after he had joined the Boston Red Sox: he drove in ten runs, eight of them with a pair of grand slams. The other two came on a double in the first inning.
• Virgil “Fire” Trucks pitched two no-hitters in 1952, but otherwise had a lousy year, going 5-19. The Tigers traded him to the St. Louis Browns after the season. The thirty-six-year-old won twenty games the next year for the Browns and the Chicago White Sox. He pitched another five years, retiring at forty-one after the 1958 campaign, seventeen seasons and a 177-135 career record.
• After being felled by Greenberg’s line drive in 1945, it took Jim Wilson several years to regain his form. Though he never did fulfill the potential pinned on him, he did pitch a no-hitter for the Milwaukee Braves on June 12, 1954.
• In the final game of the 1945 season, the Browns walked Doc Cramer to load the bases and get to Greenberg. Cramer loved to tell the story. Hank always said, “Tell them what happened.” (Greenberg hit his famous grand slam to clinch the pennant.) But Doc never did.
• Nine-year-old Mickey Briggs desperately wanted to attend Game One of the 1945 World Series, but his father Spike had not thought it would look good for the owner’s grandson to skip school to attend a baseball game. So, while Mickey’s dad sat with his dad at the stadium named after him, Mickey dutifully reported to St. Hugo of the Hills, the school his grandfather had built, even though the majority of other students cut out to listen to or attend the Series opener.
• Sergeant Joe Louis, honorably discharged only two days earlier from the Army, was also there in Briggs Stadium for Game One. He planned to attend all seven games, saying he would rather talk about Greenberg than boxing.
• When Caral Gimbel married Edward Lasker, she became the daughter-in-law of Albert Lasker, the "father of modern advertising." His ad campaigns for the Lord and Thomas agency in Chicago played upon the psychology of consumers. For instance, few women smoked cigarettes, but his ads for Lucky Strikes promised they would help keep women slim. His ads for Pepsodent, Kotex, Kleenex and Lucky Strikes transformed advertising.
Albert Lasker had invested in the Chicago Cubs in 1916 and soon became the principal owner. In the aftermath of the Black Sox scandal, he pushed for the Landis Plan, which created the new position commissioner of baseball, and lobbied for Kenesaw Mountain Landis to become the first commissioner. He sold his interest in the Cubs to a minority partner, William Wrigley Jr. in 1925.
Blackballed from several country clubs because he was Jewish, Lasker built a regulation 18-hole course on the grounds of his Lake Forest estate. The National Golf Review ranked it No. 23 in its list of the world’s top 100 courses.
• Hank appeared in an ad for the Community Chest (the predecessor to United Way) that ran in the Detroit Free Press on October 19, 1946, that encouraged kids to donate their pennies and nickels when the appeal came to their school. The ad featured Hank in his Tiger uniform surrounded by a group of elementary school age boys: “You bet they need your nickel, sonny.”
• During the off-season, Hank had bumped into Charlie Gehringer in Toots Shor’s and tried to talk his former teammate, recently discharged from the Navy, into returning to the Tigers. “This American League is a hitter’s paradise,” Hank told him. But the forty-two-year-old Gehringer wasn’t persuaded. He had begun a successful business selling automotive accessories and told Hank he was going to stick with that.
• Bagby’s father Jim Bagby Sr. had also been a major league pitcher. When Jim Jr. pitched for the Red Sox in the 1946 World Series, they became the first father-son combination to appear in the World Series. Bagby was probably better known for being the pitcher who stopped DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak in 1941, when he pitched for the Indians.
• In fact, Hank may not have been using one of Ted Williams’ bats late in the season. “It was just a gag,” he told the Detroit News. Gag or not, the two carried on like Greenberg had actually used one of Williams’ bats and there’s no indication elsewhere that he didn’t.
• Ironically, Hank and the Babe had appeared together in Raleigh cigarette ads. “Medical Science has proved no other cigarette gives you less nicotine, less throat irritants . . . is actually safer to smoke!” the Babe said.
“I recommend Raleighs to all my friends,” Hank said.
Both men died of cancer.
• Hank was Ralph Kiner’s best man twice, but the third time Kinergot married, Hank said no. “He didn’t want to jinx me,” Kiner said.
• When Greenberg joined the Cleveland Indians in 1948, his friend Bing Crosby wrote to congratulate him on his new position and wish him luck. “It’s imperative, however, that you restrain Hope (as in Bob, who owned a small piece of the club) from acquiring any authority in the front office,” Crosby joked.
• Hank’s silver screen debut came in the 1949 flop The Kid from Cleveland but almost occurred a decade earlier. In the late ‘30s, there was a rumor going around that the MGM studio had offered Greenberg "a colossal contract” to play Tarzan. Lou Gehrig had taken a screen test for the role, and it had gone well, but producer Sol Lesser had objected to Gehrig’s massive legs, dismissing them as “more functional than decorative.”
• In the 1954 World Series, the best team in baseball history (or at least the team that had won more games than any other) was beaten by a substitute player, a guy not even good enough to crack the starting lineup of his own team. Dusty Rhodes came off the bench to go four-for-six in the Series, with two pinch-hit home runs. It wasn’t Willie Mays’s sensational catch and throw in the first game that sank the Indians, though everyone might remember it that way; it was Dusty Rhodes’s bat.
• The Tigers were the second to last team in Major League Baseball to integrate. The Tigers had signed Claude Agee, an African American, in 1953--the last team to sign an African-American player to a contract--but he didn’t make the team. Walter Briggs Sr. had made clear his prejudice; any scout who signed a Negro player would be fired. He died eighteen months before Agee was signed. Ozzie Virgil, a dark-skinned third baseman from the Dominican Republic who joined the Tigers on June 6, 1958, is usually counted as the first Negro on the team--and then only after civic leaders had threatened a boycott if it didn’t happen--but Virgil did not identify himself as a Negro; he considered himself Dominican, i. e., Hispanic. He was certainly not an African American. Larry Doby was actually the first African-American Tiger when he started the 1959 season with the team after being acquired in a spring trade with the Indians. He played only eighteen games before the Tigers sold him to the White Sox for $30,000.
• Roger Maris was a hot football prospect out of Bishop Stanley High School in Fargo, North Dakota. His four kickoff returns for touchdowns in a single game remain a national record. Though the University of Oklahoma gave him a football scholarship, Greenberg convinced Maris, who had also been an American Legion star, that he had a better future in baseball.
Maris made a big impression in his major league debut on April 16, 1957, when he clobbered a grand slam in the eleventh inning to win the ball game.
• When he was with the White Sox, Hank scouted Ed Kranepool at James Monroe High School. Kranepool had attracted a lot of attention as a three-time All City first baseman. His senior year, 1962, he broke the school’s home run record, previously held by Greenberg. Kranepool liked Greenberg and felt pressure from Monroe’s athletic director to accept the White Sox’s offer, but Kranepool wanted to stay home. The nascent Mets made a better offer, and Kranepool made his big league debut with them as a seventeen-year-old that September.
• Hank Greenberg wasn’t the only one who disliked Frick. "Ford Frick isn't the worst commissioner in baseball history, but he's in the photo,” sportswriter Jim Murray wrote. “He couldn't get up in the last few strides with Happy Chandler, but I don't think anybody can catch Happy Chandler at the wire.”
• Mary Jo Greenberg, née Mary Jo Tarola, appeared in three movies. She made two westerns, Trail Guide and Target in 1952 under the screen name Linda Douglas, playing an ingenue in both. Her biggest role was in the 1953 feature An Affair with a Stranger, which she made with Victor Mature and Jean Simmons and enjoyed third billing as Mary Jo Tarola.
• There’s an Internet rumor that Hank and Mary Jo were scheduled to have dinner with Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe on August 4, 1962, the night Marilyn killed herself. Not true.
• Henry Aaron was another one of the few players who kept Greenberg’s faith in the game alive. Greenberg was certain in 1972 that Aaron would eventually break Ruth’s all-time home run record. “Hank Aaron is about the only good hitter left in the major leagues,” Greenberg said. “He’s one of the few who can still hit consistently and belt the long ball, too. He’s the best pressure hitter around, and he knows how to stay in shape.” Perhaps the original Hammerin’ Hank admired the second so much because he resembled himself in all those ways.
• Hank had always enjoyed playing sandlot baseball. On a visit to his family in Long Branch, New Jersey, after he retired, he rounded up his nephews and hit them fly balls for half an hour. Another time, when visiting Bill Veeck at his Maryland home, Bill’s son Mike gloated about his skills as a Little League pitcher. Hank didn’t take off his suit coat but picked up a bat and asked Mike to show him his stuff in the backyard. “He hit four or five balls that are still in orbit,” Mike said.
• White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf was a senior at Northwestern Law School in June 1960 when he asked Hank to umpire the annual faculty-student softball game in the park across Lake Shore Drive. Hank agreed. When the students took the lead, the faculty appointed Greenberg honorary dean for the day and sent him to bat. He drove in two runs to put his side up, the faculty walked off the field and the dean declared the game over—the faculty had won.
• At the New York baseball writers’ annual dinner in 1981, Hank was seated on the dais next to George Brett, the American League MVP. The Kansas City Royals’ infielder had no idea who Hank was until Ralph Kiner stopped by and told Brett that Hank had driven in 183 runs one year. “Really?” Brett said with surprise. “Gee, I batted .390 last season but drove in only 118 runs.”
Brett had been born six years after Hank’s last at-bat. A whole generation had come of age without any idea who Hank Greenberg was. “It’s just baseball’s new breed,” Hank said afterward. “Few of them grew up in the baseball tradition—there are so many other things to occupy their minds. Now they are so rich and so busy with commercials and other commitments that they don’t look too much into the past.”
• For the ceremony to retire his and Gehringer’s numbers on June 12, 1983, the Tigers invited the surviving members from the 1934, 1935 and 1940 championship teams for the weekend. Eighteen of them, including Elden Auker, Hal Newhouser, Birdie Tebbetts and Jo-Jo White, had a party on the eve of the ceremony. Hank was happy to see his former teammates, especially those he thought had already passed away. “It was almost like being reincarnated,” he said.
• Robert Steinberg, Lou Blumberg’s nephew and one of the founders of Michigan’s Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, wrote to tell Hank he was going to be the first member inducted and invite him to the event. Hank said he would like to attend but couldn’t. His cancer had become too advanced, though he didn’t tell Steinberg that. Hank asked that Charlie Gehringer accept the award on his behalf. Gehringer was famous for his reticence, Steinberg protested. Ten words at one time was a long speech for him. “That’s okay,” Hank said. “All he’s got to do is say, ‘Thank you.’”
Gehringer surprised them all. Moved by the circumstances, the eighty-two-year-old Mechanical Man spoke at length—for him—about Hank, his friend and teammate for nine years. Lauding Greenberg as a great player and a great person, he left the audience speechless. They could only respond with a standing ovation.
When Steinberg called Hank to tell him Charlie had carried on for fifteen minutes with his speech, Hank howled with laughter. He couldn’t believe Charlie had that many words in him. He was also touched that his old teammate had found that many for him.