Hank Greenberg: The Story of My Life (book review)

Baseball was the first organized sport I learned to play and appreciate, largely due to Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey’s radio broadcast of the Detroit Tigers. I would sneak my small transistor radio under my pillow during the summer to listen to the games each night. Not only did I learn about the current Tigers, but I began to develop an appreciation for the Tigers of the bygone era. 

One of the notable names to appear on the Tigers’ scorecard for a dozen seasons was “Hammerin’” Hank Greenberg. His story is told in his autobiography Hank Greenberg: The Story of My Life. 

Tigers fans lost four-plus seasons of this dominant ballplayer when Hank served in the armed forces during World War II. And then the Tigers lost out again when a rift between two-time American League MVP Greenberg and Tigers owner Walter Briggs saw Hank traded to Pittsburg for the final year of his career. 

Greenberg was not the first Jewish ballplayer in the Major Leagues, but he was the first one who was almost perpetually in the spotlight. From the moment he stepped on the field, he vaulted to the top of nearly every offense category. 

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In 1938, Hank was chasing Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record, and many feel he didn’t break it because many pitchers didn’t want to see a Jew steal The Babe’s record, so they didn’t give him anything to hit. The previous year, Hank was chasing Lou Gehrig’s RBI record and ended up knocking in 184 runs (just one shy of Gehrig’s record), again in spite of the lousy pitches he was seeing. 

Hank’s career stats are all the more amazing considering the four-plus seasons he missed during his military service. His enlistment period was actually up two days before Pearl Harbor was bombed. On hearing that news, Hank said, “That settles it for me, I am reenlisting at once,” making him the first Major Leaguer to enlist in the military after the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

Thankfully for Tigers fans, Greenberg returned to the lineup in time to help the team win the World Series in 1945. In four World Series appearances, he had a .318 batting average, with 5 homers, and 22 RBIs. 

After leaving the playing field, Hank moved into the front office with the Cleveland Indians and then the Chicago White Sox. He revolutionized the way teams used their minor league farm system, while still battling and overcoming the antisemitism that was so present even in the ranks of baseball team owners. Jackie Robinson was grateful for the encouragement and advice that Greenberg gave him while he faced very similar ugly treatment when he broke into the Major Leagues. 

If you are a Detroit Tigers fan, this is an excellent book to add to your library.

Faith Over Fear

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I am always interested when I see contrasts in the Bible. Things like:

  • Live this way, not that way
  • These people are blessed, these people have trouble 
  • If you do this, you won’t have this 

So an interesting contrast caught my eye in the story where Jesus calms the storm (Matthew 8:23–27). Jesus is sleeping peacefully in the middle of a storm that is described as “furious [where] the waves swept over the boat.” The disciples were anything but peaceful—they thought they were going to drown—so they yelled for Jesus to wake up. 

Before Jesus calmed the storm, He says, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” 

That’s the phrase that caught my attention. Notice the contrast between “little faith” and “so afraid.” In other words, small faith means big fear! 

Strong’s Greek dictionary defines “little faith” as “dread (by implication) faithless.” So it appears there is an inverse proportion between faith and fear. 

The word that Jesus used for “afraid” is only used here and in the same story in Mark 4:40, and in Revelation 21:8 which lists people who will be excluded from entrance into heaven.

The phrase “so afraid” (or “O ye of little faith” in the King James Version) is just one word in Greek: olgiopistos. The root word pistos is faith, but I find the prefix oligos very descriptive. It means: 

  • small in quantity 
  • short in time 
  • slight in intensity 

In other words, it is faith that is immature, or hasn’t been used much, or hasn’t been applied to a particular circumstance. This word olgiopistos is used five times in the New Testament, and only used by Jesus. 

In addition to this story, it is used in Matthew 6:30 and Luke 12:28 when Jesus tells us not to worry about the things that God will provide for us—things like food, clothing, and shelter. Jesus uses this word for Peter when he began to sink in the water after walking a few steps toward Jesus. And Jesus uses it in Matthew 16:8 when He warns His disciples about the “yeast” of the Pharisees and Sadducees that can creep into their hearts and spoil their faith. (Check out all of these verses here.)

In mathematical circles, this relationship between faith and fear is one that would be called inversely proportional. When our faith is high, our fear is low; when our fear is high, our faith is low. I also think it is very eye-opening that the mathematical symbol for inverse proportionality (∝) is the same symbol called ichthus that the early church used to represent Jesus.

Faith and fear cannot coexist in the same heart. Sometimes our faith is small in quantity because we haven’t fed our faith with God’s promises. Sometimes our faith is short in time because we want things done on our time schedule. And sometimes our faith is slight in intensity because we are unsure if God can “come through” in this particular situation. 

Whatever the case, when we feel any fear, we need to ask for faith. We need to return to God’s Word and be assured that His promises are applicable regardless of the situation we are in. As our faith grows, our fear has to diminish! 

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