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.

Links & Quotes

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Some good reading from today…

“There is not a single instance in history in which civil liberty was lost, and religious liberty preserved entire.” —John Witherspoon

Religious persecution alert: ISIS is eliminating Christians in Iraq.

“It is a serious fault if a believer is in want, and thou knowest it, or if thou knowest that he is without means, that he is hungry, that he suffer distress, especially if he is ashamed of his need…. If he is in prison, and—upright though he is—has to suffer pain and punishment for some debt (for though we ought to show mercy to all, yet we ought to show it especially to an upright man); if in the time of his trouble he obtains nothing from thee; if in time of danger, when he is carried off to die, thy money seems more to thee than the life of a dying man; what a sin is that to thee!” —Ambrose

[VIDEO] Detroit Tigers radio announcer Ernie Harwell broadcasting his last game.

Interesting: Why The First Hospital To Do Sex-Reassignment Surgeries No Longer Do Them.

“When the Middle East is fragmented in this horrible war, this savage, savage war between militant Shiites and militant Sunnis … the only place where you have freedom, tolerance, protection of minorities, protection of gays, protection of Christians and all other faiths is Israel,” said Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister. Read more about the wrong-headed decision of the Presbyterian (USA) Church to divest in Israel.

More young adults are having kids outside of marriage, and that is creating a dangerous environment for the kids.

“Kind words are the music of the world. They have a power which seems to be beyond natural causes, as if they were some angel’s song which had lost its way and come on earth. It seems as if they could almost do what in reality God alone can do—soften the hard and angry hearts of men. No one was ever corrected by a sarcasm—crushed, perhaps, if the sarcasm was clever enough, but drawn nearer to God, never.” —Frederick William Faber

Ernie Harwell

Ernie Harwell taught me baseball. I would lay awake at night with my transistor radio under my pillow listening to the legendary voice of the Detroit Tigers. I didn’t know which player was on which team, but as I listened night after night, summer after summer, I learned everything I needed to know about baseball from Ernie Harwell.

Ernie Harwell taught me storytelling. He didn’t just broadcast a game, he painted a picture. His descriptive phrases told so much:

  • “He digs in at the plate waiting for this 3-2 pitch. Bent at the knees, his two-toned bat waving behind his right ear.”
  • “The lanky right-hander goes into the wind up and delivers.”
  • “There’s a fly ball to deep left field. It’s loooooong gone!”
  • The Tigers didn’t just turn a double-play, they “got two for the price of one.”
  • A batter didn’t just look at a called third strike, he was “called out for excessive window shopping” or “he stood there like the house by the side of the road and watched that one go by.”

Ernie Harwell taught me graciousness. After 30 years of serving as the Tiger’s play-by-play voice, he was unceremoniously fired in 1991. What did Mr. Harwell say? “The Tigers had plans that didn’t include me. I’ll always be grateful for the time I’ve been able to spend with such a fine organization.” And after the public outcry restored him to his broadcast booth position the following season, he never once gloated.

Ernie Harwell taught me how to finish well. He finished his career well. He died last night with his wife of 69 years sitting by his side. When he announced last year that he had inoperable cancer, he said he was ready for the next great adventure. He loved Jesus, but never flaunted his personal relationship with Christ. He simply lived it out every single day. I can’t imagine that anyone has an unkind thing to say about this great man.

The radio voice may be silenced, but his lessons will continue to live on in me.

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