Yom Kippur and Hall of Famer Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg
October 8, 2011
Detroit Tiger Hank Greenberg, source unknown
“When I was playing, I used to resent being singled out as a Jewish ballplayer. I wanted to be known as a great ballplayer, period. I’m not sure why or when I changed, because I’m still not a particularly religious person. Lately, though, I find myself wanting to be remembered not only as a great ballplayer, but even more as a great Jewish ballplayer.”
~Hank Greenberg, after his career
Tonight the Tigers continue their drive toward the World Series. Wikipedia’s entry for Hank Greenberg begins:
Henry Benjamin “Hank” Greenberg (January 1, 1911 – September 4, 1986), nicknamed “Hammerin’ Hank” or “The Hebrew Hammer,” was an American professional baseball player in the 1930s and 1940s. A first baseman primarily for the Detroit Tigers, Greenberg was one of the premier power hitters of his generation. He hit 58 home runs in 1938, equaling Jimmie Foxx’s 1932 mark for the most home runs in one season by any player between 1927 (when Babe Ruth set a record of 60) and 1961 (when Roger Maris surpassed it).
The Jewish holiday Yom Kipper started last night, and this article on Greenberg’s career from the Baseball Almanac tells how rabbis got involved in the decision as to whether or not he would play on Rosh Hashanah in 1934, explaining that:
Rosh Hashanah was not the only major religious holiday that momentarily got in the way of the Tigers’ march to the 1934 World Series while simultaneously adding to the legend of Hank Greenberg. Nine days after the win over Boston, Detroit played the second place New York Yankees. Despite the fact that the pennant was not officially decided, Greenberg was not in the lineup. He was not injured, or suspended, or being benched for poor play. He had simply come up against Yom Kippur, the one day he could never hope to overcome.
Yom Kippur is the Jewish Day of Atonement, the holiest day on the calendar, when all the sins of the past year are “wiped away” through fasting and prayer. Devout Jews would never think of working on such a day. The 1934 Greenberg was not particularly devout; for his entire life, in fact, he would harbor deep doubts and questions about all organized religion. He was, however, still influenced by his father, who “put his foot down” (Greenberg 57). So he sat.