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Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn't Want to Be One (Jewish Lives)by Mark Kurlansky
Synopses & Reviews
One of the reasons baseball fans so love the sport is that it involves certain physical acts of beauty. And one of the most beautiful sights in the history of baseball was Hank Greenberg's swing. His calmly poised body seemed to have some special set of springs with a trigger release that snapped his arms and swept the bat through the air with the clean speed and strength of a propeller. But what is even more extraordinary than his grace and his power is that in Detroit of 1934, his swing—or its absence—became entwined with American Jewish history. Though Hank Greenberg was one of the first players to challenge Babe Ruth's single-season record of sixty home runs, it was the game Greenberg did not play for which he is best remembered. With his decision to sit out a 1934 game between his Tigers and the New York Yankees because it fell on Yom Kippur, Hank Greenberg became a hero to Jews throughout America. Yet, as Kurlansky writes, he was the quintessential secular Jew, and to celebrate him for his loyalty to religious observance is to ignore who this man was.
In Hank Greenberg Mark Kurlansky explores the truth behind the slugger's legend: his Bronx boyhood, his spectacular discipline as an aspiring ballplayer, the complexity of his decision not to play on Yom Kippur, and the cultural context of virulent anti-Semitism in which his career played out.
What Kurlansky discovers is a man of immense dignity and restraint with a passion for sport who became a great reader—a man, too, who was an inspiration to the young Jackie Robinson, who said, "Class tells. It sticks out all over Mr. Greenberg."
"Baseball legend Hank Greenberg is remembered not only for hard hitting and an imposing physical presence, but for bravery in facing down bigots who resented the Jewish athlete's ethnicity. The Bronx-born kid achieved stardom with the Detroit Tigers in the Ã¢Â€Â˜30s, served in WWII, and eventually took a management position. Early notoriety came when he famously refused to play ball on Yom Kippur. Jewish parents of that era were less than anxious for their sons to pursue sports, preferring education and the more cerebral professions that followed. While some Jewish athletes changed their names, Greenberg stood proud, even though Detroit had been characterized as the most anti-Semitic city in America, helped in large part by Henry Ford's notoriously anti-Jewish newspaper, the Dearborn Independent. Though Greenberg 'was sensitive to his responsibility to his people, the grandness of that role conflicted with his natural humility.' He was an ardent supporter of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American major-leaguer, as well as others who suffered prejudice. Kurlansky's (The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de MacorÃs) slim volume puts a fascinating period of sports history into a vivid cultural context. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
The remarkable life story of the first Jewish superstar athlete, by New York Times best-selling author Mark Kurlansky
New York Times best-selling author Mark Kurlansky delivers the compelling life story of Hank Greenberg, the first Jewish player elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Most fans donand#8217;t know how far the Jewish presence in baseball extends beyond a few famous players such as Greenberg, Rosen, Koufax, Holtzman, Green, Ausmus, Youkilis, Braun, and Kinsler. In fact, that presence extends to the baseball commissioner Bud Selig, labor leaders Marvin Miller and Don Fehr, owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Stuart Sternberg, officials Theo Epstein and Mark Shapiro, sportswriters Murray Chass, Ross Newhan, Ira Berkow, and Roger Kahn, and even famous Jewish baseball fans like Alan Dershowitz and Barney Frank.and#160;
The life stories of these and many others, on and off the field, have been compiled from nearly fifty in-depth interviews and arranged by decade in this edifying and entertaining work of oral and cultural history. In American Jews and Americaand#8217;s Game each person talks about growing up Jewish and dealing with Jewish identity, assimilation, intermarriage, future viability, religious observance, anti-Semitism, and Israel. Each tells about being in the midst of the colorful pantheon of players who, over the past seventy-five years or more, have made baseball what it is. Their stories tell, as no previous book has, the history of the larger-than-life role of Jews in Americaand#8217;s pastime.
In 1910 auto magnate Hugh Chalmers offered an automobile to the baseball player with the highest batting average that season. What followed was a batting race unlike any before or since, between the greatest but most despised hitter, Detroitand#8217;s Ty Cobb, and the American Leagueand#8217;s first superstar, Clevelandand#8217;s popular Napoleon Lajoie. The Chalmers Race captures the excitement of this strange contestand#8212;one that has yet to be resolved.
The race came down to the last game of the season, igniting more interest among fans than the World Series and becoming a national obsession. Rick Huhn re-creates the drama that ensued when Cobb, thinking the prize safely his, skipped the last two games, and Lajoie suspiciously had eight hits in a doubleheader against the St. Louis Browns. Although initial counts favored Lajoie, American League president Ban Johnson, the sportand#8217;s last word, announced Cobb the winner, and amid the controversy both players received cars. The Chalmers Race details a story of dubious scorekeeping and statistical systems, of performances and personalities in conflict, of accurate results coming in seventy years too late, and of a contest settled not by play on the field but by human foibles.
About the Author
Mark Kurlansky has written, edited, or contributed to twenty books, which have been translated into twenty-five languages and won numerous prizes. His previous books Cod, Salt, 1968, and The Food of a Younger Land were all New York Times best-sellers.
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