“Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes” by John Rosengren
Baseball, non-fiction, biography, Tigers, Pirates, Indians
4 ½ of 5 stars (Excellent)
Before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, another player had to endure taunts from ignorant players and fans as well as wonder what would become of his people as he played the game during a tense time in world history. Hank Greenberg was a New York kid who became a star first baseman for the Detroit Tigers. Born of Jewish descent, Greenberg’s best years on the field coincided with the rise of Hitler in Europe and his plan to wipe out the Jews. Author John Rosengren writes a wonderful biography with the emphasis on this time in Greenberg’s life that is filled with much success as well as trouble.
The book covers events in the world at the time as skillfully as it does Greenberg’s baseball career which included many records, including becoming the first player in baseball history to win the Most Valuable Player award twice in different positions. Greenberg also lost time to military service – nearly four years – and this part of his life, as well as his comeback is well documented. The book wraps up with Greenberg’s career in the front office of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians, his subsequent divorce and remarriage and his later years when the Tigers gave him a long overdue day of honor.
While these topics are well researched and documented, the book is also a very good source of information on some of the hot-button topics in baseball of that era. Race relations in baseball were mentioned, including Greenberg’s interactions with Robinson as they both felt the heat of being a “minority” in a game with mostly white Christian males as players. Salaries and negotiations with players are frequently covered as the yearly negotiations Greenberg had with the Tigers always seemed to show his petulant side, yet there was always an agreement reached. It was especially ironic when Greenberg was later a general manager and would employ the same negotiating tactics with his players that infuriated him during his playing days.
This book is a thorough and enjoyable read on the life of one of baseball’s greatest players. Fans of all generations of baseball should read this book to gain insight into not only one of the best players but also into the events and mindset of that time. Excellent book.
Did I skim?
Did I learn something new?
Yes. Many things, but what struck me the most was how much of a hero Greenberg was considered for Jewish people all across the country. I was also fascinated with his seemingly petulant behavior every year when he negotiated his contract. Considering this was during the time of the reserve clause and no agents, it was understandable, as it was usually the only leverage a player had during negotiations. But it was still surprising to me as it seemed to be the complete opposite of the persona that was portrayed.
Pace of the book:
Excellent – the narrative never was bogged down with unimportant information or overloaded the reader.
Do I recommend?
Yes. For any baseball fan or historian, this is a complete and entertaining account of Greenberg’s life and baseball career.
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