November 11, 2016
Hank Greenberg and the Indians
I have said that there are many connections between Hank Greenberg and Major League Baseball History. He was blessed by the Lord because he took a public stand to honor Him on Yom Kippur. Greenberg was also blessed because he played on Rosh Hashanah, which is meant to be a day of celebration (and, on which, Hank always did well). Elohim blessed him, as well, because He had promised to Abraham that He would “bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you”, a promise for Abraham and his blessed descendants, who today are the Jewish people.
I knew that one of the primary reasons why the Chicago Cubs had not even played in a World Series for 70 full seasons was because of how the Cubs and the Wrigley fans treated someone who had the blessing of Yahweh. The judgment for their disrespect was so severe because Greenberg had just returned from missing 3 ½ seasons to serve his country and take a stand for Freedom in World War II.
But the Tigers were not the only team to be blessed for treating Hank well. The Cleveland Indians hired him as an assistant General Manager to Bill Veeck in 1948. For their good treatment of Greenberg, and his part in breaking MLB’s Color Line in the American League, the Indians were blessed with the 1948 World Championship.
But that’s not where the story ended – unfortunately for Cleveland. They did the right thing by hiring Hank Greenberg as their GM alone in 1950. But, according to the interview below, he got blamed for the team’s lack of ultimate success. Under his leadership, which happened while the Yankees were being led by another blessed individual, manager Casey Stengel, the Indians only won one pennant, in 1954. That powerful team set an American League record for 111 wins, but lost in four straight to the New York Giants (who were led by ANOTHER blessed individual, Leo Durocher). The Cleveland press primarily blamed the GM for all these “failures’, so, right after the 1957 season (just after Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). So – maybe we’ve found the link to why the Cleveland Indians have been cursed?
Greenberg was fired on October 16, 1957 (21 Tishrei 5718).
– June 12, 2013
In the second part of our interview with author John Rosengren about his book, Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes, John discusses the military, his relationship with Jackie Robinson, and his legacy today.
Markusen: In reading Bill Veeck’s book, he seemed to think highly of Greenberg, who served as his GM with the Indians. Do you think Greenberg is underrated as an executive?
Rosengren: The Cleveland press was hard on Greenberg during his tenure as GM of the Indians (1950-57). Other than one pennant in 1954, his team was a perennial bridesmaid to the Yankee dynasty. Cleveland scribes criticized him for trading players like Minnie Minoso, Mickey Vernon, and Larry Doby. Greenberg did have thin skin and often held a grudge. Coupled with his lack of tact, he did not make many friends among the Cleveland press, which only made matters worse for him. At the same time, he was an astute judge of talent, promoting Al Rosen and signing Roger Maris (after talking him out of accepting a scholarship to play college football). In all, I think Greenberg was a better executive than others gave him credit for being.
At the time, others outside Cleveland thought the same. After the Indians’ board of directors fired Greenberg in 1957, Jimmy Cannon berated the directors’ “cowardice” and “stupidity.” Bernard Kahn, sports editor of the Daytona Beach Evening News, called out the elephant in the living room: “They fired Hank because the Cleveland sportswriting militia — perhaps the most vicious in the country — kept sniping at Hank’s heels and encouraged the more rabid fans to fang him.”
Hank’s release became baseball’s loss. The Sporting News commented that he was “the type of thoughtful, energetic leader which the pastime cannot well spare.” For instance, thinking games lasted too long (over two hours when his Tigers had finished many of theirs in 1:30 or 1:45), he had used a Jeep to hustle relief pitchers in from the bullpen, and even offered the players a $100 bonus for every game they won in less than two hours. He advocated for a baseball draft like the NFL’s, where the worst teams would have first pick of the best amateur talent to equalize the league. He also proposed that second division teams be exempt from the trading deadline to bolster sagging fan interest late in the season. He pushed for the American League to expand to 10 teams. He spoke out against the fallacy of the reserve clause. He was one of the first to champion interleague play to give fans the chance to see the stars of the other circuit. He was “outstanding as a general manager and progressive as baseball executive, perhaps even ahead of his time,” Don Wolfe, Toledo Blade sports editor, wrote. Time would prove Wolfe right. For instance, Bud Selig credits Greenberg for the inspiration to implement interleague play.
Markusen: If you were to summarize Greenberg’s legacy in a few words, how would you do it?
Rosengren: Hank Greenberg remains the greatest Jewish baseball player — nay, athlete — of all-time. No other Jew has achieved his athletic prowess and cultural significance. He not only batted his way into the Hall of Fame, he showed Jews the way to assimilate and elevated their esteem among their gentile peers. “It’s arguable that Hank Greenberg is the most important American Jew to have ever been,” baseball scholar Rabbi Michael Paley declares without hyperbole.
Hank’s story delivers lessons still relevant today. “Greenberg’s experience told the American public that we should challenge our stereotypes, that anyone can participate in sports,” says Miller, director of Jews and Baseball. “When America operates properly, it is the story of immigrants coming here, overcoming bigotry, stereotypes and poverty and becoming part of the mainstream. Greenberg’s influence is a way of helping America understand the humanity of newcomers and helping Americans overcome the bigotry each new group that comes here faces.”
Hank Greenberg became a national hero during a dark time. His legacy shines a light for all Americans to follow.
Markusen: John Rosengren’s acclaimed new book, Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes, is available from NAL and can be purchased at Amazon.com