From the prizewinning Jewish Lives series, the remarkable life story of the first Jewish superstar athlete, by New York Times best-selling author Mark Kurlansky
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."
About Jewish Lives:
Jewish Lives is a prizewinning series of interpretative biography designed to explore the many facets of Jewish identity. Individual volumes illuminate the imprint of Jewish figures upon literature, religion, philosophy, politics, cultural and economic life, and the arts and sciences. Subjects are paired with authors to elicit lively, deeply informed books that explore the range and depth of the Jewish experience from antiquity to the present.
In 2014, the Jewish Book Council named Jewish Lives the winner of its Jewish Book of the Year Award, the first series ever to receive this award.
More praise for Jewish Lives:
"Excellent" –New York Times
"Exemplary" –Wall Street Journal
"Distinguished" –New Yorker
"Superb" –The Guardian
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 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 Macor s) slim volume puts a fascinating period of sports history into a vivid cultural context.