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Customer Reviews (10)
An absolute "must" for Greenberg's fans, and an excellent addition to sports biography shelves everywhere
The Story of My Life is the true-life autobiography of baseball legend Hank Greenberg, the first Jewish player elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. From his childhood days as the son of Eastern European immigrants in New York, to his rise as one of the most skilled home run hitters of his day, to his brave service in World War II and his more personal struggle with cancer, The Story of My Life is an amazing portrait of good and honorable man, both on and off the playing field. Of particular interest are the sections describing how Greenberg, a secular Jew, stood up for himself and his beliefs when confronted by anti-Semitism. An absolute "must" for Greenberg's fans, and an excellent addition to sports biography shelves everywhere.
Biographies can be great!
The joy of a biography is in the subject and the quality of the writing. Both areas excel in Hank Greenberg's life story. The book is of interest to anyone who loves vintage America during its entertainment hey-day, Depression years, and success stories of folks from modest background who have risen to "Hall of Fame" heights. Hank Greenberg's story is obviously from him but written by a professional who knows how to keep the tone of the book right where it needs to be. Although particularly appealing to baseball fans (and I am not one), there are so many carryovers to other areas, that anyone who reads the book will have trouble putting it down. It is short, well illustrated, and certainly a biography-buff's delight.
"Five Strike" Greenberg
Play "Fill In The Blanks" and say, "Hammerin' Hank ___________," and many baseball fans will answer (correctly) "Aaron." Others will answer (just as correctly) "Greenberg," for before there was Hammerin' Hank Aaron of the Braves there was Hammerin' Hank Greenberg (1911-1986) of the Tigers. Greenberg played baseball for the Tigers in the mid-1930s to mid-1940s, and is considered by many pundits to be the third greatest hitter in baseball history, after Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. With 58 homers in 1938, he nearly matched the Babe's single season home run record of 60; with 182 RBIs in 1937, he nearly matched the Iron Horse's record of 183. A target of vicious abuse because of his ethnicity, he has been compared to Jackie Robinson as well.
To call Greenberg "the Jewish Jackie Robinson" however, is not entirely accurate. Although baseball could never have been identified as a "Jewish" sport (as were basketball and boxing at various times), Jews have played baseball professionally since the inception of the game. Baseball has always been dominated by men with rural backgrounds. Many Jewish players changed their names in the era of Restriction---Johnny Cooney was Jacob Cohen off the field---but Jews did take a small but active role in our National Pastime, nonetheless.
Few Jewish players were as conspicuous as Greenberg, however, and none had yet made the Hall of Fame. A prodigious hitter, the 6-4, 215 lb. Greenberg was hard to miss. In an era of unrestrained "bench jockeying," Greenberg was a favored target. Bench jockeys played a nasty but effective role in keeping opposing players off-balance by yelling all kinds of obscenities and epithets from the dugout. Nothing was out-of-bounds, and this was particularly true with Greenberg, who was called everything from "Moses" to "Hook Nose," and far worse.
Much to Greenberg's credit, he does not dwell overlong on anti-Semitism in this autobiography. Unfinished at the time of his death, the book was edited by Greenberg's friend Ira Berkow, who relied on the record books, newspapers and reminiscences of Greenberg's friends, relatives, and professional colleagues to provide missing background material and a sense of continuity to Greenberg's story. The result is an interesting amalgam: For example, Greenberg gives little credence to the idea that he was foiled in breaking the Babe's home run record because opposing pitchers did not want a Jew (in particular) to hit 61; however, others admit that this was at least a partial motivation amongst some pitchers. Greenberg modestly describes his success as due to very hard work, saying that he was "not a natural player." Other voices disagree. His two American League MVP elections might be due to either or both. His elevation to the Hall of Fame was especially well-deserved. Still, Greenberg says that had the NBA existed in his youth he would have chosen to play basketball instead.
Sandy Koufax, the Brooklyn Dodger pitcher, and the only other Jewish player elected to the Hall of Fame, was once asked if Greenberg had been his inspiration. Koufax admitted that he had hardly heard of Greenberg before entering baseball, and that he had initially been less interested in playing professional baseball than in playing pro basketball!
Both Greenberg and Koufax made headlines by refusing to play in World Series games on Yom Kippur, theJewish Day of Atonement and the holiest day of the Jewish year. Greenberg was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1956. Koufax was elected in 1972. Greenberg and Koufax are the first two Jewish players so honored.
Like many physically imposing men, Greenberg was a quiet man, who got into few altercations, although he occasionally does admit to "wanting to beat the [ahem]" out of mouthy players. He greeted Jackie Robinson's debut enthusiastically, and was one of the few players in baseball to openly befriend Jackie in 1947 (Greenberg's last year on the field). Both men had problems with Ben Chapman, a player/manager who once released a black cat onto the field while Robinson was playing and openly admitted he hated Robinson for his color. Greenberg is uncharacteristically sharp about Chapman, calling him a "Jew-baiter" who "hated" him as well. Such is Mr. Chapman's legacy.
Greenberg became a team owner/manager after his retirement. His career-long observations on the business of baseball are enlightening: "Branch Rickey would have rather had a second place team since he didn't have to pay his players as much, but could still rely on a good gate," in describing the foibles of the Brooklyn Dodgers. The business of baseball as Greenberg sees it, is cutthroat, owners have "no integrity" and players have little value except as commodities. Greenberg admits candidly that his opinions come partly from his disgust with the manner in which he was treated by Tigers management after sixteen seasons. That may be why Greenberg helped establish the Players Pension Plan, and why he supported Free Agency. In his earliest years, Greenberg held out for decent pay, and his contract negotiation letters to Tigers owner Frank Navin are overly cocky. Fortunately, Navin saw talent in the young Greenberg, and compensated him well, though not as well as Greenberg would have liked. Still, he was making $35,000.00 a year during the Depression, not chicken feed. Years later, with new management, Greenberg left the Tigers over a salary dispute, although the Tigers put the onus on Greenberg for wearing Yankee pinstripes during an Armed Services morale-building exhibition game in 1945 (no Detriot Tigers uniform was available for Greenberg).
Hank Greenberg lost four solid seasons during the war years. It is open to speculation what he would have accomplished in those years, as he was still in the prime of his career. In 1946, Greenberg held the season record for home runs; in 1947, he was unceremoniously sent from the first place AL Tigers to the last place NL Pirates, where he played desultory baseball. Then he retired to become a club owner and an investment banker.
Having left NYU to play ball, he never got his Baccalaureate Degree, but he accomplished so much else. A memorable player whose accomplishments have been dimmed by time, Greenberg "should have been Commissioner of Baseball," according to Ralph Kiner. "No one was better qualified."
As for himself, Greenberg says self-deprecatingly that he is the "bum" of Mr. and Mrs. Greenberg's children.
Had Hank Greenberg been ten years younger he probably would have played for his hometown, been a Brooklyn Bum, and an outstanding addition to The Boys of Summer.
A fine story, by and about a fine human being, HANK GREENBERG: THE STORY OF MY LIFE is VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
The Home Run Hero of Tiger Town
This book was a popular success and it inspired the production of first rate documentary film. Hank Greenberg was a phenomenal baseball player, who perfected his hitting techniques through long hours of practice. As one of the few Jewish athletes in professional sports, Greenberg, who was largely secular in his personal life, became a target for anti-Semites and a symbol to Jewish children and sports fans. Although raised in New York, Greenberg was signed by the Detroit Tigers and spent most of his career in the Motor City. He played on four pennant teams, including two World Series champions. He served in World War Two and rejoined the Tigers in time to help the club win 1945 pennant by hitting a grand slam on the last day of the season. Greenberg won the American League MVP award at two different positions, first base and outfield. He was a productive slugger who drove in runs constantly. Greenberg felt RBIs were the most important statistical category for hitters. After his playing career concluded with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Greenberg became a baseball executive, but the book does not dwell on that too much. Nevertheless, this autobiography is most enjoyable. Greenberg died before completing the manuscript, but a capable baseball writer, Ira Berkow, was able to finish the book.
Solid, Readable, Revealing
This revealing autobiography of slugger Hank Greenberg (1911-1986) makes for excellent reading.Greenberg was baseball's first Jewish superstar, a massive (6-4, 215 lbs), popular, intelligent player.Greenberg's immigrant parents disliked his decision to play baseball, but by the mid-1930's he was slugging the Detroit Tigers to pennants and his mother found herself a celebrity in her mostly-Jewish neighborhood in the Bronx.Greenberg's popularity probably reduced the amount of anti-Semitic abuse he faced - abuse that he often answered with his bat.Greenberg lost nearly five seasons to military service during World War II, and he left the game after 1947 to become a talented baseball executive and later an investment broker.All is described in these readable pages, along with Greenberg's views on famous controversies.Did opposing hurlers purposely walk him as he closed in on Babe Ruth's home run record in 1938?Was he unfairly drafted prior to Pearl Harbor?Should he play on major Jewish holidays?His answers ("no") are given at length.In his last year with Pittsburgh, Greenberg also encouraged a rookie named Jackie Robinson who faced similar but much greater abuse.
Greenberg was intelligent, dedicated, and surprisingly modest.He passed away before this book was finished, at which point journalist Ira Berkow filled in the gaps with interviews and anecdotes.This is an intelligent and readable biography about one of baseball's most impressive men.
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