There was no denying his talent though. Greenberg single-handedly converted many Jews, especially European immigrants, into baseball fans. They took great pride in the fact that one of their own was succeeding at the national pastime. It says a lot about Greenberg that he could handle the pressure of both carrying the mantel of ethnic pride as well as endure the taunts and abuse from bigoted fans and other ballplayers.
Greenberg also faced the conundrum of holding out for what he felt he was worth during hard economic times. Some fans looked down upon him as the stereotype of a Jew who only cared about money. But in the end he was always there for his team. Giving up four years in the prime of his career to serve his country did not hurt his reputation either.
Ironically, the paths of Robinson and Greenberg literally crossed during the former’s rookie season and the latter’s final campaign in the big leagues. Robinson was playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Greenberg for the Pittsburgh Pirates when they collided in a play at first base.
While the reaction of many white players would have been to pick a fight with the black rookie, Greenberg was only concerned that Robinson was OK. He knew what prejudice was like and only encouraged Jackie to hang in there and not allow himself to be pushed around. Robinson never forgot that.
Greenberg was not without his faults. He was too competitive at times, not the most attentive father and too tight-fisted with players once he became a general manager. But overall he had a very successful life on and off the field. He left a legacy all baseball fans could be proud of.
The story of the Hall of Famer’s life and career is beautifully captured in John Rosengren’s biography, “Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes.” Rosengren not only provides details of Greenberg’s background and major league achievements but provides context by juxtaposing his career with the anti-Semitism in this country in the 1920s and `30s, and the rise of Hitler and fascism in Europe prior to World War II.