Hank Greenberg - Return To Baseball

Return To Baseball

Greenberg remained in uniform until the summer of 1945. In Greenberg's first game back after being discharged, on July 1, he homered. Without the benefit of spring training, he returned to the Tigers, was again voted to the All-Star Team, and helped lead them to a come-from-behind American League pennant, clinching it with a grand slam home run in the dark—no lights in Sportsman's Park in St. Louis—ninth inning of the final game of the season. It came after the umpire allegedly told Hank that he was ready to call the game due to darkness, because the ump—former Yankee pitching star of the 1920s Murderers Row team, George Pipgras, supposedly said "Sorry Hank, but I'm gonna have to call the game. I can't see the ball." Greenberg replied, "Don't worry, George, I can see it just fine," so the game continued. It ended with Greenberg's grand slam on the next pitch, clinching Hal Newhouser's 25th victory of the season. The slam allowed the Tigers to clinch the pennant and avoid a one-game playoff (that would have been necessary without the win) against the now-second-place Washington Senators. The Tigers went on to beat the Cubs in the World Series in seven games. Only three home runs were hit in that World Series. Phil Cavarretta hit one for the Cubs in Game One. Greenberg hit the only two homers by the Tigers—one in Game Two, where he batted in three runs in a 4–1 win; the other—a two-run job—tied the game in the eighth inning of Game Six, making the score 8–8, but the Cubs won that game with a run in the bottom of the 12th.

In 1946, he returned to peak form, leading the league in home runs (44) and RBIs (127), both for the fourth time. He was second in slugging percentage (.604) and total bases (316) behind Ted Williams.

In 1947, Greenberg and the Tigers had a lengthy salary dispute. When Greenberg decided to retire rather than play for less, Detroit sold his contract to the Pittsburgh Pirates. To persuade him not to retire, Pittsburgh made Greenberg the first baseball player to earn over $80,000 ($833,000 today) in a season as pure salary (though the exact amount is a matter of some dispute). Team co-owner Bing Crosby recorded a song, "Goodbye, Mr. Ball, Goodbye" with Groucho Marx and Greenberg to celebrate Greenberg's arrival. The Pirates also reduced the size of Forbes Field's cavernous left field, renaming the section "Greenberg Gardens" to accommodate Greenberg's pull-hitting style. Greenberg played first base for the Pirates in 1947 and was one of the few opposing players to publicly welcome Jackie Robinson to the majors.

That year he also had a chance to mentor a young future Hall-of-Famer, the 24-year-old Ralph Kiner. Said Greenberg, "Ralph had a natural home run swing. All he needed was somebody to teach him the value of hard work and self-discipline. Early in the morning on off-days, every chance we got, we worked on hitting." Kiner would go on to hit 51 home runs that year to lead the National League.

In his final season of 1947, Greenberg tied for the league lead in walks with 104, with a .408 on-base percentage and finished eighth in the league in home runs and tenth in slugging percentage. Greenberg became the first major league player to hit 25 or more home runs in a season in each league. Johnny Mize became the second in 1950. Nevertheless, Greenberg retired as a player to take a front-office post with the Cleveland Indians. No player had ever retired after a final season in which they hit so many home runs. Since then, only Ted Williams (1960, 29), Dave Kingman (1986; 35), Mark McGwire (2001; 29), and Barry Bonds (2007; 28) have hit as many or more homers in their final season.

Through 2010, he was first in career home runs and RBIs (ahead of Shawn Green) and batting average (ahead of Ryan Braun), and fourth in hits (behind Lou Boudreau), among all-time Jewish major league baseball players.

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