Thursday, February 09, 2012

Book Review - High and Tight: Hank Greenberg Confronts Anti-Semitism in Baseball

Tigers first baseman Hank Greenberg was one of baseball's premiere sluggers in the 1930s and 1940s.  He was a two-time Most Valuable Player Award winner and still holds the American League record with 183 Runs Batted In.  His accomplishments earned him election to the Hall of Fame in 1956.

Greenberg was also the first Jewish superstar in American Professional Sports.  His Jewish heritage earned him the admiration of the Jewish community in America.  However, others inside and outside the game were not always as respectful.  For example, when he refused to play on Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, it was not well received by the Detroit press or by fans.

In the e-book "High and Tight: Hank Greenberg Confronts Anti-Semitism in Baseball", baseball writer and historian Ray Robinson details the anti-semitism encountered by Greenberg as a player.  He writes about the many individuals who made Greenberg's life in Detroit difficult.  Among them were Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, and Father Charles Coughlin, a Catholic Priest in suburban Detroit.  Most revealing were Mr. Robinson's accounts of opposing players who hurled insults at Greenberg, especially in the 1934 and 1935 World Series.

Through it all, Greenberg's performance on the field did not seem to be affected.  If anything, he claimed that the anti-semitic sentiment of opponents challenged him to be a better player: "Being one of some two million Jews in America, among 100 million Gentiles, became a special responsibility for me.  When some son of a bitch called me a filthy name, I couldn't fail to make good, and when I hit a home run, I felt that I was hitting it against Hitler."  In general though, Greenberg did not react angrily to opponents hatred and instead carried himself with grace and dignity on and off the field.

At ninety-one years old, Mr. Robinson has been in the business of baseball writing for a long time.  He is the author of several baseball biographies including books on Lou Gehrig, Christy Mathewson and Stan Musial.  His writing also appears frequently in the New York Times.  High and Tight is a fairly brief e-book, but it's informative and well written.  I had read a lot about Greenberg previously, but there were still several incidents in the book which I had not heard about before.  If you have an interest in baseball history or Jewish history in America, then you should find the book worthwhile at an inexpensive price ($1.99 at Amazon). 

You can learn more about the book here or you can go directly to Amazon.

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