On September 17, 1946, with the count two balls and two strikes on Greenberg, Senators’ receiver Jake Early fumbled, and eventually dropped, a foul tip off the bat of the tall Tiger first baseman. Given new life, the powerful right-handed Greenberg turned on the next offering from Marino Pieretti, hitting a home run into the left field seats and delighting the Detroit crowd.
It was the 38th homer for the Tiger slugger, in a season in which he would clout a league-high 44.
During his career, the Jewish Greenberg, a hero to others of his faith, and one of first major leaguers to enlist in the military for World War II, led the American League in home runs four times, but he was far more than just a slugger. In 1940 he hit a career-high .340, one of nine times that he hit over the .300 mark. He also paced the league in runs scored, doubles, hits, walks, extra-base hits, and total bases at various times in his career, which included five All-Star selections.
“Hammerin’ Hank” was at his best with men on base. In 1937, he drove in an amazing 183 runs, when he accumulated more than 100 runs batted in at the All-Star break!
“I never played with a better ballplayer than [Hank],” Hall of Fame second baseman Charlie Gehringer recalled. “Hitting for power and for average, driving in the big runs to win games, and gathering the ball at first base with ease, he could do them all.”
But his home run clouts would often over-shadow his all-around performances. In 1938, Greenberg chased the shadow of Babe Ruth, as he swatted 58 homers, just narrowly missing Ruth’s single-season mark. Twice that season, Greenberg hit balls into screens that didn’t exist when Ruth clubbed his record 60 home runs in 1927.
In 1945, just weeks after he returned from overseas after missing nearly five years while he served in the Army, Greenberg hit a dramatic game-winning and pennant-clinching homer for the Tigers. He hit 331 home runs in his 13-year major league career, which began in 1930, and continued from 1933-1941, and 1945-1947.
Though he earned accolades for his home run blasts, and this ball from the Hall of Fame collection celebrates a home run milestone, Hank Greenberg was an excellent all-around player, who earned a pair of Most Valuable Player Awards, in 1935 and 1940.
After his playing career, Greenberg was a very successful businessman and well-respected general manager, guiding the Cleveland Indians to a pennant in that role. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1956.