Stats Don't Lie
Hammerin' Hank hammered his hardest
on Rosh Hashanah.
Special to the Jewish News
he tale is scripture in American
Jewish sports lore. Sept. 10, 1934:
Detroit Tigers slugger Hank
Greenberg agonizes whether to play on
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
His religiously observant parents don't
want him to. His teammates, fighting to
win the pennant, do. Finally, Greenberg
decides to play — and hits two home runs,
leading the Tigers to a 2-1 victory.
Nine days later, Greenberg sits on Yom
Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement,
and wins the praise of rabbis, newspaper
columnists and many ordinary people for
honoring his religion.
Unlike many great tales, this one is 100
percent true. But the story does not end
there. The Jewish High Holidays of 1934
set the template for the rest of Greenberg's
career. The future Hall of Famer always
played on Rosh Hashanah after that, and
marked the day with some of his biggest
days at the plate. He would then always
rest on Yom Kippur— although once, just
once, he was strongly tempted to play.
The raw numbers from Greenberg's 10
Rosh Hashanah games are impressive: 14
hits in 40 at-bats, adding up to a .350 bat-
ting average. He hit six homers, scored 10
runs and accumulated 14 runs batted in.
His teams won seven of the 10 games.
John Rosengren wrote a biography of
the Tigers slugger that was released earlier
this year: Hank Greenberg, The Hero of
Heroes. He says that as a young man, the
New York-born-and-raised Greenberg
was genuinely religious, and the decision
to play on Rosh Hashanah clearly did not
"He left home at 19 to play minor-league
ball, and would go to synagogue in Texas:'
Rosengren says. "For spring training one
year, he stayed in a Jewish boarding house
so he could go to the [Passover] seder ...
so he wasn't a guy going to services every
week, but he was going. It was important
"In 1933, he sat out both holidays [Rosh
Hashanah and Yom Kippur.] But in '34,
there was pressure for him to play. Detroit
had a chance to win the pennant. He felt
pressure from the owner, the manager and
In the biography, Rosengren notes that
Greenberg went to services before the
mid-afternoon game, and arrived at Tigers
Stadium in his synagogue clothes, still
uncertain whether he would play.
Once he played, the precedent was set,
and Greenberg thereafter seemed to save
some of his most productive days for the
first day of the Jewish calendar. On Rosh
Hashanah in 1937, he was 5-for-10 with
a home run and four RBI as the Tigers
swept a doubleheader from the St. Louis
In 1945, his first year back from World
War II, he had three hits and five RBI as
the Tigers crushed the Yankees. And in
1946, he repeated his feat of 1934, hitting
two home runs and powering the Tigers to
another victory, again over the Browns.
He might have racked up even more
Rosh Hashanah triumphs had circum-
stances not stood in his way. In 1936, he
spent most of the season on the disabled
list. From 1941-44, he was in the armed
forces. And in 1938, when Greenberg was
chasing Babe Ruth's then-record of 60
Keter Torah Rabbi
Returns For Holidays
Rabbi Sasson Natan will conduct
High Holiday services at Keter To-
rah Synagogue in West Bloomfield.
Natan got his start at Keter Torah
in the early 1990s, left to get his
smichah (ordination) and then
worked with communities in Chi-
cago, Houston and Israel, helping
to build schools and synagogues.
Natan is considered one of the
leading rabbis in the Sephardic
For a High Holiday schedule
and/or ticket information, con-
tact Andree Nordan at (248)
Rabbi Sasson Natan
August 29 • 2013
Detroit Tiger Hank Greenberg at bat
home runs in a season, Rosh Hashanah
happened to be an off-day in the Tigers'
Greenberg never played a single inning
on Yom Kippur, the single holiest day on
the Jewish calendar. But Rosengren says
he would have played Game 6 of the 1935
World Series had he not broken bones in
his wrist four games earlier.
"He tried to play but had that injury:'
the author says. "I think he would have
played; he really wanted to:'
In the book, Rosengren notes that
Greenberg tried to warm up before the
game, but couldn't take more than a few
practice swings because of the pain. He
watched from the dugout as the Tigers
won the game and clinched the Series.
After the horrors of World War II and
the Holocaust, Rosengren says, Greenberg
lost faith in religion. His children have
said he taught them virtually nothing
"He was still was proud of being a Jew,"
Rosengren says. "He maintained that
ethnic identity, but he stopped going to
Nevertheless, Greenberg remained the
idol of Jewish baseball fans, especially
those who grew up during his playing
years. He unquestionably performed at
Rick Recht Pens Music For
Kids' Book For PJ Library
Top Jewish music artist Rick Recht and accom-
plished illustrator Ann Koffsky have released
a children's book, Thank You
for Me!, based on Recht's hit
song, "Kobi's Lullaby." The
book will be distributed free
to nearly 20,000 youth and
families this month through
the PJ Library, a project
of the Harold Grinspoon
Each book includes a free
music download of "Kobi's
com/pjlibrary) and free col-
oring pages (http://bit.ly/19X2r8N).
"Thank You for Me! is a story about grati-
tude and blessing," Recht said. "It's about how
his highest level on Rosh Hashanah, giv-
ing his co-religionists something extra to
That raises the question: Was Greenberg
trying to make the day special for his
Rosengren doesn't think so.
"I think it was coincidence:' he says.
"Unless it was Divine intervention:' ❑
Dan Joseph is an editor at Voice of America in
Tigers To Fete Greenberg
At Sept. 22 Game
On Sunday, Sept. 22, the Detroit
Tigers will honor the legacy of Hank
Greenberg at a brief ceremony
approximately 20 minutes prior to
the 1:08 p.m. game vs. the Chicago
John Rosengren, author of Hank
Greenberg: The Heroes of Heroes,
will be introduced along with film-
maker Aviva Kempner, who has a
new DVD set including two hours
of new material with her documen-
tary The Life and Times of Hank
Greenberg. Both works will be for
sale during the game.
incredibly fortunate we are to have family,
friends, our community, our health and the
nature that surrounds us."
Recht is the national celebrity spokesperson
for PJ Library and has 13
hit Jewish music albums,
including his newest album
Halleluyah. He is the top-
touring artist in Jewish
music, playing more than 150
dates per year in the U.S. and
Koffsky is the author and
illustrator of more than 25
books for children, including
Noah's Swim-A-Thon (URJ
Books & Music). She presents
book and craft programs to children, and has
been hosted by more than 100 schools, libraries
and book festivals nationwide.