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On This Date in Sports July 1, 1945: Hank Greenberg Returns

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Greenberg

After four years in the service, Hank Greenberg returns to the Detroit Tigers. Greenberg, anticipating the United States getting into World War II, was the first player to register for the draft, joining the Army on May 7, 1941. Returning to the game was like riding a bike for Hank Greenberg as he hit .311 with 13 home runs and 60 RBI as Detroit won the World Series.

Hank Greenberg was born January 1, 1911, in New York City where he was raised by Jewish Romanian immigrants in the Greenwich Village neighborhood. Nicknamed the Hebrew Hammer, Greenberg was the first Jewish superstar in American Team Sports. After a brief debut in 1930, Hank Greenberg came up to stay in 1933. He made headlines in 1934 for his refusal to play on Yom Kipper.

Despite, his star status Hank Greenberg often faced anti-Semitism. Despite leading the league in Home Runs and RBI in 1935, he was not selected for the American League All-Star Team. The Tigers would win a second straight pennant that season, as Greenberg was named MVP as Detroit won its first World Series. After an injury limited him to 12 games in 1936, Greenberg came back with a vengeance in 1937, as he hit an American League record 184 RBI. In 1938, Hank Greenberg made a run at Babe Ruth’s home run record, finishing with 58 as several teams intentionally walked him to keep him from reaching 60.

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In 1940, the Tigers won the American League Pennant as Hank Greenberg won a second MVP award. Following the season, he registered for the draft, as he anticipated the U.S. going on to join in the fight in 300Europe. The following spring Greenberg reported for duty in the U.S. Army. In the service, Hank Greenberg rose to the rank of Captain as he ran bombing runs with U.S. Air Corps in China and Burma. In total, Greenberg served 47 months, longer than any other ballplayer.

The return of Hank Greenberg was boon for the Detroit Tigers as they won the pennant for the first time in five years. They would go on to beat the Chicago Cubs in seven games to win their second World Championship. Greenberg had a tremendous series, batting .307 with two home runs and seven RBI.

In 1946, his first full season back in baseball, Hank Greenberg led the American League with 44 home runs and 127 RBI. However, it would be Greenberg’s final season in a Tigers uniform as he was sold to the Pittsburgh Pirates after a lengthy contract dispute. Hank Greenberg would have his struggles in Pittsburgh, batting .249 with 25 home runs and 74 RBI. Following the season he retired to work as scouting director with the Cleveland Indians.