Hank Greenberg 1938
Hatred and Home Runs in the Shadow of War
Wednesday, June 21, 7pm
“Hammerin’” Hank Greenberg was coming off a stellar season where he’d hit 40 home runs and 184 RBIs, becoming only the thirteenth player to ever hit 40 or more homers (and one of only four players to have 40 or more home runs and 175 or more RBIs in a season). Even with his success at the plate, neither Greenberg nor the rest of the world could have expected what was about to happen in 1938.
From his first day in the big leagues, the New York-born Greenberg had dealt with persecution for being Jewish. From teammate Jo-Jo White asking where his horns were to the verbal abuse from bigoted fans and the media, the 6-foot-3 slugger always did his best to shut the noise out and concentrate on baseball. But in 1938, that would be more difficult then he could have ever imagined.
While Greenberg was battling at the plate, his people overseas were dealing with a completely different battle. Adolf Hitler, who had been chancellor of Germany since 1933, had taken direct control of the country’s military in February of ’38. He then began his methodic takeover of all neighboring countries, spreading Nazism and the early stages of World War II and the Holocaust.
Hank Greenberg in 1938 chronicles the events of 1938, both on the baseball diamond and the streets of Europe. As Greenberg’s bat had him on course for Babe Ruth’s home run record, Hitler’s “Final Solution” was beginning to take shape. Jews across the US, worried about the issues overseas, looked to Greenberg as a symbol of hope. Though normally hesitant to speak about the anti-Semitism he dealt with, the slugger still knew the role he was playing for so many of his people, saying “I came to feel that if I, as a Jew, hit a home run, I was hitting one against Hitler.”
Ron Kaplan is an award-winning journalist and blogger. He writes about baseball literature and pop culture at Ron Kaplan’s Baseball Bookshelf, and is the author of three books including 501 Baseball Books Fans Must Read Before They Die. His work has appeared in such outlets as Baseball America, Irish America, Mental Floss, American Book Review, and the Mystery Review, among other national and international publications.
"Ron Kaplan has this subject cornered. With diligent research woven into a very entertaining read, he has nailed Hank Greenberg's most important and controversial season into a book for the ages."
— Marty Appel, author of Pinstripe Empire and Casey Stengel
“Jewish icon Hank Greenberg preferred to let his bat do the talking—and it never spoke louder than in 1938, when he chased Babe Ruth's single-season home run record while Hitler and Nazi Germany ramped up their persecution of Jews. Ron Kaplan recounts the story of Greenberg's heroic season with insight, humor and a firm grasp of its greater historical context.”
— Dan Epstein, author of Big Hair and Plastic Grass and Stars and Strikes
"Kaplan offers a detailed analysis of the season and Greenberg’s quest for the record"
— New York Journal of Books
“Ron Kaplan does first-rate work, giving us a deeper appreciation of one of baseball’s most thriling performances.”
— Jonathan Eig, author of Luckiest Man and Opening Day
"Ron Kaplan tells the story with the same dignity and grace that Greenberg exhibited on the field and in his life. . . . Hank Greenberg in 1938 is a wonderful baseball book, loaded with anecdotes and statistics. Whether you love baseball, history or both, you will want to read it."
— Book Reporter
Ron Kaplan, Hank Greenberg 1938