Hank Greenberg’s 10 best performances

Detroit Tigers

Last weekend didn’t just begin a new year. It also marked the 111th birthday of Tigers great and Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg, a New Year’s baby born on Jan. 1, 1911. To remember his incredible career, which included two World Series titles and two MVP Awards, here are 10 of the greatest performances from Greenberg’s career in Detroit:

May 6, 1933: First big league home run
Though Greenberg made his MLB debut for the Tigers with one at-bat as a teenager in 1930 after having been called up for the stretch run, he didn’t see the big leagues again until 1933. He went 1-for-10 over his first four games, but his first career home run was a no-doubt drive out of Navin Field off former teammate Earl Whitehill in a 6-2 loss to the Senators.

“Irritated by the fans’ taunts after he had taken two strikes,” the Detroit Free Press account read, Greenberg “blasted the ball onto Cherry St.”

Sept. 10, 1934: Two homers on Rosh Hashanah
In the midst of a breakthrough season that made him baseball’s first superstar player of the Jewish faith, and with the Tigers in the thick of a playoff race, the 23-year-old slugger was at a conflict on whether to play on the Jewish New Year, a holiday normally spent in prayer. His difficult decision, which brought advice from fans and clergy alike while being chronicled in local papers, took him all the way up to game day. Knowing his teammates needed him with the playoffs on the line — Detroit had a four-game lead in the American League with 20 games left — he ultimately decided to play. He ended up accounting for all of the Tigers’ offense, belting a game-tying solo homer in the seventh before leading off the bottom of the ninth with a walk-off solo shot for a 2-1 win over the Red Sox.

“Once I was in there, I had only one thing to do — keep swinging,” Greenberg told the Free Press after the game. “I guess I did pretty well and the Lord was with me.”

The headline in the Free Press the next day, over a photo of Greenberg crossing home plate read, “A Happy New Year for Everybody.”

Sept. 26, 1934: Nine RBIs in doubleheader
The Tigers had wrapped up the pennant race, but Greenberg was making a late charge at Earl Webb’s Major League doubles record (67), having reached 60 with just over a week to go. With a Wednesday doubleheader against the White Sox in the final week of the regular season, Greenberg not only played both games but he also hit up a storm, driving in six runs without a homer in the first game thanks to a bases-clearing double and a go-ahead two-run single in a 12-10 win. He added a three-run homer in the nightcap. He finished the season with 63 doubles, the most by a Tiger and the fourth-most in a season in Major League history. Former Tiger Nick Castellanos made a run at the mark in 2019 and finished with 58, 37 of which came as a Tiger before his trade to the Cubs.

May 30, 1937: Greenberg goes 5-for-5 with five RBIs
By this point, Greenberg had established himself as a slugger and a run producer, but his beauty was in his consistency. He never had a three-homer game, but he had 34 career two-homer performances. Likewise, he had only one five-hit game, but with two homers, a double, five RBIs and four runs scored, it was definitely memorable. Greenberg walked and scored in the first inning, hit a two-run homer in the second, singled home a run and scored in the third, singled and scored again in the fifth, hit another two-run homer in the sixth and then doubled in the eighth.

Aug. 19, 1938: Five RBIs, walk-off homer
Greenberg led the American League in home runs four times, but his 1938 crown saw him make a run at history with a chance to match Babe Ruth’s Major League record of 60. Greenberg entered the All-Star break with just 22 homers in 71 games, but his late charge included a 15-homer July and 36 homers in a 79-game stretch. Two homers came in a five-RBI outburst against the Browns, capped by a walk-off drive in the ninth.

Sept. 27, 1938: Two-homer game brings Ruth within reach
Greenberg entered the final week of the season at 56 homers, but an inside-the-park homer and a drive to Briggs Stadium’s center-field upper deck in the second game of a doubleheader against the Browns marked his third two-homer game in 11 days and put Ruth’s record within reach with five games to go. Unfortunately, he didn’t homer again.

July 1, 1945: Homecoming homer
Greenberg didn’t play in all or part of five seasons in his prime years to serve in World War II. He joined the Army in May 1941 as the reigning American League MVP. He returned in 1945, at age 34, but his first game back showed he still had something left to give the game and help the first-place Tigers. After he walked and scored in a go-ahead six-run seventh inning, Greenberg hit a solo homer in the eighth to cap a 9-5 win as part of a doubleheader sweep of the Philadelphia Athletics in front of a crowd of 47,729 at Briggs Stadium.

Sept. 30, 1945: Pennant-winning grand slam 
Though the Tigers topped the league from mid-June on, it was a close race, with the lead never more than 2 1/2 games after Aug. 16. By the final week, the lead was down to a game, and Detroit had to win one game in a doubleheader against the St. Louis Browns on a rainy Sunday afternoon to finally hold off the Washington Senators. 

Greenberg had been thrown out at third base as the potential go-ahead run in the eighth inning, but stepped to the plate in the ninth with the bases loaded, one out and a 3-2 deficit. The Browns intentionally walked 40-year-old outfielder Doc Cramer to set up a potential game-winning double play, but Greenberg hit a Nels Potter pitch into the rain-soaked left-field stands to give the Tigers a 6-3 win to move on to the World Series.

Oct. 4, 1945: Go-ahead homer in World Series Game 2
The Tigers collectively hit just .223 against the Cubs in the World Series, but Greenberg was a star, batting 7-for-23 with three doubles, seven RBIs and hitting both of Detroit’s homers. One of those drives was a go-ahead three-run shot in Game 2 that allowed the Tigers to even the series and regain momentum after a rough loss in the opener. The Cubs had threatened to take command of Game 2 as well, but Greenberg threw out hot-hitting Stan Hack at home plate from left field in the opening inning prior to his homer.

Sept. 14, 1946: Greenberg drives in all seven Detroit runs
Though age began catching up with Greenberg in 1946, he still had something left at age 35 and led the league with 44 home runs and 144 RBIs. He batted .319 with 16 homers and 39 RBIs over the final month, during which he began using a bat he received from Ted Williams, whom he eventually passed for the home run and RBI titles. Greenberg drove in seven runs on a Saturday afternoon where he accounted for all of the Tigers’ offense in a 7-4 win over the Yankees. The work he put in included a bases-clearing double in the first inning, a solo homer in the third and a three-run homer in the seventh. Though Greenberg finished with a flourish, the Tigers dealt him to the Pirates at season’s end.

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