The 75th anniversary of Hank Greenberg’s rookie season was celebrated with a day-long symposium and film screening at the Baseball Hall of Fame on June 29, which also featured the introduction of two Greenberg-related collectibles.
Greenberg, fifth all-time in home runs when he retired in 1947, hit as many as 58 in a season, two short of Babe Ruth’s record, and drove in 183 in another season, one short of Lou Gehrig’s American League mark. He was a two-time MVP, and his career numbers would have been higher had military service not eaten into five seasons. In all, he played only nine full seasons, but four of them were for Detroit Tiger pennant winners. He had a lifetime average of .313.
The event was sponsored by Jewish Major Leaguers, the organization that created a trading card set of the same name in 2003, which has been followed by annual editions. The 2008 set honors Greenberg by including an 11-card subset honoring his life. Greenberg was the first Jewish star in baseball, the first to make the Hall of Fame, and he is still considered the greatest Jewish hitter of all time. He came from the streets of the Bronx, but with Lou Gehrig manning first base for the Yankees, he signed with the Tigers.
In his final season, 1947, he mentored the upcoming National League home run king, Ralph Kiner, as a teammate in Pittsburgh. He went on to ownership positions with the Indians and White Sox (with Bill Veeck), then moved to a successful career as an investor. He died in 1986.
In addition to the card set, the event included the introduction of a commemorative bat, to the specifications of Greenberg’s rookie, Louisville Slugger model. Produced by event sponsor Nokona and limited to just 50 bats, No. 1 was presented to new Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson.
The event was also sponsored in part by Major League Baseball and Greenberg’s four teams: the Tigers, Pirates, Indians and White Sox.
The panel included: Alva Greenberg, Hank’s only daughter; Aviva Kempner, producer of the award-winning documentary “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg”; author Ira Berkow, who edited Greenberg’s posthumous autobiography; historian Bill Simons; moderator Marty Appel; and Martin Abramowitz, who heads Jewish Major Leaguers, created the card concept and led a Cooperstown gathering in 2004 which celebrated the Jewish contributions to baseball. Kiner and former Detroit teammate Virgil Trucks spoke via videotape. Bob Ruxin was project manager. The commemorative Greenberg bat is available for $210, and information can be received by e-mailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to the Greenberg subset, the 50-card, 2008 edition of Jewish Major Leaguer baseball cards includes all the Jewish players in the majors in 2007; a tribute to new Hall of Famer Barney Dreyfuss (one-time owner of the Pirates and founder of the World Series); all-time roster and leader cards; a card for Albert Von Tilzer, co-author of “Take Me out to the Ballgame” (celebrating 100 years in 2008); former Angels manager Lefty Phillips (who never played in the majors); new discoveries; a tribute card to the Brewers’ Ryan Braun, 2007 NL Rookie of the Year, whose father is Jewish; and more.