Preferred Baseball To Schoolwork
Born on January 1, 1911, in New York City's Greenwich Village neighborhood, Greenberg was one of four children of Romanian immigrants David and Sarah Greenberg. His father owned a successful cloth-shrinking plant; his homemaker mother kept a kosher house. When their son was six, the family moved to a Jewish neighborhood in the Bronx; here young Greenberg attended Hebrew school. Hoping their son would pursue a higher education and a professional vocation in medicine or law, Greenberg's parents disapproved of the boy's early passion for baseball, and his preference for sports over academics.
"Jewish women on my block … would point me out as a good-for-nothing, a loafer, and a bum who always wanted to play baseball rather than go to school," Greenberg recalled to the Detroit Jewish Chronicle, as quoted by Laurie Marzejka of the Detroit News Online. "Friends and relatives sympathized with my mother because she was the parent of a big gawk who cared more for baseball … than school books. I was Mrs. Greenberg's disgrace."
A top athlete at James Monroe High School in the Bronx, Greenberg played both baseball and basketball. Bigger and stronger than his peers, he had a natural advantage over other athletes his age, yet he had to work
hard to gain the grace and skill that athletics demanded. "Hank was so big for his age and so awkward that he became painfully self-conscious," his high school coach remembered. "The fear of being made to look foolish drove him to practice constantly and, as a result, to overcome his handicaps."
Fresh out of high school, Greenberg impressed the major-league baseball coaches with his talent and potential. Signing with a major-league team meant that Greenberg would not advance directly to the majors, but would play in the minor leagues first until he was ready. The New York Giants were looking for a Jewish player to attract fans from New York's large Jewish population, yet they passed over Greenberg, fearing that he was too clumsy to become a star player. Willing to take a chance on Greenberg, the New York Yankees made him a lucrative offer; but Greenberg, a first-baseman, turned it down, because the Yankees already had star player Lou Gehrig on first base. Similarly, Greenberg turned down an offer from the Washington Senators, who boasted Joe Judge on first.
Ultimately, 19-year-old Greenberg signed with the Detroit Tigers, who offered a contract that allowed him to attend New York University on an athletic scholarship. Yet after attending college for only one year, Greenberg dropped out to pursue baseball exclusively. He played one game with the Tigers in 1930, and then spent the next three years in the minor-league "farm system." Here the young player worked to overcome any lingering awkwardness, and to hone his skills as a batter and fielder.
Famous Sports StarsBaseballHank Greenberg Biography - Preferred Baseball To Schoolwork, First Jewish Baseball Star, Chronology, Highest-paid Player, Career Statistics - SELECTED WRITINGS BY GREENBERG: