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Crotona Park

Hank Greenberg Ballfield

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.
This ballfield was named in honor of the Major League baseball player Henry Benjamin ‘Hank’ Greenberg (1911-1986). Also called “Hammerin’ Hank,” Hank Greenberg was known for his powerful right-handed hitting and came close to challenging some of the great hitters of his time. Greenberg lived at 663 Crotona Park North, next door to Crotona Park where he worked persistently on his game.

Born into a Jewish-Romanian family in Greenwich Village on January 1, 1911, he moved to the Bronx at a young age. He played first base on the James Monroe High School baseball team. He said, “My baseball greatly improved, due to the fact that we moved to the Bronx (at age 6) across the street from Crotona Park. I did have a whole army of kids in the outfield shagging balls.” Known for his work ethic, Greenberg spent countless hours here improving his batting and fielding.

Like various talented young players of the time, Greenberg was courted by a number of teams. In 1929, Greenberg was offered contracts by three teams including the New York Yankees. Greenberg, a budding first-baseman, tipped his hat to Lou Gehrig (the Yankee’s irreplaceable first baseman) and passed on the Yankee’s offer. In 1930, Greenberg launched his professional career when he signed a minor league contract with the Detroit Tigers, for $9,000 ($1,000 less than the Yankees were offering). Then at 19 years of age, he was 6 feet 4 inches and weighed 210 lbs. Greenberg quickly proved himself to the team in the years ahead.

In 1933, he was called up to the Major Leagues, and as a rookie he hit .301 with 12 home runs, and 87 RBI’s. In his second major-league season he won his first of three Major League MVP awards, and is one of only three players to win MVP honors at two different positions, first base and left field. In 1935 Greenberg helped the Tigers win their first World Series in club history and in 1938 he hit 58 home runs, nearly breaking Babe Ruth’s single-season record of 60 home runs.

In 1941, Greenberg was drafted into the military. Thinking he would be back in time for the ’42 season, Pearl Harbor was attacked in December of 1941 and Greenberg volunteered to stay in the war for its duration. He returned home in the summer of 1945 and, weeks later, hit a grand slam in the 9th inning, winning the American League pennant for the Detroit Tigers. Greenberg played with the Tigers until 1946, when a contract dispute led him to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1947. Greenberg was one of the few players to openly welcome Jackie Robinson into the league. Robinson remembered Greenberg fondly, saying, “He (Greenberg) suddenly turned to me and said, ‘A lot of people are pulling for you to make good. Don\'t ever forget it.’ I never did.”

In total Greenberg played nine seasons and yet, despite this short career, he still managed to hit 331 career homeruns. He played his final game on September 18, 1947, and was the first Jewish player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1956. He died September 4, 1986 in California.


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