Eighty years ago this Sunday, Hank Greenberg drove in his first three runs of the season for the Detroit Tigers. His total at the end of the season: 184.
Total of Hank Greenberg baseball cards issued in the United States in 1937: Zero.
Such was often the life of a card collector in the pre-World War II era. While Greenberg’s greatest season may have only a 1937 O-Pee-Chee to show for it, he does have other cards in the 1930s and 40s.
He hit 40 homers and batted .337 in 1937 and his RBI total is tied for second with Lou Gehrig behind Hack Wilson’s 190 in 1930. The total was revised upward in recent years after baseball researchers examined his game-by-game performance in detail.
Overall, Greenberg would enjoy one of the greatest careers in history despite missing more time to military service than any other player in the World War II era.
The Greenberg File
Born on New Year’s Day, 1911, Greenberg was destined to become the first Jewish American sports star. He passed on an opportunity to play with the New York Yankees and opted instead for New York University. With Gehrig entrenched at first base in the early 1930s, Greenberg signed with the Detroit Tigers for $9,000. On May 6, 1933, he belted his first career home run in his first game with the Tigers. It was a sign of things to come.
Greenberg was eventually the first Jewish baseball player inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1956. He faced his share of adversity from fans and players alike. He would later admit it frustrated him but there wasn’t much he could do besides take it out on the baseball. And that he did.
Greenberg spent the bulk of his career with Detroit before finishing up with Pittsburgh (just one season). Although he grew up in New York, he never had the opportunity to play for his home town Yankees.
Also known as “The Hebrew Hammer,” Greenberg led the American league in home runs four times during his illustrious career. He claimed two MVP awards with Detroit. Joe DiMaggio said when he first saw Greenberg play it made his “eyes pop out.”
He’s still regarded as one of the best hitters ever. Greenberg passed away in 1986 but left behind quite a legacy. He tallied 331 home runs and 1274 RBI despite missing three full seasons and large portions of two others during World War II.
Hank Greenberg Cards: The Early Years
Among the giants in the Greenberg checklist, the 1934 Goudey #62 roookie card stands tall with VG examples often selling for less than $100. He’s also in the Goudey Wide Pen Premium sets issued a few years later. Other examples of his earliest cards are the 1934-36 Batter Up and Diamond Stars, both of which are relatively inexpensive in modest grades. National Chicle spelled his last name “Greenburg” in the earliest print runs of the Diamond Stars issue before correcting it and the error variation is a bit more expensive.
Prior to his military commitment, youngsters would find Greenberg’s card in the 1939, 1940 and ’41 Play Ball sets, all of which can be found for $100 or less in VG condition.
The checklist of original cards from his playing days is relatively small and while there are some obscure issues to chase, collecting Hank Greenberg cards is a worthy goal, especially on the anniversary of one of the most eye-popping offensive seasons in baseball history.
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