Yom Kippur 1934 – Hank Greenberg and a moment of great pride in American Jewish folklore

From: Hank Greenberg – The Hero of Heroes
By John Rosengren


Publisher – New American Library, March 2013

He played 153 games, every game but one. He batted .339, a jump of 38 points from his rookie year. He drove in 139 runs, scored 118 and broke Moose Alexander’s team home run record by slugging twenty-six. He led the major leagues in doubles (63), only four shy of the MLB record. He also improved his fielding percentage slightly while handling 25 percent more chances. Strikeouts continued to plague the free-swinging slugger. He whiffed 93 times, or about once every six at-bats.

Overall, Greenberg had a terrific season, but it was ten days in September that shaped his legend. Edgar A. Guest, the people s poet, celebrated the drama of Greenberg’s High Holy Days in his verse, “Speaking of Greenberg” that ran in the Detroit Free Press on October 4, the day after the World Series started.

The Detroit resident knew something about immigration. Born in England, Guest had moved to the United States with his family as a ten-year-old boy and faced the pressures of assimilation himself, though not as a Jew.

He wrote:

The Irish didn’t like it when they heard of Greenberg’s fame

For they thought a good first baseman should possess an Irish name;

And the Murphy s and Mulrooneys said they never dreamed they’d see

A Jewish boy from Bronxville out where Casey used to be.

In the early days of April not a Dugan tipped his hat

Or prayed to see a “double” when Hank Greenberg came to bat.

In July the Irish wondered where he’d ever learned to play.

“He makes me think of Casey!” Old Man Murphy dared to say;

And with fifty-seven doubles and a score of homers made

The respect they had for Greenberg was being openly displayed.

But on the Jewish New Year when Hank Greenberg came to bat

And made two home runs off pitcher Rhodes—they cheered like
mad for that.

Came Yom Kippur—holy fast day worldwide over to the Jew

And Hank Greenberg to his teaching and the old tradition true

Spent the day among his people and he didn’t come to play.

Said Murphy to Mulrooney, “We shall lose the game today!

We shall miss him on the infield and shall miss him at the bat

But he’s true to his religion—and I honor him for that!”

Edgar Guest’s poem, which circulated widely, immortalized Greenberg alongside Casey in baseball lore. More significantly, the poem demonstrated that the Jewish ballplayer had become a fixture in the national landscape. Here was a Jew who had become a Jewish hero as a ballplayer and an American hero as a Jew to “the old tradition true.”



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