May 8th, 2017
Hank Greenberg was coming off a stellar season where he hit 40 home runs and had 184 RBIs. Even with his success at the plate, neither Greenberg nor the rest of the world could have expected what was about to happen in 1938.
From his first day in the big leagues, the New York-born Greenberg had dealt with persecution for being Jewish. From a teammate asking where his horns were to the verbal abuse from bigoted fans and the media, the 6'3" slugger always did his best to shut the noise out and concentrate on baseball. But in 1938, that would be more difficult than he could have ever imagined.
While Greenberg was battling at the plate, his people overseas were dealing with a battle for their lives. Adolf Hitler, who had been chancellor of Germany since 1933, had taken direct control of the country's military in February 1938. He then began his methodic takeover of all neighboring countries, spreading Nazism and the early stages of World War II and the Holocaust.
"Hank Greenberg in 1938" chronicles the events of that year, both on the baseball diamond and the streets of Europe. As Greenberg's bat had him on course for Babe Ruth's home run record, Hitler's "Final Solution" was beginning to take shape. Jews across the US looked to Greenberg as a symbol of hope. Though normally hesitant to speak about the anti-Semitism he dealt with, the slugger still knew the role he was playing, saying "I came to feel that if I, as a Jew, hit a home run, I was hitting one against Hitler."
Ron Kaplan is an award-winning journalist and blogger. He writes about baseball literature and pop culture at "Ron Kaplan's Baseball Bookshelf," and is the author of three books including "501 Baseball Books Fans Must Read Before They Die." His work has appeared in such outlets as "Baseball America," "Irish America," and "American Book Review," among other national and international publications.
On a Wednesday evening in May 2017, Ron Kaplan took us back to 1938. Listen in to our intimate Clubhouse conversation...