Hank Greenberg, A Class Act


Your reviewer described the exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York about Brooklyn Dodgers great Jackie Robinson and mentions the famous May 17, 1947 collision of Robinson and [Detroit] “Tigers slugger” and Jewish baseball great Hank Greenberg (“Here’s To You, Mr. Robinson,” Feb. 22).

After years of success with the Tigers interrupted by Army service in World War II, and another fine year in 1946, Greenberg asked the owner of the Tigers for a raise. The offended owner sold Greenberg from the Tigers in the American League to the Pittsburgh Pirates of the National League.

Greenberg, who had endured anti-Semitic taunts throughout his career, describes his first observations of Robinson as the three-game Dodgers-Pirate series began: “We were in last place and the Dodgers were in first. Our Southern ballplayers … kept yelling at Jackie, “Hey, coal mine, hey coal mine, hey you black coal mine, we’re going to get you! You ain’t gonna play no baseball!” Jackie paid them no mind. He got on the bases and started dancing. It was beautiful to watch. I couldn’t help but admire him. … He was like a prince. He kept his chin up and kept playing as hard as he could. He was something to admire that afternoon.”

On May 17, Robinson laid down a bunt that caused the Pirates pitcher to hurry his throw and pull first baseman Greenberg off the bag and into Robinson’s path. The collision knocked both men to the ground. Greenberg dusted himself off and returned to his position as Robinson ran to second base.

In the bottom of the inning, Greenberg drew a walk and headed to first base, Robinson’s position. Many in the crowd anticipated a fight. Greenberg spoke to Robinson.

“I forgot to ask you if you were hurt in that play.”

Assured that Robinson was unharmed, Greenberg continued, “Stick in there. You’re doing fine. Keep your chin up. … Don’t pay any attention to these Southern jockeys. They aren’t worth anything as far as you’re concerned. … Would you like to go to dinner?”

Robinson responded, “I’d love to go to dinner, but I shouldn’t because it’ll put you on the spot.”

Robinson later told a reporter for The New York Times, “Class tells. It sticks out all over Mr. Greenberg.”

Class tells, indeed.

Chapel Hill, N.C.