How Hank Greenberg Helped Desegregate Baseball


In 1954, one year before the debut of Sandy Koufax, Hank Greenberg was the General Manager of the Cleveland Indians. Under Bronx-born Greenberg, the Indians had more black ballplayers than any other team. Greenberg didn’t care whether his players were white or black—just that they were good at baseball. And good they were: The Indians won the American League pennant that year.

By that time, Greenberg already had a reputation as one of baseball’s greatest players—and as a proud American and Jew. He refused to play in a key pennant race game on Yom Kippur in 1934, and six years later, he became the first ballplayer to register for the draft. He ended up serving for 47 months—longer than any other MLB player during World War II. “My country comes first,” Greenberg famously said.

Some say Greenberg was the most verbally abused baseball player in the game until Jackie Robinson came around. And, fittingly, in 1947, just months before Greenberg retired, he came out as one of the first and few players not on the Brooklyn Dodgers to publicly welcome Jackie Robinson to the Major Leagues.

Photo: National Baseball Hall of Fame

Recommended from JTA