As baseball's first Jewish star, Hammerin' Hank Greenberg's career contains all the makings of a true American sucess story. An extraordinary ball player notorious for his hours of daily practice, Greenberg's career was an... more » inspiration to all and captured the headlines and the admiration of sportswriters and fans alike. This is the story of how he became an American hero.« less
Hank Greenberg the Jewish Babe Ruth/Moses/Jackie Robinson
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 01/11/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"If the point of "The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg" is lost on the viewer, then history itself put the writing on the wall when the owner of the Detroit Tigers misunderstood the meaning of an old photograph of Greenberg and traded his star to the Pittsburgh Pirates for the 1947 season. Greenberg's last season in the baseball was Jackie Robinson's first, and Greenberg was in the National League to witness it first hand. Not surprisingly, Greenberg was one of the few opposing ball players to offer Robinson encouragement in breaking baseball's color line. But then, as this 1999 documentary proved repeatedly, no white player in the history of the game had been subjected to the abuse Greenberg suffered because his was Jewish. Without a doubt Robinson suffered more, maybe even more that first season than Greenberg his entire career. But this documentary also shows that Greenberg was as important to the American Jewish community as Jackie was to African Americans. I remembered that Greenberg was the first person to win the MVP award at two different positions and that in 1935 he had 100 R.B.I.'s at the break and was not selected for the All-Star team (Manager Mickey Cochrane did not want to be accused of playing favorites with someone from his own team and picked Lou Gehrig and Jimmy Foxx instead). But what I really picked up from this documentary was how good Greenberg made the Detroit Tigers during his career. If you look at his career batting statistics you will see that Greenberg played eight full seasons and batted in over 100 runs seven times for the Tigers between 1933 and 1946 (several seasons were lost to injury and military service). The Tigers played in the World Series in 1934, 1935, 1940, and 1945, and Greenberg was the common denominator for those teams. You will be hard pressed to find a major league baseball player with that sort of success ratio since Greenberg's day outside of New York Yankees like Berra, Ford, Mantle, and Jeter. Writer-director Aviva Kempner balances Greenberg's playing career with the impact he had as baseball's first Jewish star. There are some clips from an old interview with Greenberg, who died in 1986. But most of the talking heads are from contemporary clips of Greenberg's family, former teammates, reporters, and lifelong fans. The last category are the most interesting, because it includes not only famous people like Walter Matthau and Alan Dershowitz, but ordinary fans, including several rabbis and a self-admitted "groupie." These are the people with whom "The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg" resonates the most. Clearly this is a documentary which will be of interest to baseball fans but also to those interested in the story of a true American hero. Final Note: The documentary does not point out that in 1938 when Greenberg hit 58 home runs, two short of Babe Ruth's record, he hit two balls into a screen that were ground rule doubles; however, that screen was not there when Ruth played in 1927"
A must-see for all baseball fans/history buffs
Hansol Lee | 08/13/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Hank Greenberg was more than just a baseball superstar. He was an icon -- the pride and joy of the Jewish Americans in the 1930s and 40s amidst rampant anti-Semitism. As the first prominent Jewish player in the Major League Baseball, Greenberg not only established himself as one of the best sluggers in baseball history, but he also gave the Jewish Americans something to cheer about. He also paved a path for other baseball pioneers like Jackie Robinson as he quietly fought discrimination by letting his stats speak for themselves. This movie isn't your typical boring documentary either. It shows a nice balance of Greenberg's baseball achievements and personal life (though I wish they focused a bit more on the baseball part) with a good mixture of old baseball footage, interviews with fans, family, friends and Greenberg himself, as well as clips from classic baseball movies such as The Pride of the Yankees. You don't have to be a baseball fan/historian to enjoy and appreciate this movie. Besides, there is nothing quite like listening to "Take Me out to the Ball Game" sung in Yiddish."
A Fantastic Documentary
Geoffrey Kleinman | Portland, OR USA | 10/12/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"have to admit it, before watching Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, I really didn't know that much about Hank Greenberg. I of course had heard his name mentioned as 'one of the greats' and I had heard that he was one of the first openly Jewish ballplayers to play baseball, but I really knew very little about his life story. As with many great documentaries, after watching Life and Times of Hank Greenberg I now feel like I really know the whole Hank Greenberg story, and it is a pretty amazing story. Greenberg played at a time where there simply weren't openly Jewish ballplayers. And while Hank wasn't a deeply religious person, he didn't (like some) conceal the fact he was Jewish. Hank Greenberg is known both for standing up in the face of bigotry as well as being an amazing ballplayer. Playing for the Detroit Tigers for the majority of his career, Hank Greenberg was the first player in the American League to receive the MVP award twice. In 1938 he came amazingly close to breaking Babe Ruth's single season home run record 23 years before it was broken by Roger Marris. Life and Times of Hank Greenberg is a loving tribute to a man who didn't let bigotry get in the way of his love for baseball and never stopped giving it his all. The documentary was produced over the course of 12 years and features interviews with Hank (who is no longer living), as well as many of the ball players and children of the people he played with. Watching a movie like Life and Times of Hank Greenberg really gives you a glimpse into what makes baseball America's pasttime and something that has the ability to create legends. If you're a baseball fan I'd highly recommend you check out Life and Times of Hank Greenberg - it's a fantastic documentary."
Intelligent and moving
Arnie Bernstein | Chicago, IL USA | 02/05/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I grew up in a Jewish household in the 1960s, well after Greenberg's playing days but he still was an icon for me. The film touches on a lot of points: biography, sports in America, institutionalized anti-Semitism and racism. Yet the viewer is never overwhelmed; this film really evokes a man, an era and a unique look at a unique American legend. My only quibble: I wish it had been longer and delved into Greenberg's efforts at desegregating professional baseball after his playing days."
A solid homage to a trailblazing ballplayer
Robert Moore | Chicago, IL USA | 07/25/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film doesn't back even a quarter inch from being a documentary of a great Jewish ballplayer. The opening theme song is "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in Yiddish. It sets the tone for the whole film in perfect fashion.
One of my professors in grad school explained to me how he changed his name as a grad student in the 1930s in order to "pass" as what we would now call WASP in order to escape the "Jew quotas" placed against the hiring of too many Jewish professors. Today we forget just how anti-Semitic much of the United States was before World War II and beyond. As this documentary points out, this was especially true in Detroit, where America's premiere industrial anti-Semite, Henry Ford, held sway. The film mentions but does not expand upon Ford's anti-Semitic activity, which included paying for the printing and distribution of the wretched forgery "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," one of the most racist rags ever penned. This provides the social and historical background for this marvelous documentary history of the great Hank Greenberg, the first professional baseball star to openly embrace his ethnic background. He thus served as the Jackie Robinson of the Jews in the thirties. But there was a slight difference. Though African-Americans were discriminated against and subjugated to terrible racial injustice, there was a sense in which they were undeniably American. Jews, however, at the time enjoyed an almost outsider status, not really Americans, more in the nature of displaced Europeans. Greenberg, however, was not just a Jewish sports star, but a star in the great American game of baseball. His Jewish identity is central to the film, from the recounting of his earlier years to the shocking film footage of Nazi rallies in New York in the late 1930s to Greenberg's being drafted (and reenlisted) for military service in World War II. And as commentator Alan Dershowitz points out, he was the anti-thesis of what Hitler said it was possible for a Jew to be. He was the living proof of the lies of Hitler.
One of the many jokes in AIRPLANE! is when someone asks for some light reading, and is given a slender pamphlet entitled GREAT JEWISH SPORTS STARS. Greenberg is one of the great athletes to give the lie to such a conception. He would reign as the great Jewish baseball player until the emergence of Sandy Koufax twenty years later. What is striking about both players is that they were both handsome, eloquent, and great gentlemen. Both men were great heroes to Jews across America, but interestingly neither was especially religious.
As a baseball fan, I really enjoyed a lot of the baseball lore that comes through in the film. For instance, I knew that Greenberg and Gehringer were a great twosome in the infield, but I was unaware that one season the infield knocked in more runs than any infield in baseball history. Or that a new and controversial glove that the poor fielding Greenberg debuted one season would be finally approved by the league and eventually lead to the modern first baseman's glove. Or that Greenberg was the first $100,000 player. Most of all, perhaps, is all the great game footage. Most baseball fans know Greenberg by sight in a photo, but few of us would recognize him from the way he swings his bat. But now perhaps I would. There is also the fantastic segment in which Greenberg in film from the 1980s explains how the Tigers were able in late 1940 to steal the signs of the other team by placing a minor league coach in the stands with binoculars, and signaling by which hand he held them what pitch was coming.
Although in many ways Greenberg enjoyed a relatively short career, shortened by injuries and by military service in what would be the peak years for most power hitters (the peak for most home run hitters comes between the ages of 30 and 35, the very years Greenberg was in the military), he enjoyed by any standard a remarkable career. Because of the war years he lost any chance at 500 career homers, but he led the Tigers to several remarkable seasons, with four pennant winners and two world championships, all to go with his two MVP awards.
A bit of trivia partially revealed in the film. In the 1935 World Series umpire George Moriarty stopped the game to order the Cubs to stop making anti-Semitic remarks directed at Greenberg. The film then briefly interviews actor Michael Moriarty, the umpire's grandson, who himself starred in one of the great baseball films ever made, BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY, starring Moriarty and a very, very young Robert DeNiro."