Hank Greenberg made it to the World Series four times with the Detroit Tigers and homered in each of his trips to the Fall Classic. “Hammerin’ Hank” holds the franchise record for most World Series home runs. Greenberg finished with five longballs, a perfect number for the Hall of Famer whose no. 5 was retired by the Tigers.
1934 World Series, Game 1
Hank Greenberg followed up a pretty solid rookie season in 1933 by putting up bigger numbers and helping the Tigers win the American League championship in 1934. The 23-year old first baseman led the Tigers with 26 home runs. (In 1933, Greenberg and Charlie Gehringer tied for the team lead with 12.) “Hammerin’ Hank” also broke the franchise single-season record of 25 that Dale Alexander had set in 1929.
He didn’t wait too long before hitting his first World Series home run. Greenberg and the Tigers faced Dizzy Dean, the Cardinals’ whimsical ace, in Game 1 of the 1934 World Series. Dean had dominated the National League on his way to becoming a 30-game winner that season, and he didn’t have much of a problem handling the Tigers at Navin Field in Detroit that afternoon. Greenberg had grounded out, struck out, and singled in his first three at-bats against Dean. Charles P. Ward of the Detroit Free Press wrote,
"“Dean became too cocky in pitching to Greenberg and learned something about the power that is concealed in the big fellow’s shoulders. Dean pitched two strikes to Greenberg. After the second, which he swung at, Hank shook his head in self-reproach. Dean decided that here was a good chance to fool Greenberg again. He tossed a fastball outside. It was not out far enough. Greenberg’s bat swung, the ball sailed high into the left-field bleachers, and the Bronx bombardier ambled around the bases.”"
Greenberg said that it was a “soft curve” that he hammered into the stands. However, his blast had merely trimmed the NL champs’ lead to 8-3. That held up as the final score, and the Cardinals beat the Tigers in Game 1.
The Tigers would bounce back, but ultimately, a St. Louis’ win in Game 7 denied Detroit its first World Series title. Greenberg, though, had gained some valuable postseason experience.
1935 World Series, Game 2
In 1935, Greenberg broke the Tigers’ single-season home run record that he’d set in 1934. His 36 homers tied the Athletics’ Jimmie Foxx for the AL lead. Hank also improved in a number of other categories, like hits, RBI, walks, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS+, and total bases. The leaps and bounds that Greenberg made resulted in his first AL Most Valuable Player award.
The Cubs had shut the Tigers out 3-0 in Game 1 of the 1935 World Series at Navin Field. Detroit made it immediately clear to the NL champs from Chicago that they would not be held scoreless again in Game 2. In the bottom of the first, Jo-Jo White singled. Mickey Cochrane doubled him in, and Gehringer singled Cochrane in. That brought up Greenberg to face Cubs starter Charlie Root. Exactly one year earlier, Hank homered off Dizzy Dean, and he was about to make the day a very happy anniversary. The Free Press‘ Ward wrote,
"“There was a cackle of anticipation when Greenberg stepped to the plate. It turned to a roar of derision as Hank swung hard, but futilely at Root’s first pitch. But on the next one, drove a terrific home run into the left-field stands and trotted around the bases in Gehringer’s footsteps as the crowd went wild…Although the ball was hit directly into a strong wind which blew in from left throughout the game, it came to roost high in the stands. It would have been a home run even if the high screen that topped the left-field wall during the 1934 season had still been in place.”"
Greenberg was hitless the rest of the day, but was hit on the left elbow by a pitch in the seventh inning. Two batters later, he tried to score from first on a long single from Pete Fox. Greenberg collided with Cubs catcher Gabby Hartnett as he slid into the plate. Greenberg was out. Even worse, he wrenched his left wrist on the slide. Hank finished the game but didn’t play in the Series again.
Greenberg was a spectator when the Tigers won the World Series, for the first time in franchise history, on Goose Goslin’s walk-off single in Game 6.
1940 World Series, Game 5
To accommodate the transition of Rudy York from catcher to first baseman, Greenberg became the Tigers’ left fielder in 1940. The position change didn’t change his status as one of Major League Baseball’s preeminent sluggers. “Hammering Hank” led the AL with 41 home runs. He also led the league in doubles, RBI, slugging percentage, OPS, and total bases. Greenberg won the AL MVP award and became the first player in big-league history to win the award at two different positions.
The 1940 World Series was tied at two games apiece when the Tigers hosted the Reds on a Sunday afternoon at Briggs Stadium. A crowd of 55,189 was on hand for Game 5. It was scoreless heading into the bottom of the third. Barney McCoskey and Charley Gehringer got things started for the Tigers that inning with back-to-back singles. Up stepped Greenberg, ready to swing what The Cincinnati Enquirer‘s Lou Smith described as a “devastating war club”. Smith wrote,
"“Greenberg looked at a called strike and two balls, and then got a fastball in his favorite groove, pounding it for a 400-foot ride, high into the upper deck of the (left field) stands. It was the hardest hit ball of the Series. It carried on a line into the upper deck, and one quick look by (left fielder Jimmy) Ripple convinced him it was no use getting into freewheeling.”"
The three-run bomb off Reds starter Gene Thompson gave the Tigers a 3-0 lead. They scored four more in the fourth, including one driven in by Greenberg (on a flyout). He scored the eighth Detroit run in the eighth. After singling to lead off the inning, Bruce Campbell singled him to third. Greenberg then scored on a wild pitch while Pinky Higgins was at the plate. It was a nice 8-0 win to give the Tigers a 3-2 lead in the Series.
The Reds won the next two games in Cincinnati, however, to seize the championship away from the Detroiters.
1945 World Series, Game 2
It was a Greenberg home run that put the Tigers into the 1945 World Series. In the regular-season finale, the Tigers trailed the Browns 3-2 in the top of the ninth in St. Louis. Detroit loaded the bases for “Hammerin’ Hank”, and he delivered a grand slam that turned out to be a pennant-winning blast. It was his 13th of the season. After being discharged from the U.S. Army in June, Greenberg, the World War II veteran, rejoined the Tigers on July 1 and homered in his first game back.
The Cubs had shut the Tigers out 9-0 in Game 1 of the 1945 World Series at Briggs Stadium. In Game 2, the NL champs from Chicago took a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth. Detroit clawed back in the bottom of the fifth. With two outs, Skeeter Webb singled and Eddie Mayo walked. Doc Cramer singled Webb in to tie the game, and Mayo took third. Cubs starter Hank Wyse was in a jam, and it was about to get tougher. Greenberg was up. Detroit Free Press Sports Editor Lyall Smith wrote,
"“Wyse’s first pitch to the big man with the broad shoulders was a fast called strike. His second was a ball, low and on the inside. But the third one was just right, and when the ball was finally engulfed in a wave of memento-seekers, it had lined into the left-centerfield stands.That was when the 53,636 fans really cut loose. On the previous day, they sat through nine sorrowful innings in which their Tigers could not score….but now they could cheer, and they did.At third base, manager (Steve) O’Neill jogged up and down with an uncontrolled glee. Hank trotted around the paths, and the Cubs must have counted every step.”"
The newfound 4-1 Tigers lead held up as the final. The Series was tied 1-1. Speaking about his Cubbies’ grim afternoon at the ballpark, Chicago skipper Charlie Grimm bemoaned,
"“The bad break came when Greenberg tagged Wyse…It was a high inside curve that hung up there – and Greenberg belted it. And what a poke! I knew it was a homer the moment it left the bat.”"
The 1945 World Series continued on.
1945 World Series, Game 6
The Tigers took a 3-2 lead into Game 6 at Wrigley Field in Chicago. The top of the eighth began with the Tigers trailing 7-3. Bob Swift drew a leadoff walk. Harvey “Hub” Walker doubled. Joe Hoover reached base on a Cubs error that also allowed Swift to score. Eddie Mayo singled Walker in. Hoover scored on a Doc Cramer flyout. Detroit had narrowed the gap to 7-6. Greenberg strode to the plate. In the Chicago Tribune, Edward Burns wrote,
"“Hank ran (reliever Ray) Prim to a count of three balls and two strikes. Then the ex-Army captain drove the ball thru a crosswind of gale force, a homer onto the catwalk beyond the left field.”"
Greenberg’s solo shot tied the game 7-7. From there, it was a battle of bullpen arms, Dizzy Trout of the Tigers, and Hank Borowy of the Cubs. In the bottom of the twelfth, Chicago’s Stan Hack came to bat with a runner on first and two outs. He drilled a ball to left field. Greenberg, who became the Tigers’ left fielder again upon his return from the war, came in to field the ball. The ball may have hit something in the field, and it took a bad hop over his shoulder. He was originally charged with an error, but the panel of three official scorers later reversed their ruling. Either, way the Cubs won Game 6 by a score of 8-7.
The Tigers pounced early in Game 7 and never looked back. Detroit beat the National Leaguers from Chicago 9-3 to claim the second World Series title in franchise history.