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Summer Reading Day 54 and Non-Fiction Monday: Hammerin' Hank Greenberg: Baseball Pioneer


by Shelley Sommer. 136 p. Boyds Mills Press, March, 2011. 978-1-59078-452-5

Here are some stats from the front flap of this attractive, accessible biography. Hammerin' Hank Greenberg hit 331 home runs; was voted the American League's Most Valuable Player twice; was a five-time All Star; was the first Jewish player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and was often referred to as the Jewish Babe Ruth. What I hadn't known, but learned about in chapter 8, was that Greenberg came within four home runs of breaking Ruth's home run record in 1938. That's really no surprise. I am a casual sports fan and can't keep statistics in my head to save my life.

My rabid sports fan son knew this though. He also rattled off Greenberg's nick name, Hammerin' Hank, without hesitation. I asked him this because, when I posted about the book on FB, an author friend commented that Hammerin' Hank is Hank Aaron's nickname and hadn't heard it attributed to Greenberg. According to chapter 6, Greenberg earned that nickname the year the Detroit Tigers won their first World Series. They did so without their first baseman, who had broken his wrist sliding into home plate on October 3, 1935. When I mentioned Hank Aaron, my son hesitated for a nanosecond and said that Greenberg was also Hammerin' Hank. Or, should I type that Aaron was also Hammerin' Hank?

There's plenty of baseball history and commentary on plays and games to satisfy your most avid sports fans; but, what I enjoyed most about this biography was the historical context the author provides. Greenberg came up during the Great Depression. He earned an incredible salary for the time, but no where near what superstar ball players of today earn. People followed teams in the newspapers and occasionally on the radio. When they went to the ballpark, they dressed up. World War II was imminent. Anti-Semitism was evident in the United States and Greenberg dealt with slurs hurled at him from the dugouts and the fans. With hard work and good grace he won most people over and was openly sympathetic to Jackie Robinson when he became the first black base ball player in the Major Leagues. 

The text is unbroken by text boxes, but interesting and relevant black and white,  well captioned photographs highlight Greenberg's incredible story. This is a comprehensive birth to death biography that is totally accessible to the middle school reader. Two pages of resources are provided at the end for students who are interested in learning more, accompanied by a two page bibliography and six pages of chapter notes. I picked this to review for my local Book Evaluation group, but it is also a Junior Library Guild selection, so my library will have two copies, which, I am quite sure will check out frequently.

Non-fiction Monday is hosted this week by Amy O'Quinn.
Tags: 100+ book challenge, baseball history, biography, informational, non-fiction monday, sports, summer 2011
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