The cornerstone of the new Walk of Heroes at The Corner Ballpark features the greatest and most influential Jewish baseball player, Hank Greenberg.
On Oct. 3, at The Corner Ballpark in Corktown, a new “Walk of Heroes” was dedicated. The cornerstone of this Walk of Heroes is none other than the greatest Jewish baseball player in history, Hank Greenberg.
Although his achievements as a major leaguer for the Detroit Tigers still stand the test of time, Greenberg is there because, simply stated, he was a man who overcame obstacles to become the best person he could be and an example to all of us. That he was also a Hall of Famer in the world of sports is secondary to the fact he was a mensch of the highest order.
The Corner Ballpark sits on the site of the former Tiger Stadium. This diamond is the latest in a succession of stadiums at Michigan and Trumbull avenues in Detroit dating from the first, Bennett Field, in 1895. In between The Corner Ballpark that opened in 2018, there was Navin Field (1912), Briggs Stadium (1938) and Tiger Stadium (1961-1999). The Detroit Police Athletic League (PAL) is keeping the tradition alive and, after 124 years, 13,000 kids, managed by 1,800 coaches, is still playing baseball at the corner.
Members of Detroit’s Jewish community helped make The Corner Ballpark a reality. Retired U.S. Sen. Carl Levin helped secure the site of the old Tiger Stadium for PAL. The William Davidson Foundation provided major funding. I am proud to say that my boss, Arthur Horwitz, executive editor/publisher of the Detroit Jewish News, put in a lot of behind-the-scenes effort on this project.
The Walk of Heroes intends to inspire children and the adults in their lives. Those included on the walk represent a wide range of “heroes,” but all of them have one thing in common: They did not let obstacles stop them from becoming highly accomplished men and women in their chosen professions.
For example, Jackie Kallen, now in the Michigan Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, became a successful manager of boxers within a sport that still has very few women in such positions. There is also Will Robinson, the legendary local high school coach and trailblazing NFL and NBA talent scout. And there is Hank Greenberg.
Of course, I went into the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History to see what I could find on Greenberg. There are nearly 1,000 pages citing him in the Archive. Anyone reading these pages will draw several conclusions.
First, from the time he began playing baseball in Detroit until he left the Tigers in 1940, the Detroit Jewish Chronicle covered Greenberg’s career. Indeed, the Chronicle and the JN after 1942 never quit following his life (in fact, he was featured on the front page of the first JN). Two, Greenberg was a class act. From the beginning of his years in Detroit, the Archive shows he was a frequent speaker at Jewish Men’s Clubs or at Hadassah meetings and a contributor to Jewish programs. Greenberg also set a precedent when he refused to play in games on Yom Kippur.
Three, and most important of all, was that Greenberg was a true hero. Yes, his baseball exploits are still wondrous. The Times of Israel, for example, recently published a list of all-time great Jewish baseball players. Only Sandy Koufax, the great pitcher, comes close to Greenberg’s status.
Beyond baseball, however, Greenberg is an outstanding example of dedication to one’s nation, joining the American military twice during World War II. He also did all of the above while facing a large obstacle — the anti-Semitism of his era.
Hank Greenberg is now the cornerstone for the Walk of Heroes at The Corner Ballpark. He, and all the other members of the Walk, are indeed worthy and inspirational heroines and heroes.
For more about The Corner Ballpark and the Walk of Heroes, go to detroitpal.org/the-corner-ballpark.