Today in Baseball History: The Tigers sell Hank Greenberg over a charity game photo
If only Hank Greenberg had remembered to pack properly.
Like so many of baseball's icons, Detroit's future Hall of Famer spent much of the early 1940s fighting in the armed forces. He missed three seasons in all, flying in a B-29 unit in India, China and elsewhere -- and, on occasion leveraging his celebrity in support of the war effort.
In the summer of 1943, Greenberg joined Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson and other past and present stars in the All-Star War Bond Game at the Polo Grounds. While the players would play the actual game in a special All-Stars uniform, everyone wore their team jerseys for the public practice the day before. Unfortunately, Greenberg had forgotten to bring his Tigers uniform with him, so they came up with a makeshift solution: Someone found a Yankees jersey that happened to fit, and Greenberg threw it on and headed to the field.
Such a star-studded event would, of course, feature plenty of photographers, all of whom were eager to snap a picture of one of the game's premier sluggers -- like the one below:
Hold on to this fact, because we'll be coming back to it in a minute.
Flash forward to the winter of 1946. Greenberg was back with the Tigers at age 35, and he had just led the American League with 44 dingers. Nearing the end of his storied career, he had applied to owner Walter Briggs for the general manager's position -- but Briggs turned him down, in addition to refusing his request for a raise. And then, on New Year's Day 1947, Sporting News reporter Dan Daniel (no, really) decided to dump a can of gasoline on the fire.
Daniel wrote a half-page story claiming that Greenberg was contemplating retirement -- and longing to be traded to his hometown Yankees. The article even came with a photo, captioned "Preview of What's to Come?" It showed Greenberg, back at the War Bond Game in 1943, holding and staring at the Yankees uniform he'd been given for practice that day.
It didn't take long for the news -- and the photo -- to reach Briggs' desk, and needless to say, he wasn't happy about it. Without bothering to investigate further, he sold Greenberg to the Pirates on Jan. 18, 1947 for $35,000 -- only after ensuring that the other American League teams wouldn't put in a waiver claim, lest his former star come back to haunt him.
Greenberg was so distraught that he threatened to retire, but the Pirates managed to coax him into coming to Pittsburgh. They upped his salary to a then-record $100,000, and even brought in the left-field fence at Forbes Field for their new slugger's pull-happy swing -- thus creating a "Greenberg Gardens" section beyond the wall.
Greenberg eventually relented, hitting 25 homers in his one year with the Pirates before retiring for good. More importantly for baseball history, though, he spent that season mentoring a promising Pittsburgh youngster who benefitted even more from the short porch in left: Ralph Kiner, who eventually turned Greenberg Gardens into Kiner's Corner.