Just having a little fun this offseason documenting walk-off moments that I find interesting and unusual. If you have one you’d like to see, let me know.
Hanukkah is upon us, so this seems like an apt time to salute the greatest Jewish hitter of our time, former Tigers legend Hank Greenberg.
Greenberg came close to challenging Babe Ruth’s home run record when he hit 58 in 1938. Over a four-year period from 1937 to 1940, Greenberg averaged 43 home runs, 148 RBIs and a 1.094 OPS. But Greenberg’s career was interrupted by World War II. He served in the military from 1941 to 1945, returning to the Tigers at age 34. He homered in his first game back on July 1.
Four days later, Greenberg was on the bench with a sore elbow for a game against the Red Sox. It was quite the wild affair. The Tigers blew a lead of 5-1. The Red Sox took an 8-6 lead into the bottom of the eighth. It didn’t hold.
The Tigers scored a run in the eighth to cut the lead to 8-7 and that score stayed through a rain delay until the bottom of the ninth. The fun-named Jimmy Outlaw led off with a bunt hit. Bob Maier bunted as well and was safe at first when Outlaw beat the throw to second. Hack Miller didn’t hack (he was no hack?). He bunted too, advancing the runners to second and third with one out.
Something odd happened next. Tigers pitcher Zeb Eaton batted for himself and struck out. With Joe Hoover due up next, Tigers manager Steve O’Neill called on Greenberg to pinch-hit. Why Greenberg didn’t bat for Eaton, I have no idea (the Free Press says he was a good-hitting pitcher. He hit .250 with two home runs in 32 at-bats that season. Still, the Tigers appeared to have subs available. They hadn’t used a non-pitcher off the bench the whole game.
Anyway, Greenberg came up, and the Red Sox elected to pitch to him rather than walk him, knowing that Greenberg was aching and was 2-for-11 since his military return.
After Greenberg hit a foul ball that was almost caught (which would have ended the game), Frank Barrett hung a slider on a 2-2 pitch and Greenberg took it to left center for a base hit. It plated both the tying and winning runs. As Lyall Smith wrote in the Free Press “It was one of the nicest, cleanest, most opportune singles the Tigers have seen for years.”
It took Greenberg a while to fully heal up, but when he did, he was something close to his old self. In his last 49 games of the season, he hit .362/.448/.603 with 47 RBIs. He hit a pennant-clinching home run in the ninth inning of the Tigers’ final game of the season.
He was similarly successful in the World Series driving in seven runs in seven games as the Tigers topped the Cubs. Greenberg played two more seasons, one with the Tigers and one with the Pirates. He finished with a 1.017 OPS and 331 home runs in an abbreviated 13-year career. He certainly was able to walk off with his head held high.