81 Years Ago, Tigers' Slugger Hank Greenberg Skipped The Game For Yom Kippur

September 22, 2015, 4:42 PM by  Allan Lengel

Photo from Life and Times of Hank Greenberg

It was 81 years ago that Tigers slugger Hank Greenberg had a dilemma.

His team was in first place, in the thick of the pennant race, and the Jewish high holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, were just around the corner. In the Jewish culture, even many less observant Jews took off from work during these two holidays.

Greenberg was not a devoutly religious man, but he was reminded of his religion from some fans, who sometimes yelled out anti-Semitic remarks from the stands.  

Greenberg decided to compromise. He played on Rosh Hashanah on Sept. 10 and hit two home runs, leading his team to a 2-1 victory over the Red Sox. 

Ten days later, on Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, Greenberg skipped the game and went to synagogue at Shaarey Zedek in Detroit.

Greenberg recounted in the documentary, "The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg," that he walked into synagogue and got a standing ovation and a round of applause from the congregation.   

"And I'm embarrassed as can be," he said. " It was all totally unexpected." 

The Tigers lost that day to the Yankees, 5-2, but the team went on to win the pennant. It lost the World Series to St. Louis. A year later, the team won the World Series, beating the Chicago Cubs.

Decades later, in 1965, another Jewish ball player named Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers declined to pitch on Yom Kippur, which was the first day of the World Series.

Today, the Tigers team has two members who are Jewish: Manager Brad Ausmus and second baseman Ian Kinsler. Last September, the two participated in a pre-game ceremony for Jewish Heritage Day at Comerica Park 

Yom Kippur begins tonight at sundown and ends Wednesday night at sundown.

The Tigers play the White Sox tonight, starting time 7:08 p.m. at Comerica Park and Wednesday, starting at 1:08  p.m.

The Tigers organization did not return repeated phone calls to see if  Ausmus and Kinsler will be at the games.  On Tuesday night, Kinsler was playing and Ausmus was coaching. They also were at the game on Wednesday.

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