The joint Temple Concord and Temple Israel Adult Education Committee will hold a brunch featuring a presentation by Professor Bill Simons on “The Legacy of Hank Greenberg, Baseball’s Pre-eminent Jewish Hero” at Temple Concord on Sunday, June 19, at 10 am. There will be a $7 charge at the door for the brunch, which will be followed by the talk. Reservations should be made by Thursday, June 16, by contacting the synagogue at 723-7355 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Walk-ins will also be welcomed. The program will be available on Zoom, found here, meeting ID 850 9986 1626 and passcode 623610.
Simons’ lecture will examine Hank Greenberg’s 1934 decision not to play during a play-off game that was held on Rosh Hashanah within the context of the national and international zeitgeist of the time. A PowerPoint presentation will employ photographs and other supporting materials. In addition to the 1934 High Holiday decision, the lecture will discuss the full arc of Greenberg’s Hall of Fame baseball career, military service, role in facilitating the racial integration of baseball, and evolving relationship to Judaism and legacy, as well as a comparison to Sandy Koufax and contemporary Jewish major leaguers. Questions and comments will follow the formal presentation.
“Despite a career abbreviated by four-and-one-half years of World War II military service, Greenberg, a 6’4” first baseman-outfielder, ranks as one baseball’s greatest sluggers and stands with pitcher Sandy Koufax, a fellow Hall of Famer, atop the list of the game’s most iconic Jewish players,” said organizers of the event. “In the equivalent of nine-and-one-half seasons, Greenberg hit 331 home runs, accumulated 1274 runs batted in, averaged .313, four times led the American League in both home runs and runs batted in, won two Most Valuable Player Awards, and led his team to four pennants. Until 1998, no right-handed batter exceeded Greenberg’s 1938 season total of 58 home runs. His .605 career slugging percentage is exceeded by only five other players.”
Organizers added, “In contrast to Koufax, whose 1961-1966 pitching peak coincided with a period of general acceptance of Jews in America, Greenberg’s 1933-1940 prime seasons took place amidst resurgent domestic antisemitism, fueled by victims of the Great Depression who blamed hard times on the Jews, and isolationists who believed that Jews sought to provoke a war between Nazi Germany and the United States. Moreover, Greenberg played for the Tigers, who shared a Detroit home with Henry Ford and Father Charles Coughlin, arguably America’s two most notorious antisemites. Automobile manufacturer Ford republished ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,’ a venerable forgery purporting to document a Jewish conspiracy to control international finance and world government. Coughlin, a Catholic priest with a national radio show, railed against Jewish dominance of the American economy, manipulation of politics, and support of Communism. During the 1934 baseball season, public attention to Greenberg’s Jewishness peaked both amongst co-religionists and Gentile Americans.
“The Tigers entered September 1934 battling for the American League pennant for the first time since 1909, and the 23-year-old Greenberg, the team’s top slugger, was crucial to Detroit’s chances,” organizers continued. “With the automobile industry devastated by the Great Depression, baseball provided Detroit with one of its few strong bonds of social cohesion. When Greenberg indicated that he might not play in Detroit’s September 10 home game against the Boston Red Sox because it conflicted with Rosh Hashanah, the press retorted that the Tigers needed Greenberg on the playing field more than even during this crucial phase of the pennant race. Detroit sportswriters emphasized Greenberg’s obligation to his teammates and to the fans.”
As professor emeritus and former chairman of the History Department at SUNY Oneonta, Simons continues to teach courses on “Jazz Age and New Deal,” and the “Athletics, Society, and Sports.” He is a recipient of both the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence Teaching and for Excellence in Service. Simons earned degrees from Colby College (B.A.), the University of Massachusetts (M.A.), and Carnegie-Mellon University (D.A.). He is the longtime co-director of the Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American History, an annual academic conference on the national pastime co-sponsored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and SUNY Oneonta. He has been a columnist for The Reporter since June 2020. Simons received the American Jewish Press Association 2021 First Place Award for Excellence in Writing About Sports for his column about Hank Greenberg.
Simon has served as editor and contributor to 12 baseball anthologies published by McFarland press. His articles, reviews and essays have appeared in numerous journals and books, including “Addressing Antisemitism and Racism in Statuary and Text: A Pedagogical Approach” in Israel Journal of Israel Foreign Affairs; “Jackie Robinson and the American Mind: Media Images of the Reintegration of Baseball,” from “Jack Johnson to LeBron James: Sports, Media, and the Color Line”; “Greenberg at the Bat: A Twenty-first Century Jewish Moonlight Graham,” Cooperstown Symposium; “Baseball and American Culture: A Seminar,” in “Baseball in the Classroom: Essays on Teaching the National Pastime”; “Hank Greenberg: The Jewish American Sports Hero,” in Sports and the American Jew; “Sports,” Jewish-American History and Culture; “Andy Cohen: Second Baseman as Ethnic Hero,” in The National Pastime: Baseball History; “The Athlete as Jewish Standard Bearer: Media Images of Hank Greenberg;” in Jewish Social Studies; and “Bloomfield: An Italian Working Class Neighborhood,” in Italian American.
Simons has delivered many lectures on a wide variety of topics to a numerous museums, libraries, colleges and Jewish organizations in New York state, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Maryland. Many of his presentations were as a speaker for the New York Council on the Humanities. For many years, Simons served as the co-advisor to the Jewish student group at SUNY Oneonta. A labor activist, he served 16 years as president of the Oneonta chapter of United University Professions. Simons lives in Oneonta.