The Jewish Holidays and the Pennant Race: A Baseball Story

Rosh Hashanah falls on September 28, and Yom Kippur is on October 7. I wish my Jewish friends every happiness and blessing of this holy time, and I hope that 5772 will be a very good year for you.

As usual, the Jewish holidays come just at that time of the year when the baseball season draws all of our sporting attention.  Either the pennant races are heading down to the wire, or the playoffs or World Series have just begun.  This is a good time to retell the story of Hank Greenberg and Yom Kippur in the year 1934, as recounted in the Baseball Almanac:

Hank GreenbergHank Greenberg was a baseball player. A team leader. A league leader. A Jew. Both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur fall in the regular season and in 1934 Greenberg’s Detroit Tigers were involved in the pennant race.

Greenberg wrote in his autobiography, “The team was fighting for first place, and I was probably the only batter in the lineup who was not in a slump. But in the Jewish religion, it is traditional that one observe the holiday solemnly, with prayer. One should not engage in work or play. And I wasn’t sure what to do.”

Greenberg’s rabbi said that Rosh Hashanah was a “festive holiday” and playing would be acceptable. Hank played and hit two home runs including a ninth inning game winner.

“I caught hell from my fellow parishioners, I caught hell from some rabbis, and I don’t know what to do. It’s ten days until the next holiday — Yom Kippur.”

 Those words, and his choice not to play on Yom Kippur due to its significance, inspired Edgar Guest to pen the following:

Came Yom Kippur

A Hank Greenberg Poem

Author: Edgar Guest. Published in Detroit Free Press, 1934.

“Came Yom Kippur — holy fast day world wide over to the Jew,

And Hank Greenberg to his teaching and the old tradition true

Spent the day among his people and he didn’t come to play.

Said Murphy to Mulrooney, ‘We shall lose the game today!

We shall miss him on the infield and shall miss him at the bat

But he’s true to his religion — and I honor him for that!’”

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