Did anti-semitism prevent Hank Greenberg from breaking Ruth's home run record?

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Hank Greenberg.jpgHoward Megdal thinks so, arguing that Greenberg experienced an uncharacteristic spike in walk rates towards the end of his 1938 season.  Megdal says “the American League didn’t seem exactly thrilled with Greenberg’s
pursuit,” and concludes that “the statistical record stands as evidence that Greenberg’s religion
might have been an additional barrier” to him in surpassing Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in a season.

Jack Marshall simply isn’t having it. He notes just how small a sample size Megdal is looking at, notes that Greenberg’s 1938 walk total isn’t exactly a big outlier for him and notes that other record-challenging sluggers walked and awful lot, likely due to the fact that their home run tears struck fear in pitchers’ hearts. Marshall acknowledges that Greenberg had to deal with significant anti-Semitism during his career, but sees no evidence that it had anything to do with him hitting 58 homers in 1938 instead of 60.

I’m with Marshall on this one. The antisemitic mood of the nation in general and baseball in particular in the late 30s is beyond dispute, but the evidence Megdal presents here is less than compelling. Is it possible that Greenberg wasn’t getting anything to hit because he was a Jew? Most definitely. It’s just not the sort of thing, I think, that can be divined from the statistical record alone.  At least this record.

Enrique Hernandez’s performance one for the record books

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Entering Thursday’s NLCS Game 5, Dodgers outfielder Enrique Hernandez had never hit a home run nor even driven in a run in the playoffs in his four-year career. He had homered twice in a regular season game just twice and his career-high for RBI in a game was four.

Hernandez hit three home runs and knocked in seven runs to help power the Dodgers past the Cubs 11-1 to win the National League pennant and punch their ticket to the World Series. His first homer was a solo homer to center field in the second inning off of starter Jose Quintana. He blasted a grand slam to right field off of Hector Rondon in the fourth, then tacked on a two-run blast in the ninth inning off of Mike Montgomery to make it 11-1.

Hernandez is the 10th player to hit three home runs in a postseason game. Jose Altuve, of course, did it two weeks ago in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Red Sox. Before Altuve, Pablo Sandoval (2012), Albert Pujols (2011), and Adrian Beltre (2011) were the last players to accomplish the feat. As Jayson Stark points out, Hernandez joins Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, Adam Kennedy, and Beltre as players to hit three homers in a series clincher.

Hernandez’s seven RBI set a new National League record for a postseason game. Only four other players — Troy O’Leary, John Valentin, Mo Vaughn, and Edgar Martinez — accomplished the feat.

No one has hit three home runs and knocked in seven-plus in a game… until Hernandez. He certainly picked a good time to break out.