The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg

on January 12, 2000 by Francesca Dinglasan
   "The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg" is a sentimental, witty documentary covering the career of one of the first Jewish professional baseball players to achieve celebrity status. Following Greenberg's rapid rise during the sport's "Golden Age" in the 1930s and '40s, the film offers fans the chance to reflect on the historic significance of the national pastime, especially in its representation of society at large regarding ethnic and religious tolerance.

   Nicknamed "Hammering Hank" and "Hankus Spankus" for his ability to connect with pitches (most notably in 1938, when he fell just two short of beating Babe Ruth for most home runs hit in a season), Greenberg became a hero to many Jewish-Americans because of his success at the plate as well as his vociferous pride in his heritage. Despite spending most of his career with the Detroit Tigers, when the city was known as a hotbed of anti-Semitism, and playing at a time when Nazi power was growing in Europe and affiliated parties were springing up throughout the United States, Greenberg made no secret of his religion (as had been the practice of many Jewish players before him).

   Comprised of footage that captures Greenberg's on-field milestones, interviews with the man himself before his death in 1986, and friends, family members and fans sharing anecdotes of watching him play, the documentary is first and foremost a touching homage to a man who triumphed over bigotry to become a baseball legend. The film is also quite adept at recreating a bygone era in the sport--so much, in fact, that the meticulous attention to detail, which analyzes Greenberg's every move on a season-by-season basis, may be the film's biggest turn-off to non-baseball enthusiasts, eager for the pic to move along. However, for those with a soft spot for the summer game, director Aviva Kempner's skillful tongue-in-cheek touches, including a charming version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in Yiddish, help to bring lightheartedness to a serious subject.    Starring Hank Greenberg. Directed, written and produced by Aviva Kempner. A Cowboy release. Documentary. Unrated. Running time: 95 min.

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