DETROIT - It was a an occasion to celebrate anyway, what with it being a Sunday afternoon doubleheader right before the 4th of July. What made it even more festive was that it marked the return of a conquering hero, a war hero returning to his team in front of his hometown fans.
There were many baseball players who interrupted their careers to fight in various American wars. Joe DiMaggio famously served in World War II, though he saw little actual combat, while Ted Williams was a fighter pilot in both World War II and the Korean War.
Hank Greenberg gets special recognition as someone who served despite getting two chances to get out of it. In his original army physical in 1940, Greenberg was declared unfit because of flat feet. Worried that he would be accused of offering a bribe or of receiving favortism, he went in again and was accepted. A year later, on December 5, 1941, Greenberg was discharged because he was about to turn 28 years old. Two days later, the bombs fell on Hawaii, and Greenberg was back in the Air Force, where he would remain until the war ended.
Early in his baseball career, Greenberg was on the receiving end of verbal taunting from players and fans as a result of his Jewish faith. Near the end of his career, he remembered that experience and went out of his way to befriend Jackie Robinson, one of the few opposing players to be openly friendly and welcoming to him.
Greenberg didn't have to worry about racial taunts on July 1, 1945, however, when he returned to the Detroit lineup in a doubleheader against Philadelphia. The Tigers were in the thick of the pennant race and were welcoming back their all-star outfielder to their lineup. To add to the festivities, and despite having nothing resembling spring training or even warmup games, Greenberg homered in his first game back.
It was just the start of his flair for the dramatic. Adding Greenberg's power gave the Tigers the boost they needed to win the American League pennant, clinching the pennant on the final day of the season on a Greenberg grand slam.
The dramatics didn't end there. Greenberg improbably drove in the run that put the Tigers ahead to stay each of their first three wins of the World Series, games 2, 4, and 5. In Game 6, he hit a game-tying home run in the 8th inning in a game the Tigers lost in the 12th. The Tigers didn't need Greenberg much in a 9-3 win in Game 7, but his season-long heroics - and the inspiration derived from his return - were a key part in their championship.