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All-Star Game: Was Hank Greenberg left off despite being RBI leader?

July 10, 2012|By Brian Cronin
  • Hank Greenberg
Hank Greenberg (Nick Delich / Associated…)

BASEBALL LEGEND: Hank Greenberg did not get picked for the All-Star Game despite having a record number of runs batted in at the All Star break and his own manager was picking the team!

Hank Greenberg was one of the most dominant hitters in Major League history. Think Albert Pujols or Frank Thomas in their first nine seasons. That's how good Greenberg was (and, like Pujols and Thomas, he was a first baseman). Although he had a relatively short career, he still put up big-time numbers and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1956.

But as great of a player as he was in his heyday, he still had a bit of a problem standing out, even with his own manager/teammate! You see, at the same time that Greenberg was lighting up the ballparks as a 24-year-old in 1935, two other first basemen were doing similar things in the American League, and both of the other players were already famous.

One of them was Jimmie Foxx, the Philadelphia Athletic slugger won the American League MVP Award in 1932 and 1933 (he was three years older than Greenberg). The other was Lou Gehrig, the famed Iron Horse of the New York Yankees, who had four years on Foxx, and had won the MVP in 1927 and come in second in 1931 and 1932. So when the All-Star Game was introduced in 1933 (initially intended as a one-time event), Gehrig was the starting first baseman and Foxx had to settle for a reserve spot. That first year, the managers for the game were Connie Mack and John McGraw (McGraw came out of retirement for the event).

Initially, fans voted for the All-Star starters and then the managers selected the rest of the team. The ballots were printed in the Chicago Tribune, as the game was designed to coincide with the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. The game was such a success that it was repeated in 1934. Again, fan balloting decided the starters, using ballots in the Chicago Tribune.

For the 1934 game, though, the fan voting was only advisory; the managers were given final say. After the initial 1933 game, where Mack and McGraw were chosen due to being arguably the two most famous managers in baseball history at the time, from 1934 on, the managers of the All-Star Game would be the managers of the previous year’s pennant-winning clubs. Starting with the 1935 game, the fan voting was completely eliminated and only the managers decided who would make the respective rosters (it would not be until after World War II that fans again got the chance to vote in the starters for the game).

Thus, the 1935 All-Star Game would be the first one where the managers completely controlled the voting In 1935, the American League manager was Detroit Tiger manager/player Mickey Cochrane (as the Tigers had lost to the Cardinals in the World Series the year before). At the All-Star Break, Greenberg had 103 runs batted in, an "at the All-Star Break" record that stands to this day. However, Cochrane felt that Foxx and Gehrig both deserved it over Greenberg, so Cochrane repeated the strategy employed by the previous year's manager, Joe Cronin, who had ignored the fans a bit by playing Foxx out of position at third base and had Gehrig play first (this way, Foxx would not have to deal with the embarrassment of not even making the starting lineup).

So Cochrane also played Foxx at third and Gehrig at first. You still would have thought Cochrane would have managed to find a spot somewhere on the team for Greenberg, as he did select other back-up position players (all the teams were represented, so that wasn't an issue), including a back-up second baseman (Buddy Myer), a back-up shortstop (Ossie Bluege, who also backed up second and short) and four center fielders (Earl Averill, Ben Chapman, Doc Cramer and Sam West). However, he did not find a spot for Greenberg.

An interesting side note regarding roster space was the fact that Cochrane, naturally, chose himself to be on the team and decided just not to play (Cochrane was a Hall of Fame catcher, and he had an amazing year in 1935 so he certainly deserved the honor, it's just sort of amusing to see him snub his outstanding teammate while at the same time picking himself for the team). To be fair, the National League manager, Frankie Frisch, did the same thing (chose himself as a back-up and then did not play in the game). . The next year, Greenberg was hurt so he made Cochrane's (picking again as the Tigers won the 1935 World Series) choice easy. The following year, Yankees' skipper Joe McCarthy gave Greenberg his first All-Star appearance (they also expanded the roster in 1937, so that certainly did not hurt). Well, I should probably put appearance in quotes, as Greenberg did not get an at-bat in the game.

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