With the Washington Nationals on the verge of winning the first post season series by a DC team in 24 years, and Yom Kippur just a few hours away, it's a good time to write about a Yom Kippur baseball poem!
When I was growing up in a Detroit suburb in the 1940's I was the complete Tigers fan. I could quote up-to-date stats on every player. I made scrapbooks of their seasons. I even invented a stat-based baseball board game featuring my favorite players, my most favorite being Henry--"Hammering Hank"—Greenberg, the first Jewish-American baseball super star.
Late in the 1934 season, with the Tigers in a pennant race, Greenberg announced that he would not play on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, or on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. Fans grumbled, "Rosh Hashanah comes every year but the Tigers haven't won the pennant since 1909."
Greenberg did considerable soul-searching, and discussed the matter with his rabbi; finally he relented and agreed to play on Rosh Hashanah, but stuck with his decision not to play on Yom Kippur.
Journalist Edgar A. Guest, the prolific "People's Poet," responded to the incident with the poem reproduced below. Greenberg received a standing ovation from congregants at his synagogue when he arrived on Yom Kippur—but the Tigers lost the game.
SPEAKING OF GREENBERG
by Edgar A. Guest
The Irish didn't like it when they heard of Greenberg's fame
For they thought a good first baseman should possess an Irish name;
And the Murphys and Mulrooneys said they never dreamed they'd see
A Jewish boy from Bronxville out where Casey used to be.
In the early days of April not a Dugan tipped his hat
Or prayed to see a "double" when Hank Greenberg came to bat.
In July the Irish wondered where he'd ever learned to play.
"He makes me think of Casey!" Old Man Murphy dared to say;
And with fifty-seven doubles and a score of homers made
The respect they had for Greenberg was being openly displayed.
But on the Jewish New Year when Hank Greenberg came to bat
And made two home runs off Pitcher Rhodes—they cheered like mad for that.
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!"