Greenberg’s first big contract proved to be a bargain
On March 26, 1936 – with Greenberg entering the prime of his career – the Tigers and their star slugger came to an agreement on a contract that would make Greenberg one of the highest paid players in the game.
Greenberg, who made a reported $10,000 in 1935, doubled his salary for 1936 following a lengthy holdout. After leading the league in home runs (36), RBI (168) and total bases (389) in 1935 while powering the Tigers to the World Series title, Greenberg stayed away from Spring Training for 19 days, asking for a new contract.
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“I don’t know when I can get back,” Greenberg told the Detroit Free Press after the April 29 game in Washington, D.C.
But when Greenberg returned in 1937, he proved to be worth every penny of his contract. In 154 games, he hit .337 with 40 home runs, 137 runs scored and 184 RBI – the third-best total in big league history.
In 1938, Greenberg made a run at Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record, reaching No. 58 with five games left in the season before being shut out the rest of the way.
He led the AL with 44 home runs and 127 RBI in 1946, then earned a reported $85,000 with the Pirates in 1947 in his last season in the big leagues. The Pirates shortened the left field fence at Forbes Field that year, taking advantage of Greenberg’s power in what became known as Greenberg Gardens.
The next year, Greenberg retired – and the area was renamed Kiner’s Korner for the Pirates’ young star Ralph Kiner.
Greenberg finished his 13-year big league career with a .313 batting average, 331 home runs and 1,274 RBI. But in three of his 13 seasons, Greenberg played 19 or fewer games – leaving him what amounted to a nine-year career.
Over a typical 162-game span, Greenberg averaged 38 home runs, 148 RBI, 99 walks and 122 runs scored.
He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1956.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum