Top Tigers Countdown #3: Hank Greenberg

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Arguably the best hitter in Tigers history, Hank Greenberg ranks as the #3 Detroit Tiger of all-time.

The 1930s and '40s were one of the golden ages of Detroit Tigers baseball, arguably second only to the team's recent run of success. From 1934 to 1950, the Tigers won a pair of World Series championships, lost in the World Series twice (both in seven games), and had 15 winning seasons in 17 years. Much of this success is due to the #3 player on our countdown, Hank Greenberg.

Year PA HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
1930 1 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 -100 0.0
1933 117 12 87 6 .301 .367 .468 .384 118 2.8
1934 153 26 139 9 .339 .404 .600 .446 151 6.5
1935 152 36 170 4 .328 .411 .628 .457 158 7.6
1936 12 1 16 1 .348 .455 .630 .479 158 0.6
1937 154 40 183 8 .337 .436 .668 .483 164 8.3
1938 155 58 146 7 .315 .438 .683 .489 162 7.8
1939 138 33 112 8 .312 .420 .622 .460 151 5.9
1940 148 41 150 6 .340 .433 .670 .482 168 7.7
1941 19 2 12 1 .269 .410 .463 .407 124 0.3
1945 78 13 60 3 .311 .404 .544 .441 168 3.2
1946 142 44 127 5 .277 .373 .604 .446 165 7.2
1947* 125 25 74 0 .249 .408 .478 .413 133 3.2
Career 1394 331 1276 58 .313 .412 .605 .453 154 61.1

*Played for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1947.

"Hammerin' Hank," a right-handed first baseman, is probably the best pure hitter in Tigers history not named Miguel Cabrera. In his 13 year career, Greenberg hit .313/.412/.605 with 331 home runs and 1,276 RBI. His 1.028 OPS and .458 wOBA in Detroit both rank tops in Tigers history, and his 156 wRC+ is third to only Ty Cobb and Cabrera. Here is how Greenberg and Cabrera compare in terms of wOBA throughout their careers.


Source: FanGraphs -- Miguel Cabrera, Hank Greenberg

Greenberg was also one of the best hitters of his era. He never won a batting title despite hitting .328 or better in five seasons, and he only once led the American League in OPS. Hammerin' Hank earned his nickname, however. He led the league in home runs on four separate occasions, thrice pairing the home run lead with an RBI title. He won a pair of MVPs in 1935 and 1940, the latter of which he earned by leading the league with 7.7 fWAR.

Like Cabrera, Hank won the 1940 MVP after switching positions. Greenberg moved to left field to make room for Rudy York, who earned his keep at first base by hitting .316/.410/.583 in 155 games that year. This made Greenberg one of just three players in MLB history to win an MVP at two different positions.

Speaking of WAR, Greenberg's best two seasons might have been in 1937 and 1938, when he hit .326/.437/.676 with 98 home runs and 329 RBI in 309 combined games. He finished third in the MVP voting in both years, his only other top-5 finishes.

The big caveat to Greenberg's numbers is that they could have been even better had he not missed nearly four seasons due to World War II. Hank only played in 19 games in 1941, and then missed the next three seasons -- as did many great players during that time -- to serve in our country's armed forces. He ended up missing the vast majority of his age 30-34 seasons, which are statistically some of the most productive years of a player's career.

Given the pace he was on prior to his service, Greenberg would have challenged to become the third member of the 500 home run club (and the fourth of the 400 home run club, for that matter). He returned in 1945 to hit .311/.404/.544 in the team's final 78 games, including a 9th inning game-winning grand slam against the St. Louis Browns on the last day of the season to win the 1945 pennant.

Despite his career being cut short by the war, Greenberg was voted into the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA in 1956. He was just one of several Hall of Famers that suited up for the Tigers during the '30s and '40s, but his peak years put him a cut above them and most others in Tigers history.

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