Posted by: Namar | October 11, 2011

V is for victory, the Liri Valley …and Verlander

World War II drained manpower from Major League baseball, as players reported for their military assignments. Hank Greenberg was the Tiger’s first “star player” to be drafted, entering the service seven months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He received his honorable discharge over 4 years later. In July, 1945, 47,000 fans came to Briggs Stadium to welcome him home. Greenberg marked his return by hitting a home run against the Athletics in the eighth inning.

There could be no doubt that Greenberg was back. He played only seventy-eight regular season games that year. During those seventy-eight games, he hit thirteen homers and batted in sixty runs. But the most memorable game of the season was the last one.

Hank GreenbergThe Tigers found themselves in a pennant race with the Washington Senators. The Tigers only needed one win to advance to the World Series. On September 30, they played a double-header against the Browns in St. Louis.

At the end of the sixth inning of the first game, Detroit led the St. Louis Browns 2-1. St. Louis scored two runs in the seventh and then led 3-2. That score remained as Detroit went to bat at the top of the ninth inning.

Harvey Walker batted a single. James Webb then bunted to sacrifice. Browns’ first baseman George McQuinn threw late to second, however, and both Walker and Webb were safe. Next came a sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk. The bases were thus loaded with one out as “Hammerin'” Hank Greenberg strode up to home plate. Greenberg swung at the first pitch – and hit it right into the bleachers for a grand slam home run. Greenberg’s teammates said that they never saw him happier. The Browns failed to score any further, and the game ended with a 6-3 win by Detroit! The second game was called by rain after one inning, but to most fans, that didn’t matter. The Detroit Tigers were going to the World Series!

While the Brown’s fans were disappointed that day, the Cardinal fans in St. Louis had a good time cheering for their team that finished just 3 games behind the Cubs.  One of those fans spent time in 1944 fighting in the Liri Valley  at the Rapido River, Italy. You can read his heroic account here.

Veterans returned home after the war to resume their lives…and to root for their favorite teams once again. Today’s ballplayers are a link to that past, and some are actively involved in rewarding the dedication and sacrifice these soldiers continue to make for us all.

Detriot Tigers ace Justin Verlander(whose grandfather fought in WWII) created a recognition program called “Victory for Veterans”.

Justin Verlander, speaking in front of an image of Hank Greenberg

For each of his home starts, Verlander gives his luxury suite to veterans and their families to enjoy the game. Participating veterans are all patients at the Detroit VA Medical Center and the VA Ann Arbor Health Care System. All have sustained illness or injury in Operation Iraqi Freedom and/or Operation Enduring Freedom.

“So many brave men and women sacrifice each and every day so that we as Americans can enjoy our freedom and live safely,” said Verlander.

“This is a one in a million chance,” said one Veteran in attendance. “He’s my favorite player, Tigers are my favorite team, so this is a win-win for all of us!”

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