My interview with Hank Greenwald

Former San Francisco Giants announcer Hank Greenwald left a comment on this site Thursday. The 75-year-old Greenwald, who broadcast Giants games from 1979 to 1986 and again from 1989 to 1996, read my review of Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story and commented that greats like Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg were beloved for their playing ability rather than their faith.

Greenwald didn’t mention his former occupation in his comment here, though I recognized his name and emailed him, asking if he’d be up for an interview. He obliged. Here are excerpts from our half hour phone conversation Thursday evening.

*                                   *                                   *

Me: What motivated you to leave a comment?

Hank Greenwald: Well, of course I read the blog, but I think also some of comments from others probably inspired me to want to add my own two cents. I’m a person who doesn’t really like to get caught up in religious matters when I don’t know that they’re relevant to the subject, baseball players. That was what inspired me to comment, as I did, that the players who were featured in the film or whose names were mentioned should be thought of as baseball players, first and foremost.

Me: Did you see the movie?

Greenwald: No, I did not.

Me: Okay, just curious. Did you see The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg?

Greenwald: Yes I did.

Me: What were your thoughts on watching that movie?

Greenwald: Well, I was glad that somebody did a story about him. I was a kid in Detroit when Hank Greenberg played, and I saw him play. I even took my nickname from him. My real name’s Howard, and I hated being called Howie, so I said Hank’s grown up and more of a natural thing.

*                                   *                                   *

Me: With Jon Miller (Greenwald’s replacement in San Francisco) getting inducted into the Hall of Fame, is there a part of you that wonders if you’ll be inducted?

Greenwald: There’s not a part of me. I think its people around me who wonder. That’s what friends are for, I suppose [laughs.]

You know, when you start out in this business, the Hall of Fame is not what you’re thinking about. You think all you want to do is make it to the major leagues. That’s your goal, and that’s your ambition as a broadcaster, just as it is with playing. You don’t really think about those things. I made it to the major leagues. I was up here for the better part of 20 years so I have no complaints. I’m a very content person. Jon Miller is in (Cooperstown), and that’s the way it should be.

*                                   *                                   *

After his first tenure with the Giants ended in 1986, Greenwald spent two years as an announcer for the New York Yankees. I asked him about an infamous quote he offered on George Steinbrenner upon leaving New York, and I asked Greenwald if his thoughts on his former boss had changed following his recent death.

Greenwald: What I actually said was, “He’s everything you’ve ever heard and more.” You can take it any number of ways, but that inference most people drew was correct. He truthfully did not bother me. It bothered me the way he treated other people, especially the lower echelon workers in the Yankee office who I think he terrorized. You could tell immediately.

We had to walk through the Yankee office to get to our broadcast pen. Everyday, my partner Tommy Hutton and I would walk through the Yankee office, and we knew immediately from the looks on their faces whether George was in town that day or not. And this was not a good thing. I thought it was probably a far cry from what I was used to being in San Francisco and certainly with the Dodger organization when the O’Malleys owned the Dodgers and the way those two organizations, Giants and Dodgers, treated their employees. It was just a very tension-filled place.

As far as the announcers, he never bothered us. I always told people, I don’t think he really knew who I was. Whenever he saw me, as I think I said in the book, I could tell he didn’t know who I was because my parents didn’t name me Big Guy. That’s what he always called me because he didn’t know my name. I think he might have thought I worked in the accounting office.

Me: I know there’s been a lot of people in the media who’ve been pushing over the last few weeks for him to basically be immediately enshrined in the Hall of Fame. What are your views?

Greenwald: Well, I’ll say this for him. My summation about George is that he made the Yankees relevant again, and they had not been for a good many years. So I tip my hat to him for that.

Me: Do you think he belongs in the Hall of Fame?

Greenwald: Oh goodness, I don’t know. That’s a hard one. That really is a hard one. It depends what criteria one uses for the owners, and I’m not really privy to what kind of criteria is used in that respect, so I don’t know… He certainly is the most talked about, for better or for worse, of all the owners, having a tremendous impact on the game, but I’m not sure it was the greatest. His greatest impact is that he spent more money than anybody else.

*                                   *                                   *

Me: What do you do to stay busy?

Greenwald: I like to tell people that I finally found something I’m really good at, and that’s retirement. I was cut out for this.

I still go to games. I enjoy going to the ballpark, it’s a beautiful ballpark, San Francisco. It’s always nice to go out there and see old friends. And now, I’m sort of like the modern day pitchers. I’m on a pitch count now, and about after 70 pitches, I can leave.