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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

10 Replies to “My interview with Hank Greenwald”

  1. Great Interview Hank! You are a Hall of famer in my book. It was a pleasure to grow up listening to you on the radio. 70 pitches. Hahaha.

    Everyone who reads this blog knows Graham’s favorite player is Will Clark. Maybe you can connect him so they can do an interview.

  2. Hank Greewald was the exact opposite of everything I hate in an announcer. He was always fair to both sides, never rooted and was always objective, with the added bonus of that wonderful sense of humor. One of his quick, off the top sudden quips would grab you and you’d find yourself laughing out loud.
    There should be more like him and may he live another 75 years at least, all of it in good health and full of the happiness that he gave to others. He was a joy to listen to.

  3. Vinnie, I wanted to offer an extra Greenwald quote you inspired. I mentioned to him that I went to journalism school and have always tried to be impartial, even if sports media doesn’t really promote that these days. I asked Greenwald about his approach.

    He replied:

    “I went to school as well, broadcasting school at Syracuse, and I was always taught that objectivity is what you strive for, because you are a reporter in the sense that you are reporting what’s happening on the field. I had a professor who said– and I never forgot this– that you root with your heart, not with your mouth. I never felt I was there to be a cheerleader as far too many broadcasters are today.”

  4. The gold standard for announcers. All others should be required to go to his class He’d tell them to stop using non words like Flares and Dingers. Joe buck couldn’t carry hanks pencils. God bless.

  5. Love you, Hank. You are the model for sports broadcasters. Even when the Giants sucked, you made the games entertaining with your wry humor. As a fellow member of the tribe, your being Jewish was a bonus.. You definitely belong in the HoF!

  6. Hank, you definitely belong in the HOF. The fact that you aren’t tells a lot about their credibility. I will always fondly remember your voice, your wit and the pure brilliance of your calls. I actually loved when you were paired with Ron Farley! There was a great chemistry between you two. I wish you well in your retirement. You will always hold a special place in this lifelong Giants fan heart.

  7. Hank Greenwald is my all-time favorite baseball announcer. His style was so great, and his wit is sorely missed. There aren’t any great announcers around anymore. Another thing I really enjoyed about his radio descriptions was how he could make you visualize an exciting, great play as it unfolded. His words could give you goosebumps, and I’ve rarely experienced that when I listen to anyone else. Hank always had the best lexicon, Bill King aside. I am glad I had the chance to hear Hank in action since I began listening to him calling Giants games in 1978. I keep hoping I will once again hear someone as talented as Greenwald call a baseball game, but I’m still waiting. Much thanks Hank for all you’ve done.

  8. I’ve been listening to The Giants on the radio since the late 60’s; so I remember and can still hear Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons. It’s as if Giants fans have always been blessed and fortunate to have the BEST broadcasters right here in our backyard. Hank Greenwald…what can you say? His style was so low key, entertaining- he painted that perfect picture in your mind’s eye…he was funny and so knowledgeable and made listening to the game a real experience! The sound of his voice personified Giants baseball, like our current guys do. The BEST. Kruk and Kuip. Oh and John Miller’s not too bad, either.

  9. I’m glad Hank Greenwald had a genuine following in San Francisco and was appreciated there. But I did not enjoy his two years in New York with the Yankees. For many years, I was used to the comfort zone of Phil Rizzuto, Frank Messer and Bill White and then suddenly they were all gone from the Yankee radio booth and in came this National League outsider, partnered with another National Leaguer, neither of whom had been through the trenches of the Yankee experience or had any flair for what the pulse of the Yankee fan was. Their call of the game would have been fine if they’d been ESPN announcers dropping in for one game but they were not what I wanted to hear in New York on a daily basis for my team.

    It did not help that Greenwald did not attach any special significance to the job of Voice of the Yankees and saw it more as just another baseball job no different from another. For a Yankee fan that is not what I want in a voice. I want to hear someone who is willing to stay there for the rest of their career and become part of the NY culture and that was something Greenwald was never going to do. This is *Exactly* the reason why I wouldn’t trade a minute of John Sterling for Greenwald when it comes to being the Yankees voice. Greenwald did himself and the Yankee fans a favor when he went back to San Francisco. More power to him for being a success there, while as a Yankee fan I got to hear the dynasty years called by John and Michael Kay.

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