The Last Fat Year, 1930
IN THE SUMMER OF 1929, Paul Krichell, the New York Yankees' ace scout, traveled up to Massachusetts to look over Henry Greenberg, recently graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School, in the Bronx, and now playing first base for Schuster Mills in the semipro Blackstone Valley League. Krichell liked what he saw in the tall, raw, but powerful youngster and offered him a $10,000 bonus to sign with baseball's richest and most glamorous team. But as Greenberg later told it, “I had had a look at Lou Gehrig, and said no thank you.” 1 Instead Greenberg signed with the Detroit Tigers for $1,000 less.
When the first installment of $6,000 arrived in September, Greenberg's father invested it all in fast-rising American Tobacco Company stock. It was all lost a month later in the bull market's Great Crash. The following January, young Greenberg passed up the spring semester at New York University and headed south to the Tigers' Tampa spring-training site, no doubt covering his travel expenses with some of what was left of his bonus.
By mid-November 1929, some $30 billion in stock-market values had been wiped out; within another two and a half years, another $15 billion were gone. Average values on the New York Stock Exchange, which had reached 311.90 the same September that David Greenberg made his illfated investment, had nosedived to 34.5 by the summer of 1932. (By then a seat on the New York Stock exchange, which had cost $625,000 in 1929, could be had for $140,000.) And while economists and historians would long debate whether the crash precipitated the Great Depression or was itself