Every player has a slump; how they choose to win it out makes for interesting stories. This particular story
about this particular player is one of the most interesting because the remedy defies almost everything he stood for.
Blame it on naiveté and desperation. When Gehrig was farmed out to Hartford by the Yankees, he was barely
in his twenties. He was also in the midst of Prohibition. Slugging came naturally to him, so when he fell into a horrid slump,
he practically boiled himself with worry, shame, and fear. It didnt help that his manager, Pat O'Conner, was begging Yankees
big shot, Ed Barrow, for permission to bench Gehrig. Barrow sent Gehrig to Hartford with the promise that he would play every
day for experience, and Barrow stuck by his promise, refusing to have Gehrig ride pine.
Of course, Gehrig felt his ears burn and knew he had to find a way out of the slump. The more he tried, however,
the worse his numbers were. O'Conner was ticked, and Gehrig knew it.
There's only one way for a shy boy disoriented by his situation to deal with anger from authority-- get out
of the situation any way he can. Gehrig did so by hanging out with the sloshes on the Hartford team. They took him to a speakeasy
and encouraged him to guzzle some bathtub gin. Gehrig had rarely drank, let alone gone to a speakeasy. Eager to please someone,
he did both. Lots of liters later, Gehrig was saturated. The next day he was dry and full of pain. Still, he forced himself
to go to the ballpark.
Not being able to concentrate on anything, Gehrig let things come as they would. If he hit the ball he hit
the ball; he didn't care, as long as it got him one minute closer to a quiet, cool place. Amazingly, he connected with the
ball his first at-bat. Connected hard. Then his second at-bat. And his third. His old self had come to and he was slugging
the ball into every nook of the field. It felt empowering to feel the bat smack the ball with such force his toes vibrated.
He was back. And he wanted to stay there. That night, he snuck a bottle of something strong into his room
and forced himself to drink, for curiosity as to whether the day was a fluke or directly related to being bombed. When he
again slammed the ball around the park despite a throbbing head, he concluded that drink = hit.
For the following two weeks, he coached himself through bottle after bottle and saw nothing but hit after
hit. Like any budding alcoholic, Gehrig found subtle ways to swipe a drink throughout the day. He took to carrying around
a medicine bottle filled with liquor under his uniform so he could swig while waiting for his turn at bat.
Around the two-week mark, Pat O'Conner caught on to Gehrig's bender and lectured him on the repercussions
of alcohol dependence. In short, he said "Gehrig, youre not a drunk." Gehrig told him that since he had started nursing on
alcohol, he was hitting better than ever. O'Conner said it was a coincidence, that all players, even the best of the best
of the hitters go through slumps and it was selfish and egotistical for Gehrig to assume he was immune to slumps.
So, with a sharp frown and some good advice from his manager, Gehrig cold-turkey stopped drinking and started
learning how the best of the best of the hitters pull out of their slumps. He found that most of them were sober when they
got in the groove again.
If you like this article, you will also enjoy Gehrig's Defiance of Good