In high school, it took convincing from peers and teachers to get Gehrig confident enough to play sports: "Some of the
kids had told my bookkeeping teacher that I could hit the ball a mile in the park. The teacher ordered me to show up for a
school game. I went up to the stadium on a streetcar. When I got there and saw so many people going into the field and heard
all the cheering and noise, I was so scared I couldn't see straight. I turned right around and got back on the streetcar and
went home. The next day the teacher threatened to flunk me if I didn't show up for the next game. So I went."
When Gehrig began seriously pursuing sports, especially baseball, Mom Gehrig was opposed while Pop adored the young man's
choice: "Lots of times I would have all my dinner finished before Mom and Pop started. They would argue about baseball instead
of eating.... I just listened to 'em argue about it."
The Yankee players were slightly intimidating, to say the least, to a young, shy guy like Gehrig: "I just about shit my
In 1928, Mom was very sick, and Gehrig could only fret constantly: "I'm so worried about Mom that I can't see straight.
If I lost her I don't know what I would do."
1929 saw Mom's recovery and Gehrig's rejuvenated peace of mind; so, when asked how he would spend the off season, Gehrig
replied: "I plan to play a lot of basketball."
Gehrig would have been the Home Run King in 1931, but a bonehead base running mistake by teammate Lyn Lary cost Gehrig
a home run and the title: "He's no more to blame than I am. If I had kept my head up, I would have seen what happened and
waited for him to come back and finish his run before I scored."
"A dozen mistakes are made in every game. Anybody can pull a boner. I've been around ten years, but I still get brainstorms."
"You know, Bill, I like this McCarthy." To his teammate and best friend, Bill Dickey, on Yankee manager Joe McCarthy who
joined in 1931.
The 1932 World Series, notorious for Babe Ruth's supposed called shot, caught Gehrig in the middle of the myth of that
single homerun: "Babe was jawing with Root [the pitcher] and what he said was, 'I'm going to knock the next pitch right down
your god-damned throat.'"
Gehrig commenting on Babe, "Babe Ruth has a pretty big shadow, it gives me lots of room to spread myself."
On his role for the Yankees, "I'm just the guy on the Yankees who's in there every day. I'm the fellow who follows the
Babe in the batting order."
Married in 1933 to Eleanor Twitchell, Gehrig surrendered to her authority over his heart and over his finances, giving
the checkbook to her: "Our old age is in your hands."
One year later, Gehrig was so still consumed with love that during the All-Star tour of the Orient, attended by both Gehrig
and Eleanor, he sent her a telegram during the one day the players and wives were separated: "I miss you today, I love you."
In 1936 Giants pitcher and screwball specialist Carl Hubbell had not given up a homerun with runners on the entire season.
Then he faced Lou Gehrig in the World Series with one runner on, and Gehrig knocked out a 2-run homer. "He was all pitcher
that Hubbel. I've had thrills galore, but I don't think any one of them topped that one."
Though a member of the seemingly invincible Yankees dynasty and the new "Iron Man of Baseball," Gehrig never allowed himself
to feel secure in his career: "I always wondered every year whether the Yanks would sign me again."
By 1938, Gehrig's streak was going full speed, but he dipped into a slump and everyone tried to give him advice, including
ex-Yankee Babe Ruth: "He thought I should take a few days off and go fishing when I felt the strain was wearing me down. Well,
the strain hasn't got me yet. And can you imagine me fishing when the Yankees are playing ball?"
The press was hounding him by late '38 season: "I'm all right. I can play. And I'll promise you this: when the day comes
that I don't think I can help the ball club, I won't be in there, record or no record."
"I tired midseason. I don't know why, but I just couldn't get going again."
At the beginning of the 1939 season, the press expected Gehrig to reflect on whether or not he had doubts about the approaching
season: "None at all. Why should I? What are you talking about? I'm still a young fellow, even if I have been around in baseball
for a long time. I just had a bad year last year. Anybody can have a bad year. This year I'll make them forget about what
happened in 1938."
In the summer of 1939, at Eleanor's request, Gehrig sought the experts' advice at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. "Give me the
works," he told them.
Also at Eleanor's request, the doctors at Mayo who diagnosed Gehrig did not tell him the whole truth about ALS. The horrid
truth is that ALS is a terminal illness that depletes body function while leaving the brain intact. In other words, victims
literally waste away, lose all muscle power, coordination, and movement to the point they can no longer feed themselves, but
all the while they are fully conscious of how "vegetable" and near-death they are. Although there is still no cure for ALS,
today it can be effectively treated and patients' prognoses have improved dramatically, but in Gehrig's day there was virtually
no hope. There was no way to head-off progression. The Mayo doctors told Eleanor that Gehrig had approximately 2 years to
live. Unfortunately, they were right.
This is the letter (selectively) Gehrig wrote to Eleanor a few days after his diagnosis:
"The bad news is 'lateral sclerosis,' in our language chronic infantile paralysis. There isn't any cure, the best they
can hope is to check it at the point it is now and there is a 50-50 chance for that.... There are very few cases. It is probably
caused by some germ.... There is a 50-50 chance of keeping me as I am. I may need a cane in 10 or 15 years. Playing is out
of the question and Paul [a Mayo doctor] suggests a coaching job or job in the office or writing.... They seem to think I'll
get along all right if I can reconcile myself to this condition, which I have done but only after they assured me there is
no danger of transmission and that I will not become mentally unbalanced and thereby become a burden on your hands for life.
I adore you, sweetheart." (there is no shame in crying)
Gehrig retired from baseball immediately, but he did not stop showing up to Yankee Stadium: "You'd be surprised how different
a slant you get on a ball game when you see it from the bench - I mean, after you have been playing for years. For the first
time, I am looking at a complete game. For years I was so busy trying to take care of my own position that I didn't have time
to take in a view of the whole game."
July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day, Gehrig's retirement ceremony, the day he gave the
"Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider
myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and I never received anything
but kindness and encouragement from you fans. Look at these great men. Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of
his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I'm lucky. Who wouldn't consider it an honor to have known
Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little
fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology,
the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I'm lucky. When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right
arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift, that's something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys
in white coats remember you with trophies, that's something. When you have a father and mother who work all their lives so
that you can have an education and build your body, it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength
and shown more courage than you dreamed existed, that's the finest thing I know. So, I close in saying that I might have had
a bad break, but I have an awful lot to live for. Thank you. "
Weeks before spring training 1940: "Sure I'd like to be going south with the Yankees. And so, I guess, would about a million
other fellows. But I'm luckier than they are - because I've been south with the Yankees."