"He's the only big egg I have in my basket." - Christina "Mom" Gehrig
Rumor has it that Mom would fix many, many jars of pickled eels when Gehrig was growing up. One biographer even claims
that Mom and little G made a night of fishing for eels in off of City Island. (Considering the locale of the water, that story
may have been a bit embellished.) Her pickled eels were said to be the source of Gehrig's monstrous strength at the bat.
His wife thought otherwise. She used to josh him about that certain German delicacy. In the same spirit, he told her to
make sure "the damned things" stayed off the dinner table. Pickled eels were not the only center of Gehrig that his parents
revolved around. They were such a strong presence in his life that he lived with them until he picked a wife.
To get the full flavor of their relationship, each personality must first be established. Pop: the symbolic wearer-of-the-pants,
strict disciplinarian, rarely worked because of constant illness, thoroughly German (loved beer and gymnastics). Mom: the
official wearer of the pants, marathon-like work ethic, overly protective of Gehrig, extremely difficult to befriend. Gehrig:
putty in Mom's hand, a bit resentful towards Pop, devoted to anyone he befriended, very shy, only one of four Gehrig children
to survive infancy.
If Mom had it her way, Gehrig would never have played baseball past the age of 12; she wanted him to become an architect
like his uncle Otto in Germany. Pop was more supportive of his son's love for the "peculiar game" (he did not understand
baseball at the time), though he, too, thought it was just a schoolyard game. As Gehrig raked up high statistics and his name
appeared in almost every local newspaper, Mom became at least slightly convinced that baseball was a lucrative business. She
saved every article in which his name appeared, something she continued to do even during his professional career.
The parents didn't chide baseball much after Gehrig used his signing bonus to pay off their mountain of medical bills.
(When Gehrig was debating whether to stay at Columbia until graduation or sign with the Yankees, Pop was epileptic and Mom
had double pneumonia; quite obviously he chose the latter option). What was left of his bonus he used to send them on their
first-ever vacation. He made sure they received a cut of every paycheck he earned, ensuring they would never have to work
again. They got a particularly large cut of his first paycheck - he bought them a house in a well-off part of the city. This
was an especially important accomplishment for Gehrig; he had grown up sleeping in the kitchen of their two-room apartment
in one of the poorest sections of the city.
But just as Gehrig was habitually self-conscious at the plate, Mom felt ill at ease in the new neighborhood, one without
stickball in the alleys and 10 flights of stairs to the front door. She insisted that the neighbors were too nosy and the
corner butcher shop cheated her on her roast. Mostly, though, it was all paranoia, a condition she tried to relieve (at least
momentarily) by visiting her old neighborhood from time to time.
In 1928, Gehrig's strong RBI pace began to slow, and everyone raised an eyebrow at the uncharacteristic occurance. It turned
out that Mom was very sick and he was so worried about her he could not concentrate on spinning seams. As a direct result,
teammate Babe Ruth surpassed him in RBIs for the season. The Yankees went to the Series in '28, and Gehrig seriously considered
not playing in the games because he was so preoccupied. Mom, however, recovered during Series week, and, therefore, so did
Gehrig's numbers. He could only offer a mere explanation of his dwindled RBIs, saying, "If I lost her I don't know what I
Mom was his "best girl," as he called her. After he returned from his yearly trips to the Orient with the All-Star tours
in the early '30s, he brought her back a truckload of gifts; in 1931 he spent over $7,200 on her.
This unique (for lack of a better word) bond between mother and son was nurtured throughout Gehrig's childhood. Because
Pop was consistently struck with some ailment or another, Mom had to work for two. From a young age, Gehrig sacrificed playtime
to help Mom with her chores. Hauling laundry, scrubbing floors, and catering were some of the common chores he took off her
hands. In addition, he held a weekend job at a local grocery store. All this work and sacrifice nursed some hurt feelings
toward his father, who worked when he could but went to the bar when he wanted. Pop was by no means a drunk or abusive or
lethargic, but he certainly was the one who worked the least in the household.
In the pre-Yankees Gehrig home, Pop was the boss, his word was stone, and all that Old World German yadda. In the post-signing-bonus
Gehrig household, Mom could openly refute Pop and Gehrig could take his father's advice or ignore it. Instead of returning
the twinge of resentment, Pop went with it and redirected his efforts into studying the game he once thought peculiar. Ultimately,
he said he was an expert of the baseball. No doubt this caused a few unbalanced grins from the other family members. He may
have been a fan of the game, but Mom was a fan of Gehrig. She was the parent who went to Spring Training in St. Petersburg
and saved newspaper clippings, not Pop. Pop tried to use his expert opinion to critique his son's diamond performance, but
Mom usually insisted there were very few flaws. "Lots of times I would have all my dinner finished before Mom and Pop started,"
Gehrig said. "They would argue about baseball instead of eating. Pop would say I should have done this, and Mom would
come back by telling him I should have made the play some other way. I just listened to 'em argue about it."
Remaining in the background, a tendency that stayed with him throughout his life. Name any characteristic of Gehrig the
man and it can be strongly linked to his relationship with Mom or Pop or both. Thus was the family Gehrig. An interesting
triangle they made.