He was diagnosed with ALS by the Mayo Clinic in mid-June 1939. In less than a month he retired from baseball. The hoopla
was finished. What now?
For starters, Gehrig and his wife, Eleanor, moved into a cozy two-story on Delafield Avenue in Riverdale, NY (a division
of Bronx). Even though he, the sole bread winner, was out of his bright-spotlight job, he was promised by Yankee mogul Ed
Barrow that he would never have to do without. Barrow said that since Gehrig retired voluntarily (well, technically Gehrig
did step out on his own volition, despite not having much of a choice), Gehrig had the right to remain on the Yankee payroll
until the close of the season. This provision, applicable to most other players, effected that players remained the property
of the club with whom they last played.
But Gehrig didn't need a bribe to remain loyal to the Yanks. Though his ALS quickly made it nearly impossible for him to
climb stairs, Gehrig would frequent the Stadium for home games during his early retirement. When the Yankees headed south
for Spring Training, Gehrig was asked how he felt about his first Training on the other side. "Sure I'd like to be going south
with the Yankees," he said. "And so, I guess, would about a million other fellows. But I'm luckier than they are - because
Ive been south with the Yankees." He insisted that life on the other side wasn't all that bad. "Youd be surprised," he said,
"how different a slant you get on a ballgame 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."
By the end of the '39 season, Yankee owner Ed Barrow had made it clear what he thought of Gehrig's revised relationship
with the Yankees. He told Eleanor that "it was about time for him to get himself another job." Eleanor was already
baring the burden of knowing her husband's full prognosis (she claims he never knew he was dying), so she'd be damned if she
kept Barrow's words to herself. Though Gehrig was upset that his boss, for whom he had had enormous respect, would say
such words, his anger was nothing compared to Eleanor's bitterness. She was hoping that Gehrig would be asked to remain
with the organization in some capacity or other. When he was diagnosed, the Mayo Clinic suggested that Gehrig would
fit well in an office or writing position with the Yankees, and this was probably what Eleanor hoped Barrow would do to keep
the die-hard-Yankee Gehrig (he had a mutt named Yankee for goodness sake!) with the team.
No matter, Gehrig didn't necessarily need the green backs from Barrow. In 1940, New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia
offered Gehrig a 10-year appointment to be one of the city's three city commissioners of parole, and Gehrig latched on
to the job offer.
It sounds heartwarming enough, but Eleanor was holding back on both Gehrig and LaGuardia about Gehrig's ALS. The only stipulation
Eleanor laid down on LaGuardia's offer was that he ask no questions when she told him it was time for Gehrig to leave. She
told him that she would notify him as soon as she thought Gehrig's mental capacity was shot. (Eleanor was the only one of
the three that knew the full prognosis of ALS - expeditious decline in physical capabilities, but no affect on brain power,
all leading to certain death within 2.5 years).
As a parole commissioner, Gehrig worked with many underprivileged, poor, and struggling people of almost every age, race,
and religion. It was ironic that many of the people he came in contact with claimed that they simply "got a bad break." Hmmmm,
sounds familiar. But Gehrig would never sneer or preach about what "a bad break" truly was. LaGuardia had warned Gehrig not
to let any offender hit his emotional weaknesses. Truth, it was the other way around in the end; Gehrig ended up inadvertently
finding their weaknesses.
LaGuardia was extremely pleased with Gehrig's performance on the parole board. Not a far cry from the pleasure he used
to get out of Gehrig's on-field performance. Unfortunately for all, Gehrig's tenure on the Board was cut short when his legs
were very evidently giving out on him, which would force him to become a shut-in within a matter of weeks. The time came and
Eleanor called LaGuardia to tell him that she was pulling Gehrig. At that time, LaGuardia had become so close to the Gehrigs
that Eleanor revealed the full prognosis. LaGuardia was "horrified," as anyone would be.
Gehrig would live all of 1940 and half of 1941 almost exclusively in his home, confined to bed in the latter months. In
all, he struggled with ALS for 23 months after diagnosis. The whole time he did not know the full prognosis, according to
his wife. He had many a visitor during the first part of his home confinement. The guests included LaGuardia, Barrow and family,
best friend Bill Dickey, Mom, Pop, Eleanor's family, Broadway star Tallulah Bankhead along with her fellow actors and singers,
songwriter Fred Fisher, and almost all of the people he had affected in some manner along the way.