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Full-length transcript from a radio interview with Lou Gehrig

The transcript of this interview is posted with the written permission from KROC-AM radio in Rochester, Minnesota, March 2002 (props to Brent A.).

On August 22, 1939, Gehrig was undergoing some of his then-regular ALS treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. A Rochester radio sent correspondent Dwight Merriam to the Clinic to interview him. Gehrig was very willing to do the interview. He spoke to Merriam for about 15 minutes on various issues including newly initiated night games and advice to up-and-comers.

The Interview:

(DM = Dwight Merriam, KROC; LG = Lou Gehrig)

DM: Ladies and gentlemen, we present at this time an interview with Lou Gehrig. Now, I'm sure I don't have to explain who Lou Gehrig is because he's a gentleman of whom we have all heard. And because we have all heard about Lou, we know a great deal about him. Our interview today will deal strictly with baseball as a game rather than Lou as a man [future generations sigh from disappointment]. Lou, is baseball played differently now than when you first started playing?

LG: Well, that's a difficult question. I think it was played harder, and it was made more difficult for the young man of fifteen 20 years ago when I broke in. He had to go out and fight his way for a job under many adverse conditions. The young man today is surrounded with old-timers' advice and experience. So you can see readily where the difference lies.

DM: Speaking of up-and-coming ballplayers (you being associated with the Yankees) what do you think of Joe Gordon as a second baseman?

LG: Why, I think Joe Gordon in two years will be one of the real greats and will go down in the class with Eddie Collins and Gehringer, and there is a slight possibility that he will overshadow them defensively.

DM: He seems to be going that way at the present time.

LG: Well, theres no question about it.

DM: Lou, what's your opinion of night baseball?

LG: Well, night baseball is strictly a show and is strictly advantageous to the owners' pocketbook. But as far as being a true exhibition of baseball, well, I don't think I can say it is, and it's very difficult on the ballplayers themselves. Of course, we realize that the men who work in the daytime like to get out at night and really see a spectacle, and we do all in our power to give them their money's worth. But after all, it's not really baseball. Real baseball should be played in the daytime, in the sunshine.

DM: You can't see the balls as well at night as you can in the day, is that the trouble? Its hard on the eyes?

LG: Well, you can't see the what you call the spin on the ball. You see, it looks faster than it really is and your timing's slightly off.

DM: Is that why some ballplayers can hit very well at night and not so good during the day and vice versa?

LG: [laughs] No, I would say there are no ballplayers that hit better at night than they do in the daytime. Now, you look at comparative averages at the close of the season and I believe that you will see it's strictly a pitcher's game at night.

DM: More close, more low-hit games.

LG: More low-hit games and low scores. Now [Cotton] Pippen beat us a night game in Philadelphia, our first night game. He beat us 3 to 2, and we had pretty fair luck with him in two innings in a daytime game.

DM: I remember that time. I think that was the first game Philadelphia won from the Yanks in a long time, wasn't it?

LG: Yes, I believe it is. That particular night game.

DM: We often hear about ballplayers as ballplayers, Lou. Of course, the fans have their favorites. But ballplayers see things that the fans don't see. For instance, one ballplayer may be very smooth and make plays that the fans wouldn't catch. So who would you say has been the ballplayers' ballplayer?

LG: Well, there's no question about the three greatest and most outstanding ballplayers in the history of baseball have been Ruth, Cobb, and Wagner. Now personally, Ruth was a typical fans' ballplayer. And Cobb was a typical individual ballplayer, because I believe he had more enemies on the ball field than any man in the history of baseball because he played it so hard and he thought of nobody. I mean, cutting or slashing or anything to gain his end, he went through. And yet I think Honus Wagner was the typical ballplayers' ballplayer or the managers' ballplayer, because he was always thinking of winning and doing what he could for the other fellow, for himself, and for his manager and for the fans.

DM: That's Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Honus Wagner.

LG: That's right.

DM: Do you think there's different-- of course, this is a question that comes up from time to time-- do you think there's really a different brand of baseball played in the National and American leagues?

LG: [laughs] Well, being an American Leaguer, I'd be naturally prejudiced, but the difference is not exactly noticeable, I don't believe. Of course, the American League will use the figures in the World Series and All Star games of the last ten or twelve years as proof.

DM: When you take the star players from both leagues, I imagine each has about as many star players as the other.

LG: Well, no question about it.

DM: Do ballplayers read the sport sections as avidly as the fans do? That is, read the sports pages, the line-ups of the day's games, and do they resent criticisms of sportswriters and the boos of the fans?

LG: They don't resent the fair criticism, and they probably read the sports pages much more closely than the fan does because ballplayers know how to read the box score. They read down below and they read everything very carefully, and they can probably give you more of a resume of a ballgame from not being there. They can tell you more about it. That's how closely they read that box score.

DM: It's business to them and fun for the average public.

LG: Right. We read it every morning as a business, where the fan will only read it as his convenience, you see.

DM: Are the pitchers able to get an idea of the weakness of the various players from the box scores at all?

LG: Definitely. We may have trouble with a certain type of hitter and we may pitch him high. We may pitch him low. We may switch on him. We may do different things. And yet we see a certain type of pitcher that will have success with them continually, and we know his type of pitching will be a weakness, so we tend to throw him accordingly.

DM: I've often wondered, how is it possible for one pitcher to know all about every batter that he pitches against? Is that entirely possible?

LG: Absolutely is. A lot of major league ballplayers even go so far that they don't depend on their memory at all. They go home at night and jot down the weaknesses of certain hitters. And any time they come to that town, they take out that notebook and review the notes and they refresh themselves. And when they walk out at the ballpark, they know the first man hits a high ball. They know the second man, the third man hit low balls. And then they pitch accordingly.

DM: You've got to have an education of some sort to play baseball?

LG: No question about it.

DM: Do you believe the young player should receive thorough seasoning in the minor leagues?

LG: I don't think there's any question about that. There are very few major league ballplayers in the history of the game that have proven themselves capable of jumping from the sandlot or college into major league baseball, and it usually requires two to four years' seasoning and then another year's seasoning in the major leagues while they are learning. Constant reminding of different things, which plays they're making wrong, or little "pepper-uppers" is what we call them.

DM: That has often been proved by what we call players who have come up too soon and have had to go back.

LG: Oh, no doubt about it.

DM: Do the majority of ballplayers tighten up during a World Series game or do they usually take it as another game?

LG: That depends entirely on the individual's makeup. Now personally, I was always as tight as a drum before the game, before the World Series game. The constant milling around, the hundreds of photographers, the hundreds of newspapermen, and the thousands of requests for autographs on scorecards and baseballs and things like that. They tend to tense a ballplayer up. But the minute that bell rang and the field was cleared and the first ball was thrown and the first ball hit my glove, then I was just as relaxed and it was just another ballgame after that.

DM: It sort of reminds me of players on the stage. They're tightened up until they get out on the stage reciting their lines. Then they are as free and easy as possible.

LG: That's quite similar.

DM: Is it the same before every World Series game or just the first?

LG: Oh, every game. Every game.

DM: There's no game like the World Series game?

LG: Well, the All Star Game's just the same.

DM: Are you in favor of the All Star Game?

LG: Oh, I think it's a great thing. Just great. I'm thrilled to death every time I can attend one, and you can imagine the thrill I can get when I was chosen to play in them.

DM: The receipts from the All Star game go to what?

LG: They go to a benefit the ballplayers have amongst themselves, an organization that we pay $10 a year to, to take care of the old ballplayers in the event of sickness and inability to take care of themselves in their old age.

DM: Is that fund being disbursed at the present time?

LG: Oh yes. It's one of the most honest organizations in the country, and we get booklets every year, telling not the details and not the names, but we know just how much is donated to whom and where. But not publicly.

DM: Thinking of an organization such as that brings to mind another question. Do you think there will ever be such a thing as a players' union?

LG: I don't see how it possibly could work because at that rate a boy would not be rewarded for his abilities. A ballplayers' union would put everybody in the same class, and it would put the inferior ballplayer, the boy who has a tendency to loaf, in the same class, as far as salary is concerned, with the fellow who hustles and has great ability and takes advantage of his ability.

DM: So for that reason, a union would not work as far as you see?

LG: I can't see it now.

DM: Would you say ballplayers as a whole play for salary or do you think the majority play for the love of the game?

LG: I think it's a combination of both. I think every ballplayer is so crazy about the game that he'd go out and play in his spare time if he weren't able to earn a living at it, and, of course, we must earn our bread and butter too.

DM: It's nice to be able to earn money while having fun.

LG: [laughs] Oh, exactly right.

DM: Would you say the young ballplayers now coming up, on average, compare with ballplayers of other days?

LG: Absolutely. Men like Connie Mack who've been in baseball for over 50 years still insist baseball today is as good if not superior to baseball of 30, 35 years ago.

DM: And I can't imagine anybody not knowing-- that is-- knowing any better than Connie Mack.

LG: That's the truth.

DM: What advice would you give, as a baseball player, to boys hoping to become baseball players-- that is, to keep their health and fitness?

LG: Well, to be able to play, you have to keep your health. And in order to be able to play, you have to be able to practice and put in a great deal of time. And you have to be a regular fellow or, in other words, you have to play the game hard, and you have to play it to win, and you have to play it cleanly. Because if you don't fulfill these qualifications in the major leagues, why the boys just force you to become a lone wolf. They pay no attention to you. That's why you very seldom see a ballplayer who is actually conceited. He might be accused of being conceited because he might feel ill that day or he might have a member of his family, his baby or his wife or somebody, might be ill. And he might be rushing to get home and when he leaves the park there might be 500 or a thousand youngsters out there requesting his autograph. And often he may rush right on through them in order to get to his car and get home to see his family or whatever might be wrong. And yet a ballplayer under those conditions will be accused of being conceited. I don't think I've ever come in contact with any of the boys that we could really call conceited.

DM: In addition to being a regular fellow, they have to keep regular habits.

LG: Oh, exactly. I've been in the business 17 years and I don't think there were a half-dozen nights in the 17 years that I didnt average my nine or ten hours sleep every night.

DM: Do baseball teams, professional baseball teams, have hard and fast rules you must keep? That is, in the way of regular hours for sleep? Regular hours for meals?

LG: They like for their ballplayers to be in the hotel between eleven and twelve at night. But they don't enforce rigid rules except to those few who absolutely have to have it, who can't govern themselves. But the philosophy in baseball is that a man is making his living at the game, and he must be in shape every day when he gets out on that ball field. And if he's not in shape, why, he's transferred down the river. So it's entirely up to himself.

DM: Who are some of the young players you've seen in action, Lou, that you feel are coming stars?

LG: Well, I see young [Ted] Williams come out of Minneapolis. He's around this part of the country. And we've got young Joe Gordon with the Yankees. And we've got a young fellow by the name of Charlie Keller, and a young man by the name of [Atley] Donald and there's a couple of young fellas down in St. Louis-- a pitcher by the name of [Bob] Harris and pitcher by the name [Jack] Kramer who looks might well. And youve got a young pitcher who was sent back for more experience, had a sore arm, with Boston-- a fella by the name of [Woody] Rich. We've got a lot of promising ballplayers coming up this year.

DM: By the way, what has happened to Donald after he won all those first games? Then he lost two or three now in a row, hasn't he?

LG: Well, if we knew that question we'd have rectified it long before now. [Laughs]

DM: Would you say that baseball is keeping its hold on the fans?

LG: The attendance figures this year far surpass, I think, those of last year. And I know that last year we drew more people, the Yankees as a whole, than any year that I've been with the team since nineteen-hundred and twenty-three.

DM: Its good news, isn't it?

LG: [Laughs]

DM: Well, for the last quarter hour, ladies and gentlemen, we've brought you a personal interview with Lou Gehrig, for many years the star first baseman for the New York Yankees. Thank you, Lou, for giving us some of your time for this interesting interview. Im sure all of our listeners join me in wishing you all the luck in the world.

Edited sparingly by S. Kaden; used with permission from KROC-AM Radio, Rochester, MN