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"Luke" falls hard for an Irish Catholic party girl.

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Lou and Eleanor.

"What he needed badly was confidence, building up," Eleanor wrote, "he was absolutely anemic for kindness and warmth."

Ahhh, yes. Love. Gehrig was a stranger to the concept before he met Eleanor Twitchell. His parents, God love 'em, were a bit anemic for warmth as well, coming from Old World German breeding and all.

Word has it that Gehrig was set up on his first date by his roommate Harry Hesse while playing for the Yankee farm league in Hartford, which would have made Gehrig somewhere between 20 and 21 years of age. Though a late bloomer, he admitted later in life that he did not wait until marriage to get down with the ladies (wink, nudge).

At least he waited for THE woman before getting married, which is more than can be said of many a person these days. THE woman was Eleanor Twitchell, from a reasonably well-to-do Irish Catholic family of Chicago (talk about opposites attract, Gehrig was from a poor, German Lutheran, New York family). Her father, Frank, had a booming business supplying concession stands with their goods. "We were the comfortable poor," Eleanor would say of her family. Translation: the Twitchells were richer than the pre-Yankees Gehrigs. "I was no 'society girl,'" she said, "whatever the newspapers said in their flights of fancy." Again, her definition of social classifications are relative. The newspapers dubbed her a "society girl" because she was, most would consider. Because of her father's success, she had connections in virtually every elite social circle, from the gangsters to the wealthy to the ball clubs. The latter was how she was able to meet the hot-item Gehrig.

Their first encounter is up for debate. Eleanor knew it was in 1928 at a large bash in Chicago. A mutual acquaintance introduced the two, briefly, and Eleanor remembers Gehrig's lack of interest in her and the bash in general (he was a far cry from a society boy). Gehrig would swear that he remembered this 1928 meeting, but Eleanor never believed he did and would tease him about it.

A few years later, they met again and for a more extensive period of time. Another mutual friend, Kitty McHie, a Chicago social butterfly, threw a party. In her verbal invitation to Eleanor the day of the party, she included the tag, "Lou Gehrig will be there." At the party, Eleanor and Gehrig were hooked up again. "The shy one suddenly became the bold one," Eleanor recalled, "singled me out, and spent the whole time giving me the shy man's version of the rush." Bow chickie wow wow. Apparently the two were so engrossed in conversation or batting eyes at each other or violins playing or whatever that their hostess warned the other guests to leave them be.

One week after Kitty's party, Gehrig sent Eleanor a crystal necklace that he had bought in Japan on one of the all-star tours. Eleanor's immediate thank-you letter was the beginning of the correspondence lovin'. Before long they were calling and writing each other on a regular basis. Within a year they were completely smitten.

One night in 1933, they met up at a gathering in Chicago. At the end of the night, Gehrig went back to his hotel without giving much of a glance in Eleanor's direction. Her friends urged her to call his hotel room and say good-night. At 2 a.m., she placed the call. Gehrig was groggy and seemed to be irritated by being woken up. As any woman would be, she thought she had blown it. But the next morning, within minutes of arriving at work, she happened to look at her window. There, down in the street, was Gehrig, flapping his arms wildly trying to get her attention. She ran down to meet him and they kissed madly (bow chickie wow wow) right there in the middle of the street in the morning rush hour. Over breakfast at the Drake Hotel, they made wedding plans.

Mom Gehrig was not keen on the idea of her "big egg" getting hitched at the age of 30. Because she threw such a tantrum, and because Gehrig had a million other worries going on at the time, he decided to do a shotgun wedding the day before the actual wedding was suppose to take place.

On September 29, 1933, Gehrig stood in his shirt sleeves with Eleanor in her apron in the living room of the small apartment they were in the process of moving into. The mayor of New Rochelle, NY, Walter G. C. Otto, married them in the presence of a few family members, the moving men, and some plumbers who all took time out of their assigned move-in duties. The ceremony was minutes long. Immediately afterwards, the two changed clothes, got their picture taken, then headed via police escort to the Stadium for the afternoon game.

Married life suited Gehrig, despite being raised by bitterly wed parents. Eleanor's pet name for Gehrig was Luke. Gehrig's main pet name for her was Pal, "sort of man to man," as Eleanor explained. He had no hesitation surrendering the household finances to her, giving her the checkbook shortly after marriage and saying, "Our old age is in your hands."

Eleanor learned baseball. Gehrig learned everything else. She got him hooked on opera, particularly Wagnerian operas because he could follow the German. Wagner's Tristan and Isolde was Gehrig's first opera, and he adored it. From that point on, he insisted that Eleanor go to the opera with him, and he was glued to the radio during Saturday broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera House. She also encouraged him to dress like a success. With only a nudge she got him into an Abercrombie & Fitch dressing room; although, for her frugal husband's peace of mind, she did convince the manager to tell Gehrig the clothes cost less than they actually did.

"But for the flavor of the marriage," Paul Gallico wrote of the couple, "you must come into their home and see this big guy with the loud voice, the bright, friendly eyes and the dimples at the corners of his mouth, stamping into the house like a half-tamed earthquake and yelling for his dinner.... He'd call for his Eleanor with a howl of 'Where's the old bat? Hey, Hag, come out here and fight like a man.'"

Playful, yes. But he could also be very romantic, considerate, passionate - all that good stuff. In Fall 1934, the Gehrigs went on the All-Star tour of the Orient together. While in Tokyo, the players and wives were separated an entire day for the sake of a game. The men went to northern China while their wives waited for them in Tokyo. That day, Gehrig found a telegram office and wired a message to his wife: "I miss you today. I love you."

Eleanor would return all his favors in some fashion or another, but of course with her own flare. For instance, she conspired with friend and songwriter Fred Fisher to write a song dedicated to her husband. The song was titled "I Can't Get to First Base With You." It wasn't a chart-climber by any means, but it certainly worked magic with Gehrig.

One of the factors of solidity in the couple's relationship was that they worked out everything to suit both of them. The most important agreement they shook on regarded Gehrig's retirement. They made a pact that he would retire on his 35th birthday, June 19, 1939. Although he did not retire by that date, he did retire within a month of that date, but for reasons neither of them would have guessed when they made the pact.


Written by S. Kaden, 2002