Thorn: Lou Gehrig, 75 years after The Speech

From SABR member John Thorn at Our Game on July 2, 2014:

Lou Gehrig … disease … death … sadness. Yes, those are the connections we make automatically now, nearly seventy-five years since he withered away from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. We look at the trophy that his Yankee pals presented to him, this trophy that only two months after his last game was too heavy for him to hold during the farewell ceremonies of July 4, 1939. We think of the sympathetic portrayal by Gary Cooper in The Pride of the Yankees and how Lou loved his wife, Eleanor.

It’s hard to get past the Hollywood version and the sadness, beyond the black-bordered memorial, to reflect upon the powerful young man who filled out his white warm-up sweater when he played for Columbia University. Let’s remember that fans loved Lou Gehrig not only because he was modest and kind, attributes that even today may be found in abundance; they loved him because he was extraordinary, a baseball player so relentlessly dependable that scribes likened him to a locomotive, “The Iron Horse.”

Today few fans will offer his name when prodded for the greatest players of all time, no matter that his place in the Hall of Fame was secure even before there was a Hall of Fame. Gehrig was not flashy, not even graceful, but by many measures he was the second-best hitter the game had seen up to his time. That the only man whose exploits exceeded his also happened to play for the Yankees was not a tragedy; it suited Lou’s character perfectly. When his friend, baseball writer Fred Lieb, asked him what it felt like to play in the shadow of Babe Ruth, Lou cheerfully replied, “It’s a big shadow; there’s plenty of room for me.”

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Originally published: July 2, 2014. Last Updated: July 2, 2014.