Lou Gehrig, Columbia’s most eminent sports figure, died June 2, 1941. The next day, I received my bachelor’s degree from the university.
I became a Gehrig enthusiast from the day I saw him play for the first time when I was 9. In the haziness of my memory of that long-ago afternoon, Gehrig did little with his bat. In fact, I paid more attention to Babe Ruth, his Yankees teammate, mincing around the bases after a home run. Yet it was Gehrig, the shy, unassuming first baseman, whom I ultimately preferred over the Rabelaisian Ruth as a boyhood hero.
As I took the Broadway trolley up to the Columbia campus on the morning of June 3, 1941, I felt a mix of sadness over Gehrig’s death and pleasure at getting my degree. Although he retired in 1939, I didn’t know Gehrig had been wasting away from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the incurable disease now named for him. He died 17 days before his 38th birthday.
Ray’s biography of Lou Gehrig is a must for any serious baseball fan.
In the 71 years since the Yankees slugger Lou Gehrig declared himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth,” despite dying from a disease that would soon bear his name, he has stood as America’s leading icon of athletic valor struck down by random, inexplicable fate.
A peer-reviewed paper to be published Wednesday in a leading journal of neuropathology, however, suggests that the demise of athletes like Gehrig and soldiers given a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, might have been catalyzed by injuries only now becoming understood: concussions and other brain trauma.
Although the paper does not discuss Gehrig specifically, its authors in interviews acknowledged the clear implication: Lou Gehrig might not have had Lou Gehrig’s disease
[Photo Credit: N.Y. Daily News, Drawing by Larry Roibal]