Not long afterwards, Gehrig was checked into the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for six days of thorough medical examinations. Eleanor had feared a brain tumor was the cause of her husband’s decline. She was wrong, but the diagnosis was just as deadly and hopeless: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (or ALS). Doctors charitably told Gehrig he had a 50/50 chance of survival. It was a polite kindness: Once the disease is identified, ALS victims seldom have more than two years to live. Their muscles slowly atrophy, steadily and relentlessly rendering their bodies useless. As the cruel ravages of ALS become worse with each passing day, the victims’ minds remain as sharp as ever. In North America and some places beyond its shores ALS is now commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Gehrig biographer Ray Robinson called it “a macabre form of immortality.” In medical circles, a disease is commonly named after the researcher or physician who first identifies it. Lou Gehrig’s disease might be unique in being named after a famous patient.
There was, of course, Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939. The moving, off-the-cuff speech Gehrig made—with great reluctance and only after the gentle prodding of manager Joe McCarthy—contained not a word of self-pity or of defiance, but simply heartfelt thanks for how lucky he had been in life. No one who was present that day ever forgot the moment or the power—there’s that word again—Gehrig’s brief remarks had. Movie mogul Louis B. Mayer of MGM, who knew so little about baseball that he thought a diamond had ten bases, saw a newsreel of Gehrig’s speech, wept uncontrollably, and knew a Lou Gehrig biopic had to be made by his studio despite being aware that baseball-themed movies seldom were big box-office hits.
Some 25 months after May 2, 1939, Gehrig was dead. He was not quite 38 years old. Baseball fans learned through the August 14, 1941 edition of The Sporting News that the Iron Horse would soon be immortalized in Hollywood style:
Lou Gehrig to Live Again in Films
Work will soon start on a movie about the life of Lou Gehrig, and by the time another diamond season rolls into view, the story of the Iron Horse will be seen on the screen from coast to coast.
…Pictures such as that to be done on Gehrig are difficult; in fact, the most difficult a studio could possibly handle. First, there is the utter impossibility of finding a top-notch movie star who could portray Gehrig as Lou actually was. Mrs. Gehrig is said to favor Gary Cooper, but baseball folks who saw Cooper do the ballplayer in Meet John Doe are afraid that Cooper is not the one for the Gehrig part. Ed Barrow feels that Eddie Albert would be a better choice. No matter who gets the role, there will be squawks.
…The material at [writer Paul] Gallico’s disposal is dramatic, some of it funny, some romantic, some pathetic. Paul will have to be careful to keep away from sheer pathos. The subject invites it.
…It is to be regretted that the movie must end in stark tragedy, the losing battle of medical science and Lou’s courage and fortitude to the sad end. Yet, it is because of this sad ending that the Iron Horse will live all the more vividly in the minds of the American public.
|New York 22 @ Detroit 2|
|Game played on Tuesday, May 2, 1939 at Briggs Stadium|
|New York Yankees||ab||r||h||rbi||Detroit Tigers||ab||r||h||rbi|
|Crosetti ss||5||3||2||0||McCosky cf||5||0||0||0|
|Rolfe 3b||6||2||2||3||Walker lf||3||0||0||0|
|Henrich cf||4||3||1||3||Gehringer 2b||4||0||1||0|
|Dickey c||5||2||2||1||Greenberg 1b||3||1||0||0|
|Keller lf||5||4||2||6||Fox rf||4||0||1||0|
|Selkirk rf||3||2||2||2||Tebbetts c||4||0||1||0|
|Gordon 2b||4||3||2||1||Rogell 3b||3||1||2||1|
|Dahlgren 1b||5||2||2||2||Croucher ss||3||0||2||1|
|Ruffing p||6||1||2||3||Kennedy p||0||0||0||0|
|New York||602 023 900 – 22 17 0|
|Detroit||000 000 200 – 2 7 1|
|New York Yankees||IP||H||R||ER||BB||SO|
E–Gehringer (1). DP–New York 1. Gordon-Crosetti-Dahlgren. PB–Tebbetts (2). 2B–New York Rolfe 2 (4); Selkirk (1); Dahlgren (1), Detroit Tebbetts (2); Rogell (2); Croucher (1). 3B–New York Keller (1). HR–New York Henrich (1,6th inning off Lynn 2 on); Keller (1,7th inning off Hutchinson 2 on); Selkirk (2,5th inning off Lynn 1 on); Dahlgren (1,3rd inning off Eisenstat 1 on). SH–Henrich (1). U–Steve Basil, Red Ormsby, Bill Summers. T–2:22. A–11,379.