Lou Gehrig started his professional baseball career at a time when players began to be seen as national celebrities. Though this suited charismatic men such as Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio, Gehrig avoided the spotlight and preferred to speak with his bat. Best known for playing in 2,130 consecutive games as well as his courage in battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (a disease that now bears his name), the Iron Horse that emerges from this book is surprisingly naïve and insecure. He would cry in the clubhouse after disappointing performances, was painfully shy around women (much to the amusement of some of his teammates), and particularly devoted to his German-immigrant mother all his life. Even after earning the league MVP award he still feared the Yankees would let him go. Against the advice of Ruth and others, he refused to negotiate aggressively and so earned less than he deserved for many seasons. Honest, humble, and notoriously frugal, his only vices were chewing gum and the occasional cigarette. And despite becoming one of the finest first basemen of all time, Jonathan Eig shows how Gehrig never seemed to conquer his self-doubt, only to manage it better.
Jonathan Eig's Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig offers a fascinating and well-rounded portrait of Gehrig, from his dugout rituals and historic games to his relationships with his mother, wife, coaches, and teammates. His complex friendship with Ruth, who was the polar opposite to Gehrig in nearly every respect, is given particularly vivid attention. Take this revealing description of how the two men began a barnstorming tour together following their 1927 World Series victory: "Ruth tipped the call girls and sent them on their way. Gehrig kissed his mother goodbye." Eig also shares some previously unknown details regarding his consecutive games streak and how he dealt with ALS during the final years of his life. Rich in anecdotes and based on hundreds of interviews and 200 pages of recently discovered letters, the book effectively shows why the Iron Horse remains an American icon to this day. --Shawn Carkonen
From Publishers Weekly
Although his record of playing in 2,130 consecutive Major League baseball games (from 1925 to 1939) was eventually broken in 1995, Gehrig is still remembered as one of the sport's greatest figures. But Eig, a Wall Street Journal
special correspondent, shows that the life of the"Iron Horse" wasn't quite as squeaky clean as Gary Cooper portrayed it to be in the 1943 film Pride of the Yankees
. Still, the blemishes are strikingly minor in comparison to those of today's star athletes: the worst anyone can really say about Gehrig is that he didn't like spending money, or that sometimes he'd just barely appear in a game in order to continue his streak. This meticulous biography also tracks the Yankee first baseman's close family ties and the tensions between his German immigrant mother and his publicity-savvy wife, as well as Gehrig's friction with teammate Babe Ruth. There's a certain monotony to the seasons during Gehrig's peak years, but Eig manages to find lively anecdotes. Moreover, the final chapters, in which Gehrig slowly dies from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, present his story's medical aspects with powerful sensitivity. Holding its own against recent high-profile baseball bios (e.g., Richard Ben Cramer's portrait of Joe DiMaggio), Eig's book reminds readers that Gehrig's accomplishments are inseparable from the dignity of his character. Photos.
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