#Shortstops: Lou Gehrig’s gift
He was the captain of the New York Yankees and one of the game’s greatest players.
And though Lou Gehrig’s life ended at the age of 37, his legacy – and memories of his loving marriage – remain alive for millions of baseball fans around the world.
During his tremendous 17-year career, Gehrig racked up some of the most prestigious statistics and awards in the game’s history. His career was cut short when he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which forced him to walk away from baseball in 1939, and would take his life only two years later. By his side throughout his triumphs and challenges was Eleanor Gehrig.
Formerly known as Eleanor Twitchell, Eleanor came from a well-to-do family from Chicago. It was also in Chicago where Eleanor met the “big, handsome, successful, and as luck would have it, painfully shy” Lou Gehrig. Not long after they met, they started to plan their wedding.
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Eleanor was more accustomed to being in the public sphere, and she had encouraged Lou to branch out of his comfort zone and embrace his celebrity. She thought he should park his car closer to the stadium’s main entrance that way he could sign autographs for fans before and after the game. Along with this, Eleanor also advocated for Lou to have a higher annual salary, a conversation Lou was uncomfortable with having before Eleanor came into his life. She was helping him grow into the person he needed to become.
The young couple exchanged vows and were married in 1933. That first season after their wedding, Lou went on to win the American League Triple Crown (.363 batting average, 49 home runs, and 166 runs batted in). It was if Lou had something new to play for.
By 1937, Lou had everything he needed in order to show his affection for the woman who was responsible for the ballplayer he became. Lou used his laundry list of accomplishments to create a gift that would last much longer than any of those awards he won, a charm bracelet for his beloved Eleanor.
The bracelet, an anniversary gift, is comprised of seven World Championship emblems, six All-Star Game charms, two MVP Awards, the Sporting News MVP, and one representing the film Rawhide. On the back was one more token of his love, an inscription, “To Eleanor, with all my love forever, Lou, Sept. 29, 1937.”
The bracelet is a part of the collection at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
While Lou was still adding to his record of most consecutive games played in the late 1930s, Eleanor began to notice things were a bit off with Lou at home. His health began to deteriorate, and by May 2, 1939, his streak of consecutive games played ended at 2,130 when he removed himself from the Yankees’ lineup.
He wrote to Eleanor, “I broke before the game because I thought so much of you. Not because I didn’t know you are the bravest kind of partner but because my inferiority grabbed me and made me wonder and ponder if I could possible prove myself worthy of you.”
Not long after, Gehrig was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, but the only one who really knew how fatal the disease was Eleanor. During his final years, Eleanor worked to keep things on the lighter side, writing: “I want him to keep a thread of hope; there is no point in adding mental torture to the horrible experience he is now going through.”
After Lou passed away on June 2, 1941, Eleanor did her best to keep the memory of her loving husband alive. She attended tributes and even consulted on the movie, "The Pride of the Yankees".
It is no wonder why he considered himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
Lily Brandt is the 2018 collections intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development