Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig

( 34 )


The definitive account of the life and tragic death of baseball legend Lou Gehrig.

Lou Gehrig was a baseball legend—the Iron Horse, the stoic New York Yankee who was the greatest first baseman in history, a man whose consecutive-games streak was ended by a horrible disease that now bears his name. But as this definitive new biography makes clear, Gehrig’s life was more complicated—and, perhaps, even more heroic—than anyone really knew.

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Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig

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The definitive account of the life and tragic death of baseball legend Lou Gehrig.

Lou Gehrig was a baseball legend—the Iron Horse, the stoic New York Yankee who was the greatest first baseman in history, a man whose consecutive-games streak was ended by a horrible disease that now bears his name. But as this definitive new biography makes clear, Gehrig’s life was more complicated—and, perhaps, even more heroic—than anyone really knew.

Drawing on new interviews and more than two hundred pages of previously unpublished letters to and from Gehrig, Luckiest Man gives us an intimate portrait of the man who became an American hero: his life as a shy and awkward youth growing up in New York City, his unlikely friendship with Babe Ruth (a friendship that allegedly ended over rumors that Ruth had had an affair with Gehrig’s wife), and his stellar career with the Yankees, where his consecutive-games streak stood for more than half a century. What was not previously known, however, is that symptoms of Gehrig’s affliction began appearing in 1938, earlier than is commonly acknowledged. Later, aware that he was dying, Gehrig exhibited a perseverance that was truly inspiring; he lived the last two years of his short life with the same grace and dignity with which he gave his now-famous “luckiest man” speech.

Meticulously researched and elegantly written, Jonathan Eig’s Luckiest Man shows us one of the greatest baseball players of all time as we’ve never seen him before.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Luckiest Man is a first-class biography, thoroughly researched and nimbly written....If Gehrig's 'luckiest man' speech offered fans a glimpse into his character, Eig's Luckiest Man pushes the door wide open."

— Bill Syken, Sports Illustrated

"A wonderful book."

— Cal Ripken Jr.

"Luckiest Man is now the definitive life of Gehrig."

— Henry Kisor, Chicago Sun-Times

"Luckiest Man stands in the first rank of sports biographies."

— Kevin Baker, The New York Times Book Review

Bill Syken
"A first-class biography, thoroughly researched and nimbly written."
Sports Illustrated
Dan McGrath
"Admirably thorough, richly detailed and nicely written. . . . Luckiest Man is a compelling and haunting read."
Chicago Tribune
Allen Barra
"A wealth of new information on Gehrig's life and times, retrieving the real Gehrig from the mists of legend."
Los Angeles Times
Jonathan Yardley
… it is entirely appropriate that, after all these years, Gehrig is the subject of a full biography that treats him not just as a superb athlete but also as an admirable, if far from flawless, human being. Many books have been written about him in the past, including biographies by the (now forgotten but once notable) journalists Frank Graham and Paul Gallico, but they are standard sports-page fare, closer to hagiography than to biography. Eig, who writes for the Wall Street Journal, does better. His prose rarely rises above competence, but his research is thorough, and he pays due attention to Gehrig's few shortcomings as well as his many strengths. Eig's biography doesn't do quite as well by Gehrig as Robert Creamer's Babe did by that other famous Yankee, Babe Ruth, but Luckiest Man is good, solid work.
— The Washington Post
Kevin Baker
Eig's triumph lies not only in illuminating the man, bringing out his full, human tragedy, but also in framing the America Gehrig lived in -- both a harder and a more innocent place, where ballplayers were considered barely a notch above carnies, but would sing ''The Sidewalks of New York'' after winning a World Series and give a teammate a trophy with a poem inscribed on it. Eig is obviously knowledgeable about baseball, and doesn't slight the game, but nonfans will find this story captivating nonetheless. ''Luckiest Man'' stands in the first rank of sports biographies.
— The New York Times
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. Agent, David Black. (Apr.) Forecast: Blurbs from Rudy Giuliani and Roger Kahn could make this a hot spring seller. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Wall Street Journal staffer Eig belts a home run with this probing, exhaustive biography of baseball's Iron Horse. Opening with Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939, and closing with a brief examination of the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis that felled the great Yankee first baseman, the book offers the definitive treatment of one of the game's most iconic figures. Pulling no punches in examining the supportive but emotionally constricted nature of Gehrig's early home life, Eig goes on to examine the quiet slugger's place on the Ruth-dominated Yankees and later as a star in his own right. Gehrig's wife and doctors appeared determined to maintain his spirits as much as possible before he succumbed on June 2, 1941, shortly before his 38th birthday. An excellent work for all collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/04.] Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A baseball icon, as never before portrayed. Gehrig's losing struggle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) offers one of the saddest and most poignant instances of a popular athlete dying young in sports history. This tragic battle was so public that ALS is now popularly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Countless biographies of Gehrig (1903-41) have focused mainly on his illness and his stupendous record of 2,130 consecutive games played, which earned the well-loved New York Yankee the nickname Iron Horse. Wall Street Journal writer Eig chronicles the illness and marvels at the record, of course, but he's not content merely to retell a familiar story. The author digs deeper, uncovering 200 pages of previously unpublished correspondence to and from the ballplayer and interviewing hundreds of people, including over 30 former players who knew him well. This research pays off handsomely as lesser-known aspects of Gehrig's life become more prominent, including his childhood in New York City and his close relationship with his mother. The reader also learns about the surprisingly bad blood between Gehrig and Babe Ruth, supposedly due to a sexual infidelity. With these rich details, Eig crafts a portrait that goes far beyond the usual rendering of the doomed ballplayer as a tragic soul who bravely endured, "poor Lou" stoically soldiering on until his death. Yes, Gehrig is depicted as a man who faced death without complaint, but he's also outstandingly portrayed as a fallible man with faults and peccadilloes. Eig's highly readable account brings uncommon humanity to a legendary, golden sports hero. One of those sports biographies that transcends sports.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743268936
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 4/28/2006
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 91,993
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Eig

Jonathan Eig is a former senior special writer for The Wall Street Journal. He is the author of several books, including two highly acclaimed bestsellers, Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig and Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season. Visit him at

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Read an Excerpt

Luckiest Man

The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig
By Jonathan Eig

Simon & Schuster

Copyright © 2005 Jonathan Eig
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0743245911


Lou Gehrig stepped onto the field at Yankee Stadium wearing a pinstriped uniform that no longer fit. His pants were bunched at the waist. His jersey billowed in the wind. The crowd hushed as they watched him walk, head bowed, feet shuffling, arms hanging weakly at his sides. They had seen him make the trip from the dugout to home plate thousands of times, but never like this, never with a look of dread creasing his face.

It was July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day at Yankee Stadium, a hot and sticky afternoon. For the first time in his life, Gehrig was afraid to be on a ballfield. He was thirty-six years old and dying. His Yankee teammates and their opponents that day, the Washington Senators, were lined up on the infield grass, waiting for the ceremony to begin. His wife and parents watched from box seats along the third-base line. More than 61,000 people sat elbow to elbow in the stands.

Gehrig never looked up. When he finally reached home plate, he stopped and scratched at the dirt with his feet. The master of ceremonies introduced some of the special guests in attendance, including Gehrig's former teammate Babe Ruth and New York mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia. Gehrig twisted his blue cap in his hands and tottered from side to side as he listened to a series of short speeches. Next came the presentation of gifts: a fishing rod, some silver plates, a trophy with an eagle on top. He accepted them without saying a word.

The crowd applauded, but only politely. Here was Gehrig, the greatest first baseman the game had ever seen. Yet for all his accomplishments, his movie-star looks, and his gentlemanly manner, fans, somehow, had never shown overwhelming enthusiasm for him. Sportswriters said he lacked color. He was no Babe Ruth, they complained. The Babe was the Bambino, their child, and people loved him unconditionally. Gehrig's nickname -- the Iron Horse -- was inspired by a train, and it was perfectly apropos. Most people don't appreciate a train's strength and reliability until they're standing on the platform one day and it doesn't show up.

When the presentations were over, the emcee, Sid Mercer, asked if the guest of honor had anything to say. Gehrig answered with a slight, almost imperceptible shake of the head, no. He was afraid he'd collapse if he tried to speak. Workers moved into position, ready to roll up the wires and pull down the microphones. Only then did it dawn on the men and women in the stands that he was going away. Cries of protest rang out. The shouting grew louder and spread like a fever through the stadium. Soon, all the fans were on their feet. Their voices came together in a chant that shook the grandstand: "We want Lou! We want Lou!"

Gehrig stood still. His shoulders hung limp and heavy. At last, Joe McCarthy, manager of the Yankees, walked over and whispered in his ear. Gehrig nodded, ran his fingers through his hair, and stepped hesitantly toward home plate. The chanting stopped. Silence blanketed the stadium again.

Ever so slowly, Gehrig leaned toward the microphones and drew a deep breath. He was about to deliver one of the saddest and strongest messages an American audience had ever heard.

Copyright © 2005 by Jonathan Eig


Excerpted from Luckiest Man by Jonathan Eig Copyright © 2005 by Jonathan Eig. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents



Chapter 1: The Survivor

Chapter 2: "Babe" Gehrig

Chapter 3: At Columbia

Chapter 4: The Behemoth of Bing

Chapter 5: Goodbye, Mr. Pipp

Chapter 6: Coming of Age

Chapter 7: Sinner and Saint

Chapter 8: Barnstorming Days

Chapter 9: A Charmed Life

Chapter 10: The Crash

Chapter 11: Iron Horse

Chapter 12: Courtship

Chapter 13: Out of the Shadows

Chapter 14: A Night at the Opera

Chapter 15: The Next Big Thing

Chapter 16: Lord of the Jungle

Chapter 17: Strange Times

Chapter 18: The Longest Summer

Chapter 19: Like a Match Burning Out

Chapter 20: Last Chance

Chapter 21: Pitchers Once Feared His Bat

Chapter 22: The Bitter with the Sweet

Chapter 23: Luckiest Man

Chapter 24: The Bureaucrat

Chapter 25: Our Boy Is Pretty Discouraged

Chapter 26: He Was Baseball



Appendix: Lou Gehrig's Career Statistics



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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 34 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 34 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2005

    Highly impressive and readable bio

    I'm not as avid a sports fan as many of my friends, and I haven't read many sports bios. This book, though, surpasses the usual expectations for sports books. Reading it is like reading a vivid fictional book with many fascinating characters who seem bigger than life yet with imperfections and flaws, too. I'm sure any baseball/Yankees fan who like to read would get a lot out of this book. Anyone who is curious about Lou Gehrig should obviously read it. But its appeal for me went beyond baseball because it just tells the story of a humble and great man who lived a short, brave life and struggled with a terrible illness he could not understand. These are all powerful themes in and of themselves, but Eig clearly uses the English language to make Gehrig's story even more inviting. I kept reading waiting to get to a dull sentence or a cliche, but did's just page after page of lean, tight writing and colorful detail, like a really good New York Times feature story. Eig tells an old story but in so many ways it is timely. It's pretty interesting to read about Gehrig and his baseball friends who played for the love of the game in much simpler times, for money that may have been big in their time but not hugely extravagant, the way sports contracts are today. They didn't complain about fans or the media. Baseball was starting to be a business, yes, but not Big Business. The players didn't take steroids or say that anything about their behavior was justified because they were just 'entertainers.' They were honest and hard-working athletes. They signed autographs and felt flattered to do it. It's just so refreshing to learn about how baseball used to be. The final parts of the book, about his ALS, are grim and tragic but tell so much about the strength of Gehrig, and the author found a lot of material (like letters to Gehrig's doctor, talking about the disease). It's all fascinating, and makes you understand ALS and feel for its victims. To sum up, I'm glad I bought this and think you would not be sorry to read it if you are excited by baseball, enjoy solid biographies, the history of the 1920s-1930s, books about heroic fights against illness, or if you just like colorful-but-true writing that's not at all difficult to read.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2012

    Highly Recommended a must have

    I wanted this book because the dreaded disease took my Mother in 2011. If it wasnt for this man and the disease being named after him , alot of people wouldnt know what it is. When you mention ALS the public doesnt know, but mention Lou Gehrig and they have an idea. Very good book about his life.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2007

    A reviewer

    A superstar in his day, Lou Gehrig lacked one thing, recognition. Reserved in manner, he played in the shadow of Babe Ruth and, after Ruth¿s retirement, continued his ¿aw shucks¿ way. Never seeking the limelight, in fact you can say he avoided it, Lou Gehrig¿s life was in many ways a mystery. A true league and team leader, today Gehrig is sadly known for the disease that killed him at the age of 37, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig disease. That all changes with Jonathan Eig¿s biography, ¿Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig.¿ Eig begins Gehrig¿s life story by looking at the lives of his mother and father. Not a happy couple they, their son was indelibly etched by his mother¿s domineering ways, and his father¿s laziness. Exploring Gehrig¿s athletic prowess, Eig examines they myths that began with Gehrig¿s high school days. And continues through the famous playing game streak. However, it was not until Gehrig married at the age of the 30 that Gehrig the man appears. Still, mild mannered, a gentleman, concerned about putting on a good face, Gehrig never demands the admiration and respect he richly deserved. Jonathan Eig has written a fascinating biography of one of the least understood men in professional sports. It¿s a good read

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 14, 2012

    An athlete not seen since

    I havent read too many books about sports figures but this one sticks out because of the famous quote...hence the title of the book. The author gives great weight to the desire Gehrig had to work hard every day to be the best he could be while having to bat behind everyone's favorite player, Babe Ruth. While the book doesnt go into his issues of pride involved with Ruth, it does cover the fact that the two men were very different and really had nothing in common except to win. Their work ethics were very much the opposite. Gehrig was a "workhorse" who kept to himself and Ruth was "party boy" who the attention of all the world. The outcome of Gehrig's life is the most-telling of his story. He believe until the end that although he will never play baseball again...his chances of beating the disease is 50/50. Unfortunately, it was not to be. His record for consecutive games played stood for a long time until Cal Ripken passed it. A man who was also known a workhorse who kept to himself.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2005

    Eig is very good not quite great.

    This book tells the Lou Gehrig story in a concise way. There are many details left out, which I imagine his research found. For example, little is said about relationships with other ball players, and why he and Babe Ruth did not get along as well as one might wonder that they might have. On the flip side, as I was getting to the end, I was almost hoping that he would not die and that another ending might occur. I enjoyed it and would recomend it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2005

    Gehrig:Great Story

    The Luckiest Man is a book that any Lou Gehrig fan will not be able to put down.I have been a fan of Lou Gehrig since I was a kid.Read everything and watched everything on him.The book added so many things that I never knew before.When telling some of my friends about the book,they said they had to go out and get there own copy.A great read for any Yankees fan,baseball fan.The author even gave a great description of what it was like growing up in the 20's and 30's.He really makes you feel like you are there to witness all the things that were happening.Lou Gehrig a great athlete,great person.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2014


    I enjoy baseball and history. This was both. I've always been a fan of Lou's so I was excited to read this. The writer made you feel as if you were at the ballpark watching the Yanks play. He described Lou's life and illness in a way that you understood the man he was. I really enjoyed this biography.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2014


    Lou had good sportsmenship in him self

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  • Posted December 6, 2012

    Five stars.

    Five stars.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2012

    Lu gerig the best baseball player knowwn to man

    My bro has a friend named after lu gerig and lu was om the nyy so ya hes gonna be a fantastic player go lu and nyy

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 7, 2011


    My grandma resently died from this disease and i bout this book because i wanted to remeber what it was like before he died. Lou gehrig was my grandmas favorite baseball player so i thought that i should do so reading up on this guy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2008


    i really loved this book it really gave me more insight about my favorite past time player Lou Gehrig, it tells you about his life and his career and it really broke my heart when ALS was spreading throughout his body and making him so weak and inable to play, it made me wonder why did such a good player and a such a good guy only have 37 years on this Earth, as i was nearing the end of the book i already knew what was going to happen but i just wished there could of been another ending to the story. the book makes you realize what a tremondous player he really was and how scum-like babe ruth was in comparison, and if you ask me i would rather have 26 lou gehrigs on my team than 26 babe ruths, at least i would be able to sleep easy knowing i have a strong powerful team that is filled with great team players and great people in general. I love Lou Gehrig, he is a true role model.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2008

    We Should be that Lucky

    Growing up in Ct. in the 50's you always heard of Ruth and Gehrig and what made them great and loveable. You wanted to grow up and be them and live your dreams through them.If you don't have hero's, read this book and you will find one.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2006

    A real sports hero.

    I found this book to be very informative and a great look back at this man's life. An amazing athlete. I really enjoyed it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2005

    Gehrig:The Untold Story

    This book gives you so much information that modern baseball fans never knew about Lou Gehrig. Even a New York Met fan like myself was riveted by the stories from almost 100 years ago. The sad telling of doctors not knowing exactly what was wrong with the 'Iron Horse' and telling him at first it was a kidney ailment and not to worry as it was not serious breaks your heart. Super super book............

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2005

    Would have loved to taken my son to see him play...

    This is a very good book describing a baseball player who had his priorities straight, and loved the game. Not only does it follow Mr. Gehrig through his career, but also you gain a good sense of the USA during the 20s and the 30s. I don't take my son to professional baseball games, because people like Lou Gehring no longer exist!!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2005

    Riveting & Entertaining

    This is one of the finest biographies I have read. Whether you are a Yankees fan or not, a baseball fan or not, this is a portrait of a great man that demands to be read. Fantastic piece by author Eig.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2005

    Excellent Bio

    An excellent book that gave you insight to the man and not just the ballplayer. An easy read with many facts about his life that I never knew. You still will enjoy the movie 'Pride of the Yankees' but not as much because you will now know the real story behind this great, and sometimes flawed, man. Looking forward to Mr. Eig next book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2005

    A Deserving Hero

    Jonathan Eig does a nice job of bringing Lou Gehrig to life and making him a real, living person -- not just an idol. He also recreates an era.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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