Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig

Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig

by Jonathan Eig


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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Drawing on new interviews and more than two hundred pages of previously unpublished letters to and from Gehrig, Luckiest Man gives us an intimate portrait of the man who became an American hero: his life as a shy and awkward youth growing up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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743268936
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 04/28/2006
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 128,318
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

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

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.

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



What People are Saying About This

Rudolph W. Giuliani

"A book for baseball fans and anyone who wants to read about a man whose determination and heroism inspire us."

Cal Ripken Jr.

"A wonderful book that provided insights about Lou, his amazing life and outstanding career."

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Luckiest Man 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 43 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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
Schantz More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Jamie Holmes More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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............
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
lateinnings on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very well-written life of the great Gehrig.
ursula on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm not what one would call a fan of baseball, so I learned a lot about Lou Gehrig and the world of baseball in the 20s in particular. Easy to read, interesting, my main complaint was the way the author went off on flights of fancy that involved lots of statements like "he must have" or other things that the author had no way of knowing.
MinTwinsNY More than 1 year ago
Review: Having not read a book on Lou Gehrig since middle school and wanting to learn more about the man, I picked up this book hoping to learn more about his playing career and how he dealt with the prospect of facing death. Those topics are certainly covered, but there is so much more to this book that it should be on every baseball fan’s list of books to read. Meticulous research and superb writing make this book one of the most definitive biographies of Gehrig. The reader will learn about the man through many communications he made with doctors, his wife Eleanor and other important people in his life. The letters he exchanged with physicians at the Mayo Clinic, where his amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) was first diagnosed, were very moving. The same goes for his letters to Eleanor, especially the one written to her when he first learns of the disease and is optimistic that he will get better. Gehrig went to the Mayo Clinic when he noticed how fast his baseball skills were deteriorating in 1939. Both this decline and Gehrig’s outstanding baseball career are covered by superb research and writing as well. No matter how one analyzes his career, Gehrig is one of the greatest players in the history of the game, yet Eig writes of his baseball prowess without a lot of fawning or exaggeration. The matter-of-fact style made reading about Gehrig’s accomplishments seem even more impressive. Eig also writes about Gehrig’s personal life in a style that will keep any reader engrossed in the topic. Whether it is about his childhood in which his mother was very protective, the shy young man who did not socialize often with his Yankee teammates, or his marriage at 30 to an outspoken woman, the reader will gain insight into what made Gehrig into the man that he became. Of course, no discussion about Gehrig can be complete without mentioning the moments that made him a legendary baseball player. Eig sets the record straight on what makes Gehrig seem larger than life. For example, the myth that Gehrig began his streak of 2,130 consecutive games played because Wally Pipp complained of a headache and was replaced by Gehrig is set straight in the book. The streak actually began the previous day when Gehrig appeared as a pinch hitter. Also, Pipp did not complain of a headache that day and instead was benched when manager Miller Huggins wanted to juggle his lineup. It doesn’t make the streak or the myth any less impressive, but Eig ensures that the correct story about the beginning of the streak is told. It is this kind of research and writing that make this book one of the best sports biographies available. The reader will truly feel like he or she knows more about the man after reading this and will also have run through a full gamut of emotions when completing the book. One doesn’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this biography. Anyone who wants to learn the complete story of the man should read this book. Pace of the book: While I never was able to read large sections of this book in one sitting, it still was a fairly quick read in the total time it took me, especially considering the length of the book and some of the material, such as the medical sections describing ALS. Do I recommend? Readers who like baseball biographies or even biographies in general, will enjoy this book. With the in-depth research and narration about each important topic, this book should appeal to a wide range of readers. No matter how a reader has lear
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wow, what an amazing man, story and book! I bought this book because I work in the health care profession and have had a few customers diagnosed with ALS, not to mention a family member who recently passed away from this affliction, and was curios about the man behind the name. Even more intriguing, I love baseball. This book gives great insight into the history of the game and the man himself. What a humble and grateful man. All professional athletes should be so grateful. Watching his farewell speech brought me to tears. His love and dedication to the game is beyond imaginable. This book brings awareness to an affliction so horrible that hopefully one day we'll find a cure for.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Always heard of the great Yankees of the thirtie. This book gave good insight into the game and players. Gehrig was an inspiring player and man.
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Much respect for a true sports hero
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