Remembering The Iron Horse: Lou Gehrig
Back in 1997, I managed to secure a coup interview with Tommy Henrich, one of Gehrig’s teammates. Here is a transcript of that interview in Henrich’s words, talking about Gehrig, starting with the time Henrich and others went to see the sick player at his home.
“He was in bed. He couldn’t get out of bed. He was that far gone. He was a monster guy (once 200 pounds) down to 120 pounds. When we left the house, Gehrig said, ‘Thanks for coming out, guys. Don’t worry. The doctors said that when I hit rock bottom, then I’ll come back.’ We didn’t quite know what he meant by that but that’s what he said.“I guess it was over the winter of 1938-39 that something went wrong with Lou. When we got to spring training in ’39, we noticed. Absolutely. It was so obvious. But we didn’t know what was the matter. He couldn’t move at the plate. If there was a pitch inside, he had a heckuva time getting away from the ball.“I remember during an exhibition game in Clearwater, he was going from first to third on a hit off the right-field wall and when he was going from second to third, he looked like he was going up a real steep hill. He was hardly moving. Don’t forget, when I got there in 1937, he was a little past his prime. Someone said, ‘You could see he was slipping during the 1938 season.’ And I said, ‘The heck you could.’ He had 29 homers and 114 RBI in ’38.“Gehrig brought the official lineup card to home plate (when he ended his streak) and they announced from above in the press box that he was taking himself out of the lineup. After the announcement, Gehrig came back to the dugout and sat in the middle of the bench and started bawling and crying. Lefty Gomez and I were sitting on the front steps of the dugout and Gomez walked past Gehrig and said, ‘Lou, now you know how we feel when we get knocked out of the box.’ And Lou started laughing.“Gehrig was solid looking with broad shoulders and wide hips. With his girth, he was wide. He was all bone and muscle. He could really move. What a slugger he was. Here’s one very big, outstanding feat – Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson never reached 147 RBI once in their career. Well, Gehrig a-v-e-r-a-g-e-d 147 RBI per season during his career. Wasn’t that something? He was a kind-hearted, pleasant many with everyone. If there was a brawl on the field, he would be the last guy out there. I got along fine with him. He was so helpful. All you had to do was ask and he’d take all the time it would take to talk to you.“If there was a new pitcher, I’d go and ask him what I should be looking for. He’d give me a good explanation all the time. We had a wonderful relationship. We’re of the same descent (German). Maybe that’s why. There was only one person that I know of who didn’t like Gehrig and that was pitcher Johnny Allen of Cleveland. Allen wasn’t (manager) Joe McCarthy‘s type of man on the field. Gehrig was not in love with Allen (a former Yankee teammate) and vice-versa. If Allen knocked Gehrig down with a pitch while he was with Cleveland, Gehrig would do nothing. He’d just say, ‘Well, if you put one over the plate, I’ll belt it.“I remember when we were in Cleveland one time and we scored four runs in the ninth inning to beat Johnny Allen. I helped out by getting a double. I was so excited. I used to be with Cleveland in the minor leagues and I was glad to be out of there. So after the game, I was bouncing around the clubhouse and I said, ‘I’m the happiest guy in the clubhouse.’ Gehrig was sitting nearby on a stool smoking a cigarette and he said, ‘You’re not the happiest guy in the clubhouse. I am.’ That’s because he didn’t like Allen. If he could have, Gehrig would have smoked a pipe but McCarthy didn’t like pipes. He thought it was a sign that a man was contented and he didn’t want contented players.”