Ruth and Gehrig
March 21, 2018
I like Lou Gehrig. He’s strong as hell and hits hard from the left side of the plate and soon becomes the second most feared hitter in baseball and forces pitchers to either give me good pitches to hit or walk me. What a future we have on the Yankees.
“I feel as though I should call you Mr. Ruth,” says Lou.
“You better not, kid. I’m Babe.”
“I’d be honored if you joined my parents and me for dinner.”
I roll into the Gehrig’s Manhattan apartment and pump his father’s hand and hug his mother, saying, “Honored to meet you, Mrs. Gehrig.”
By the time we get to dessert, I’m calling her Mama Gehrig, as she ordered, and telling both parents, “Your son’s an incredible ballplayer.”
Lou’s the opposite of me away from the ballpark, he doesn’t stay out late and is shy around women, but we become great pals. And two years later, in 1927, we have the best team ever, and I break my record by hitting sixty home runs and Lou bashes forty-seven, drives in a hundred seventy-three runs, and wins the most valuable player award.
Each season the names Ruth and Gehrig get more famous and every year I hit more home runs than Lou. I don’t think he minds, especially since he knocks in more runs most years. Lou knows I try to look out for him. It bothers me that a star player and good looking guy shoves his back against walls in restaurants, bars, and at parties, and doesn’t talk to girls anxious to meet him. Finally, all the guys are happy to hear he’s got a girlfriend and it looks like they’ll marry.
Whether or not a man’s got girlfriends, he should have a wife. I marry the second time in 1929, and adopt Claire’s daughter Julia, and she adopts my daughter Dorothy. I know you’ve heard all the talk about my drinking and smoking and carousing but, believe me, I don’t come in at dawn much anymore and am happier than ever. I love Julia just as much as Dorothy, and I love being a dad.
One night in 1932 at a crowded Manhattan restaurant, a guy I trust shakes his head and says, “Babe, I guess you’ve heard.”
“About Gehrig’s mother.”
“Is she okay?”
“Oh, she’s fine, Babe, talking more than ever about your family.”
“Haven’t heard anything like that,” I say.
“It was last week when Claire took Dorothy and Julia to that party for Yankee wives and kids.”
“And after Claire and the girls left, Mrs. Gehrig said, ‘I feel so bad for Dorothy. Claire doesn’t dress her nearly as well as she dresses Julia.’”
The next day at Yankee Stadium I see Lou putting on his pinstripes and say, “Hurry up. I need to talk to you privately.”
We walk down the tunnel and onto the field and I take his arm and pull him out along the right field line.
“I don’t like your mother saying things about my family.”
“What are you talking about?” Lou asks.
“Look, Dorothy’s five years younger and doesn’t need to dress up like a girl who’s sixteen.”
“I guess that’s right.”
“Then why’s your mother criticizing my wife?”
“My mother wouldn’t do that.”
“I’m telling you she did.”
“Who says so?”
I tell him.
“That guy’s a liar.”
“No, he’s giving it to me straight about your mother’s big mouth. Tell her to take care of her family and I’ll take care of mine.”
“Don’t insult my mother, Babe.”
“She’s the one doing the insulting.”
He spins and walks hard back into the dugout, and when I hit a home run that afternoon Lou Gehrig stays away from home plate, where we’ve so often shaken hands, and pretends he’s busy looking at bats and getting ready to hit.
Okay, I’ve got nothing to say to him, either. We hardly talk at the park and never away from it when the team’s traveling on trains and everyone’s playing cards and eating and later on relaxing at the hotel. That’s the way it stays all season as well as in 1933 and 1934, and then the Yankees send me to the Boston Braves for a final year I cut short because my body’s killing me, and I don’t say or write a word to Lou. He has four great seasons after I leave, and then in 1939 he gets real sick. He has what? Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a fatal illness, and there’s a Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day before a packed house in Yankee Stadium. I’m stunned how much weight Lou’s lost, but he’s still our Iron Horse who played every day for fourteen seasons, more than two thousand consecutive games. I played every game only one season in my career. I shake Lou’s hand and tell the crowd the Yankees should send him up into the mountains so he can catch every fish there. Then I hug him and say a few private words: “You’re Gehrig and I’m Ruth, and we’ll always be the most powerful pair in history.”