“Lou Gehrig: The Lost Memoir”
Alan D. Gaff
The publishing info:
Simon & Schuster
Due for release May 12
The review in 90 feet or less
When we covered “The Babe” in Day 14’s review and the SABR project that brought that all to light: In as search of the dozens of books done about Babe Ruth, one pops up called: “Playing The Game: My Early Years in Baseball,” which Dover Publications released as a paperback in 2011.
Just 102 pages, it is essentially a 12-part newspaper serial, ghost written for him in 1920, before Christy Walsh became his official agent in 1921. It’s Ruth talking and likely sportswriter (and future commissioner) Ford Frick doing the transcription, and it ended up in The Atlanta Constitution archives. The publishers call it a “breezy account of his early life that’s rich with recollections of his childhood, his transition from pitcher to outfielder, and the blockbuster trade that sent him from the Red Sox to the Yankees.” Paul Dickson provides the intro.
Eventually, Gehrig got to do his own story telling.
The Christy Walsh Syndicate saw the upside of pulling out from Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson. So as Gehrig was this 24-year-old coming off the Yankees’ historic 1927 season, he may not have been this gregarious story teller, but that’s the beauty of what made it feel more honest and sincere when you read now what.
From the very first sentence:
I guess every youngster who ever tossed a ball or swung a bat has dreams of some day breaking into big league baseball. I know I did…
Yet, who knew this stuff even existed?
Gaff, a scholar in Indiana and president of Historical Investigations company that specializes in historical research, has done books on the American Civil War and both World Wars. He briefly says in the introduction: “When I discovered these columns while researching another topic, there was no doubt they needed to be brought to the public’s attention. This sensational discovery is a unique opportunity for the world to be reintroduced to one of its most famous sportsmen.”
We wanted more info, so we emailed the 71-year-old Gaff:
How did this book happen? What were you doing when you stumbled across it as you mention in the introduction?
In 2005, my book “Blood in the Argonne” was published by the University of Oklahoma Press. This was a history of the famous Lost Battalion of World War I. In researching the officers and men of this unique unit, I found that after the war Captain Leo Stromee (from San Bernardino) had been appointed a revenue officer in California during Prohibition. During his tenure, Stromee became involved in some nefarious smuggling ring but avoided prosecution when an important witness turned up dead. I thought that an article about this war hero turned potential “gangster” might make an interesting article.
After about 16 years, I pulled my initial notes out of a file cabinet filled with literally hundreds of ideas and began to do some additional research in California newspapers from the 1920s.
This was when I happened upon the Lou Gehrig memoir in the Oakland Tribune. At this point, I lost interest in a Stromee article.
I thought the Gehrig columns looked quite interesting, so copied all of them. An internet search indicated they had never been published. The columns bore notations that they had been copyrighted by Gehrig’s agent so they would not enter public domain until 2022. A search of the old-fashioned Copyright Registration volumes did not show them as ever being entered under copyright. Encouraged by this, I wrote to the Copyright Office with the appropriate information and was pleased to discover Gehrig’s memoir was in public domain. It was the best $400 I ever spent!
My literary agent, Roger Williams, was then working on placing another manuscript. When I told him about the Gehrig material, he seemed skeptical that such a treasure had never been republished. After some convincing, he contacted Stuart Roberts at Simon & Schuster. Stuart’s initial reaction was similar to Roger’s. It just seemed too good to be true. But after sharing copies of Gehrig’s memoir and the notice from the Copyright Office, everyone finally became convinced that it was both good and true. While portions of Gehrig’s memoir appeared in a couple of other newspapers, this version all came from the Oakland Tribune. There were minor differences between the Tribune and other papers due to transmission and typesetting issues.
I just finished reading “A Season in the Sun: The Rise of Mickey Mantle” (March, 2018 by Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith) which I found delightful since I was 8 years old in 1956 and, like so many other kids, was a big Yankees and Mickey Mantle fan. My own baseball career began the following year with four years in Little League and two years in Pony League. Then came girls and my career in baseball ended. I did, however, play softball until I turned 42 which, not coincidentally, was the last time I had a cold beer.
That story is just as good as the Gehrig files.
How it goes in the scorebook
A scoop out of the dirt by the first baseman to save an intentional error.
As Gaff says, we’re not sure who helped Gehrig with this project, but “no matter who wrote down the words, there is no doubt that Lou’s memoir came directly from the heart.” Gaff fills whatever gaps there may be with research about names mentioned and games played.
Oh by gosh, by golly, we accept this really swell ride through some history we don’t mind saying is refreshingly nice and a bit more simplistic that we think really was, but is likely never to be seen again.
As Gehrig says in Chapter 9:
I am proud to be a big league ballplayer and proud to associate with the men who make professional baseball .. I believe baseball is a real profession, worthy of the best that any man can give. In my experience as a ballplayer, I have found nothing to be ashamed of, nothing that was not within bounds of good judgment and good sportsmanship.
Let’s tip a cold beer for “The Lost Memoir.” And thanks to Simon & Schuster, who already invested heavily into the Gehrig storytelling by publishing Jonathan Eig’s “Luckiest Man” in March, 2005.
Interesting, Gehrig’s name isn’t even used as the marketing methodology for his anthology of stories. Instead it was called “Following The Babe.” It was planned for 30 installments. Now, it’s less than 100 pages of pure salt water taffy with no chemical additives.
And we’re addicted.
Gaff adds that he’s no longer a baseball fan.
“Although I will tune in to the World Series every fall,” he says. “My sports viewing is now focused on the NFL where I can yell at the TV more frequently than during a baseball game.”
We can all just hope it happens in 2020.
More Gehrig material to read up
== We continue to recommend Richard Sandomir’s 2017 “Pride of the Yankees: Lou Gehrig, Gary Cooper and the Making of a Classic,” which focuses on the making of the 1942 film, with much of taking place at Los Angeles locations. As we wrote about the book, it set the template for sports movies going forward. The film was also directed by Sam Wood, the grandfather of current Denver Nuggets play-by-play man and former Olympic volleyball gold medalists Chris Marlowe.
== One other we just found: “Last Ride of the Iron Horse: How Lou Gehrig Fought ALS to Play One Final Championship Season,” from June 2019 by Dan Joseph
A few more stripes to pin
== With our name-brand “Yankee” titles somewhat done from this year’s series, we have these others are worth noting:
*”The Big 50: The Men and the Moments that Made The New York Yankees,” by Peter Botte (Triumph Books, $16.95, 352 pages, released April 14):
With all that had to be decided on what to exclude, Chapter 49 is entirely devoted to how George Costanza became the Yankees’ assistant to the traveling secretary on “Seinfeld.” Yankees owner George Steinbrenner admitted his grandkids thought he was “cooler” since he was now depicted in the sit-com, voiced by Larry David. Even Costanza tried to get himself fired in Season 8, to get a better paying job with the Mets. He was traded to a chicken franchise, in exchange for a conversion of all stadium concessions to chicken-based products, including a beer substitute made of fermented alcoholic chicken.
If you’re looking for a Yankee pecking order on who deserves most of the glory, the first 10 chapters are individually dedicated to Ruth, Gehrig, Steinbrenner, DiMaggio, Mantle, Riviera, Jeter, Larsen and the “*61.”
* “The New York Yankees in Photographs: 100 years of iconic images,” by the New York Daily News ($35, due June 2). The once powerful New York newspaper now under the thumb of Tronc cut half its staff in 2018. Now it digs through its archives to try to drum up some rummage-sale income.