Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
Until illness forced his retirement in 1939, Lou Gehrig was one of the strongest players in baseball. His record of 2,130 consecutive games for the New York Yankees held for 56 years until it was broken in 1995 by Cal Ripken. Several weeks after his diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis -- then thought to be a form of polio -- Gehrig made an emotional appearance before fans at Yankee Stadium and declared himself the "luckiest guy in the world" to have played for the team. He died two years later at age 37. ALS is commonly known today as Lou Gehrig's disease. An excerpt from The Post of June 22, 1939:
By the Associated Press
NEW YORK, June 21. --
The "Iron Horse" was consigned to the baseball roundhouse today -- to stay.
Infantile paralysis, slowing undermining the marvelous physique which had carried Lou Gehrig through 2,130 consecutive games as New York Yankee first baseman, has penned a dramatic ending to his playing career.
Gehrig returned last night from Rochester, Minn., where for a week doctors at the Mayo Clinic checked and re-checked to discover the reason for an unexplained slowing down, a slowing down which prompted Lou to remove himself from the line-up May 2 after compiling his phenomenal consecutive-games record. He appeared cheerful, but was mum as to the findings.
Today, Ed Barrow, Yankee president, after conferring with Gehrig, read a terse statement from a Mayo physician, a statement which marked the end of one of baseball's most brilliant careers.
"Mr. Gehrig will be unable to continue his active participation as a baseball player inasmuch as it is advisable that he conserve his muscular energy," the statement read in part.
It disclosed the 36-year-old Gehrig was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a type of illness involving the motor pathways and cells of the central nervous system, and known in lay terms as chronic poliomyelitis (infantile paralysis).
Barrow added that he believed Gehrig had been afflicted for about two years, but he hastened to assure everyone that the disease will be checked. Gehrig himself said he would start treatments immediately under the direction of his personal physician.
The few who went to the Yankee Stadium this noon to get Barrow's report on Gehrig's condition little dreamed of the coming drama as they watched the "Iron Horse's" familiar figure trudge across the deserted field toward the clubhouse. ...
Soon Barrow came out, and in a gruff voice announced to newspapermen:
"I have bad news for you fellows."
In dead silence he read the physician's report, then answered a barrage of questions:
"I can't believe it," commented the old baseball veteran whose word was law even to the great Babe Ruth. "Imagine what kind of constitution he has, to have played all last year. It must have started a couple of years ago. It hits me hard. Lou is one of my favorites -- -," he shook his head sadly.
Gehrig emerged from the private office, went to his locker and started to change into his uniform. ...
"I have to accept the bitter with the sweet," he said philosophically. "If this is my time to finish, I'll take it."
He said he never dreamed what his trouble was, other than that "something was wrong."
Had I known I'd have quit long ago," he said. Asked if he would take a long rest, he replied:
"What better rest could I have than just being with the boys every day. I tell you, I never got such a kick in my life as when I received a birthday wire from them. My eyes really filled up."
This series is available at www.washingtonpost.com