On February 17, 1937, the New York Yankees purchased the contract of Babe Dahlgren from the Boston Red Sox. Dahlgren would go on to replace Lou Gehrig in the Yankees lineup at the end of the Iron Horse’s consecutive game streak in 1939. During his four-year tenure with the Bronx Bombers, Dahlgren would compile a .248 batting average in 1,143 at-bats before being bought by the Boston Braves.
The 1927 New York Yankees featured the renowned Murderer’s Row, which included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earle Combs, Bob Meusel, and Tony Lazzeri. The team won 110 games that year, and 1927 also happened to be the season when Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs.
This piece by Robert L. Harrison was first published in 1999.
Gather ’round you fans of baseball you lovers of season past, let me take you back to the greatest team that ever played on grass.
Guided by Miller Huggins known as “murderer’s row,” never was such a string of pearls so feared this side of Hell.
Greedy was this awesome bunch with Ruth and Gehrig leading the punch, and Hoyt and Moore on the mound shooting all the batters down.
Gasping crowds assemble like sinners in a tent, watching all the other teams trying to repent.
God blessed those boys of summer those pin-striped renegades, with a winning passion while others saw only the haze.
Gathering in the rosebuds by playing excellent ball, called the “five o’clock lightning” taking the pennant in the fall.
Gone were any pretenders to the throne no on stood wherever these Yankees roamed, twenty-five men made up this team and all had a year better than their dreams.
Baseball isn’t just the stats. As much as anything else, baseball is the style of Willie Mays, or the determination of Hank Aaron, or the endurance of a Mickey Mantle, the discipline of Carl Yastrzemski, the drive of Eddie Mathews, the reliability of a (Al) Kaline or a (Joe) Morgan, the grace of a (Joe) DiMaggio, the kindness of a Harmon Killebrew, and the class of Stan Musial, the courage of a Jackie Robinson, or the heroism of Lou Gehrig. My hope for the game is that these qualities will never be lost.
I really enjoy reading this poem. It talks about two Yankee greats, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio, but even better than that, it talks about life and love. Baseball frequently serves as a metaphor for both, and Kittell really does hit it out of the park with this one.
1 On the scorecard you gave me, I find the difficult scratchings, the notes and stats you ask me to read looking for something about success or failure: Twenty-three times, Lou Gehrig came to bat for the Yankees with the bases loaded and hit a grand slam. Then I see you’ve added: Shouldn’t love be that way? Shouldn’t love be a grand slam every time?
2 Lou Gehrig played baseball for seventeen years and everyone knows he played in most every game. Everyone knows he played only for the Yankees. But up in the stands, maybe–like you–studying a program, sat his wife, sat Eleanor who watched Gehrig carefully enough to see when his step began to falter, to notice how ground balls hit him in the chest and his long-armed swing barely dribbled out a single. Eleanor Gehrig watched the Iron Horse dwindle to ninety pounds and never stopped to say: “You’re not the man you used to be,” never told him she saw the end of the game. I imagine she only held him closer at night and went on.
3 Joe DiMaggio reached the Show two years before Lou Gehrig left, two years before the Iron Horse began to fade. And what you and I remember first about Joe was his once ridiculous coffee ad, or maybe his once failed marriage to Marilyn Monroe. Just like we never saw Gehrig play, we never saw DiMaggio, every day of your life and more, send roses to a grave, or imagined her fingers dialing his number, her voice calling Joe, Joe into the dead air. Joe, she told him once, you’ve never heard such cheering! Yes, I have, he said to her quietly. Yes, I have.
4 My husband Ron was born in 1951 and 1951 was the last year DiMaggio played. By seventeen, Ron was the best player in Idaho, the fastest in the outfield, most solid at first base, and sometimes wild but always hard when he took the mound. But our life, it seems, has turned far from glamorous. We take our turns, Ron and I, in the stands. I watch him with you, throwing rocks across a brook and know the next day his arm will throb from trying. He watches me try to toss a good metaphor, one that will zing and flash at your center. I say: look deeper into the game, friend. I say: look deeper into a life, a love. To make anything last, there’s got to be more than a grand slam. There has to be a good coach to draw the line-up and good men already on base. There have to be players in the minors and wives in the stands. There has to be someone to say that love ain’t always perfect, that love doesn’t always win the game, that love might not be lots of cheering or a neatly blackened square on a scorecard. No, Sherman, love might be quiet–a fire crackling, birds reappearing on the edge of lawn, the center of you knowing that once you slip it on and oil it up, that old worn glove will feel even better than when it was new.
I recently finished making my way through Jane Leavy’s biography on the Great Bambino himself, entitled The Big Fella. Like anyone else, I have heard most of the stories, I’m aware of the ballplayer’s legendary status, and as a kid, I memorized the list of nicknames spouted off by the kids of The Sandlot. However, this is the first actual Babe Ruth biography I have ever read.
Fair warning: this biography is quite the tome. It’s not quite War and Peace, but sitting at over 600 pages, it’s not exactly Animal Farm, either. In my opinion, though, the journey through this volume is worth the time. Using the barnstorming tour Babe Ruth took with Lou Gehrig after the 1927 World Series as the framework for the book, Leavy injects details about Ruth’s life and analysis about his personality and character to paint a broad and detailed portrait of the man and the ballplayer.
My favorite feature of this book lies in how human it portrays the Babe. Ruth often gets depicted as this happy-go-lucky, larger-than-life figure who transcends not only baseball, but American culture itself. Not that Leavy ignores this facet of Ruth’s character. In fact, she goes into great detail about how this perception of the Babe pervaded American thought even during his lifetime. Ruth certainly lived large, and the public loved him so much, the press even willingly kept many of his indiscretions quite. When some of those indiscretions did leak out, fans were more than willing to overlook them, finding these to be a part of the ballplayer’s charm.
Leavy’s biography doesn’t focus just on this, however. Ruth’s life, especially as a youth, was not an easy one. The author includes stories about his birth, early youth, his life at St. Mary’s, and his introduction to professional baseball. She also talks about Ruth’s drinking and womanizing, and while she doesn’t forgive the Babe for these, Leavy does juxtapose that side of Ruth with his affinity for playing with and helping kids.
The book also delves deeply into Ruth’s relationship with his manager, Christy Walsh. We get an overview of Ruth’s personal finances, and Leavy demonstrates how much the Babe profited from Christy Walsh’s management. She conveys the impact Ruth and Walsh had on popular culture, foreshadowing the celebrity-obsessed society that followed them and continues to pervade our world today.
Leavy also does a good job giving us a glimpse into the Babe’s shortcomings as a family man and the impact this had on his daughters. There is also a great exploration of Ruth’s life after baseball, including the disappointments he faced as he continuously got turned down for management roles. Leavy goes into detail about his final days, as well, discussing his illness and, ultimately, his death.
Overall, I was impressed. I did, at times, wish that the structure of the book followed a more linear path, rather than bouncing around Ruth’s life the way that it does, but given the amount of research and detail included in these pages, it’s a shortcoming I’m willing to overlook.
On April 18, 1923, Columbia University pitcher Lou Gehrig struck out 17 Williams College batters to set a school record. Columbia lost the game 5-1, however, as Gehrig’s pitching also proved to be a bit on the wild side.
Lou Gehrig was named team captain of the New York Yankees on April 12, 1935. The date on which this honor was bestowed upon Gehrig is commonly mistaken for April 21st, however, this article in the April 13th New York Times demonstrates otherwise. Gehrig retained the title of Yankees captain until his death on June 2, 1941.
Shortly following Lou Gehrig’s retirement from baseball, due to his diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the Yankees declared July 4, 1939 “Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day.” On this day, Gehrig delivered his now-historic “Luckiest Man” speech to the fans of Yankee Stadium. During that ceremony, Gehrig’s teammates presented him with a trophy, and on that trophy they had the following poem, written by John Kiernan, engraved.
To LOU GEHRIG
We’ve been to the wars together;
We took our foes as they came;
And always you were the leader,
And ever you played the game.
Idol of cheering millions,
Records are yours by sheaves;
Iron of frame they hailed you
Decked you with laurel leaves.
But higher than that we hold you,
We who have known you best;
Knowing the way you came through
Every human test.
Let this be a silent token
Of lasting Friendship’s gleam,
And all that we’ve left unspoken; Your Pals of the Yankees Team.