Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Melting of an Iron Man

As I write this Opening Day for Major League Baseball is Five days Two hours Forty-Nine Minutes and 58 seconds away. As you might imagine from the statement above I believe, as George Will says, "there are two seasons, Baseball season and the Void." There are many things to do while filling the Void, like watching Major League, Bull Durham, and For the Love of the Game. One can even pass the days with novels like The Southpaw, Bang the Drum Slowly, or The Natural. Or if fiction won't satisfy your needs you can always turn to The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract.

I am constantly in one of these moods and so it was no surprise that last Thursday evening I sat down to watch The Pride of the Yankees where Gary Cooper heroically, but awkwardly, delivers Lou Gehrig's famous line, "Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth." But according to an article in today's Wall Street Journal (sorry, subscribers only) by Jonathan Eig, letters between Gehrig and his doctor make it all to clear that he was far from lucky.

Baseball fans all know that Lou Gehrig suffered from Lou Gehrig's Disease, scientifically known as ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). Red Sox Pitcher Curt Schilling named one of his children Gehrig and gives large donations to ALS research. But what Gehrig was like behind the scenes has largely been left to fictional accounts. Thanks to Jonathan Eig and his new book Luckiest Man this is no longer the case. Baseball fans can finally get a glimpse of the character behind the man Bill James considers the greatest first baseman in the history of the game.

Eig offers some interesting glimpses behind the scenes. After a brief background in which Gehrig, surprisingly, is shown to be a man who had less confidence in himself than the public "Iron Man" image would have led us to believe, Eig shows us that it was under the greatest adversity that Gehrig truly showed that he had great reservoirs of inner strength.

One of my favorite comments from the article was the following conversation between Gehrig and his Dr. Paul O'Leary:

"Paul, I feel you appreciate how much I despise the dark," Mr. Gehrig wrote to Dr. O'Leary. "But I also despise equally as much false illusions...I do not want to be a hero, and I would hate like hell to be a cry baby, but I would also like to know the facts..."

In the quote Gehrig displays his ability to face down the illness that was overcoming him. A strength many of us would be hard pressed to emulate. I remember the scene in Man on the Moon when Jim Carey (as Andy Kaufman) goes to the "psychic surgery" and he sees that it is mere illusion. Carey displays both the sorrow and resignation of the shattering of an illusion. Lou Gehrig, it appears, never even wanted the illusion.

The courage that requires is the true sign of an Iron Man.

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