Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Book Shrine to a Baseball Hero

Readers interacting with their books is one thing--a margin note, perhaps some underlining. Readers turning their books into shrines is another thing entirely. And that is how I would characterize what happened with a copy of Lou Gehrig: The Iron Horse of Baseball, by Richard G. Hubler (Houghton Mifflin, 1941).

The young man who owned this book in the early 1940s held his baseball hero, Lou Gehrig, in the highest regard. He turned Hubler's book into a scrapbook memorial of newspaper clippings, baseball card cut-outs, and handwritten commentary. Hubler's text takes a backseat as a biographical narrative that complements the visual elements of this kind of folk book art.

After looking through every page of this book, I would surmise that Lou Gehrig transcended the sport of baseball in hero status for that young man and became a great role model as a human being.

Gehrig died 15 years before I was even born, but he still became my baseball hero when I was a boy. The first book I checked out and read at the school library was a title in the Childhood of Famous Americans Series: Lou Gehrig: Boy of the Sandlots, by Guernsey Van Riper (Bobbs-Merrill, 1949).

Had I been about age 10 when the Hubler book came out after Gehrig's untimely death at age 37, I could see me doing something like what the young man did with this book back in the 1940s. My kindred spirit from another time. Whether destiny or serendipity, or both, I had to buy this book when I found it. I'll let the pictures below tell the story with a bit of annotation.

The cut-outs of Gehrig's head and signature, which decorate many pages of this book, including all chapter heads, were taken from old 1934 Goudey baseball cards (I shudder to think about certain valuable cards being destroyed!). See this 2009 article from Sports Collectors Daily for more information.

Here, the book owner mixed real life and Hollywood together with images of Lou Gehrig and actress Teresa Wright, who played his wife Eleanor (Twitchell) in the movie Pride of the Yankees. He was also careful to document his arrangement.

A memorial poem attributed to Tim Cohane is copied on the blank page facing the Foreword's first page, while the Foreword receives its own decoration in the form of a typewritten list titled, Characteristics of Lou Gehrig.

The Foreword ends with a collection of baseball greats important to Gehrig (Bill Dickey, Joe McCarthy, Miller Huggins) as well as an image that is supposed to be the first base line at old Yankee Stadium. However, it looks like the third base line.

A bit of Gehrig philosophy follows--for life and hitting. Of course, his philosophy for life includes a baseball metaphor.

The most famous and memorable speech in baseball, perhaps even all of sports... "I may have been given a bad break but I've got an awful lot to live for. With all this, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

The final pages of the book are adorned with news clippings of Gehrig's death and memorial tributes. 

After the last chapter ends, the following page has a portion of the book's dust jacket (the front flap) affixed to it. Underlined is a passage that offers more evidence as to Gehrig's role-model status for the young fan: "...his clean life and high idealism."

I'll never know the name of the young man who owned this book (no ownership indication anywhere in the book) or what became of him in his life, but I'm grateful he took the time to create this memorial to Lou Gehrig and I bet he'd be pleased and proud to see that it lives on in another appreciative fan's collection and in a medium (Internet) he could never have envisioned some 70 years ago. I can only hope for the same once my tenure as custodian is done.


 As a bit of a postscript to all this... I got to enjoy a Yankees game at the old stadium several years ago before it closed. Appropriately enough, I sat on the first base side watching the "Ghost of Gehrig" at first base. Actually, the spirit of Gehrig was in full display as the Bronx Bombers knocked eight out of the park that night to tie a record. I enjoyed it all in a No. 4 Gehrig shirt.
No apologies to my Red Sox relatives, who wouldn't be caught dead in a Yankees shirt! 
I'm still a fan of the Bosox.

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