Newly released letters show Gehrig's perseverance

Newly released letters show Gehrig's perseverance

The words that echoed throughout the halls of Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939 -- the same words that are etched deep not just in baseball lore, but also in American history -- continue to be a shining example of true courage. Now, even more words have been made available to the public -- in the form of mostly-typed letters -- that further delineate the perseverance, hopefulness and affection that have come to define Lou Gehrig.

On the 75th anniversary of Gehrig's "Luckiest Man" speech, a large group of selected letter exchanges between the "Iron Horse" and his doctor, Paul O'Leary, have been made available to the public for the first time. The purchaser of the letters, sports memorabilia collector James Ancel, and the Rip Van Winkle Foundation, which oversees the Gehrig estate, agreed to let ESPN share the pieces of history.

The documents expose some of the inner-workings of Gehrig's mindset as he battled ALS, the disease that crumbled the Yankees slugger whose record of 2,130 consecutive games played lasted for 56 years.

Gehrig jumped on every opportunity he had to be hopeful for the future, but more often than not, the physical evidence was too overwhelming to leave room for optimism.

In a letter to O'Leary on March 31, 1940, Gehrig wrote, "Please don't judge me a cry baby, or believe me to be losing my guts, but as always I would like to know the actual truths and not continue to receive encouraging reports which have little or no chance of materializing, or to continue to live in false hopes."

O'Leary and Gehrig's wife, Eleanor, were well aware of where Gehrig's condition would take him. Their exchanges -- which have also been made public -- capture the struggle of two individuals who knew the severity of the disease, but refused to let Gehrig's spirit die alongside his body.

"I feel we must all lie like mad," Eleanor wrote to O'Leary, in the hopes of sparing him a "thread of hope."

On Jan. 13, 1941, Gehrig wrote to O'Leary: "Don't think that I am depressed or pessimistic about my condition at present. I intend to hold on as long as possible and then if the inevitable comes, I will accept it philosophically and hope for the best. That's all we can do."

On June 2, 1941, ALS beat Gehrig's body. The letters certainly serve as a chronicling of his physical demise. But even more so, perhaps, they are a display of one man's resilience and spirit in the face of death. The letters do nothing but add to the legacy of Gehrig and how, up until his last breaths, he was an American hero.

Erik Bacharach is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.