Letter From Lou Gehrig Captures Secret Struggle

Gehrig wrote the poignant personal letter to his doctor.

May 1, 2014— -- A poignant personal letter from baseball legend Lou Gehrig to his doctor is up for auction today, some 75 years after the ailing Yankee slugger signed it.

The typed letter, signed “Lou,” is dated Sept. 13, 1939 -– exactly three months after Gehrig was diagnosed with the fatal disease that would come to bear his name.

Also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease causes progressive paralysis, trapping its victims inside frozen bodies. Most people die from it in less than five years. Gehrig died in two. He was 37 years old.

The letter, addressed to Mayo Clinic neurologist Dr. Paul O'Leary, is a sweet “note to say ‘hello’” and invite O’Leary and his wife to the World Series.

“I sincerely HOPE AND URGE you and Ruth to be with us for this is probably the only way in which I can attempt to begin to show my appreciation,” Gehrig wrote. “Eleanor and I are praying that you will enjoy yourselves on this much needed vacation.”

Lou and Eleanor Gehrig were married for nine years before he died.

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The letter also describes Gehrig’s private struggle with the symptoms of ALS, and his hope that thiamin injections were working to boost his strength and slow his decline.

“I hope it is not my imagination,” he said of the injections, calling their effects “nothing short of miracles.” “Where I used to get exceptionally tired in the morning (especially in the right hand) from brushing my teeth, shaving, combing my hair, buttoning up tight buttons on my clothes, I would then feel like relaxing and resting, whereas now that tiredness is somewhat lessened, and I still have pep to go on.”

So far only one drug has been found to prolong the lives of people with ALS: Riluzole.

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Gehrig jokes to O’Leary about how “there will be trouble” when the pair ditch their wives and head down to the clubhouse “to watch the boys while they dress" and partake in the "excitement on the bench up to game time."

“[Babe] Ruth is going to shoot us or want a couple of baseball britches to be down there with us,” he wrote. “I am afraid Ruth will have to be content in meeting the boys on the train or in the diner."

The letter is up for auction at SCP Auctions, with a starting big of $50,000.

“This transcendent letter lays bare Gehrig’s humanity and mortality,” the Laguna Niguel, Calif-basedauctioneer’s website reads.

"The letter is a unique window into the private battle for survival that Gehrig entered for the last two years of his life, a battle that was carefully hidden from the public. In the face of dire circumstances, Gehrig’s letter also shows his unfailing character, including humor, generosity and his appreciation and gratitude for others. It is no wonder that when the All Century Baseball Team was chosen in 1999, 60 years after this letter was written, Lou Gehrig received more votes than anyone.”