It had been three months to the day since he walked into the Mayo Clinic. On September 13, 1939 Lou Gehrig sat down at his Larchmont, NY home and updated one of his newest friends on his health in a letter that would arrive in the final days of baseball’s regular season. Dr. Paul O’Leary knew the outlook wasn’t good but he was determined to see the famous and beloved player through as best he could.
O’Leary was hoping to get out of Rochester, MN for a while, visit his famous patient and catch some World Series games since it had become obvious the Yankees were again the class of the American League. Gehrig was happy to oblige and the object of his letter was two-fold: to update the doctor on his condition and confirm the offer of VIP treatment.
“Please send me a wire so that we may meet you at the train on the afternoon or evening of October 3rd,” Gehrig writes.
The two men had formed a bond over Gehrig’s illness. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis was not a good diagnosis. Ever the optimist and not wanting to burden anyone with his troubles, Gehrig was upbeat.
“I definitely feel the Thiamin injections are working nothing short of miracles,” he wrote of his treatment.
His doctor was employed by the nation’s best medical organization and Gehrig would follow O’Leary’s prescribed treatments to the letter.
“I frankly assure you that I haven’t even had ONE beer,” he joked.
The Iron Horse’s playing days had abruptly ended on April 30 and after his shocking diagnosis, the team rushed to celebrate his career in the now famous Lou Gehrig Day on July 4. It seemed like a funeral and in a sense it was, even though Gehrig was there and in uniform, now relegated to non-playing ‘captain’ status. Gehrig knew his career was over but between that summer and his death in 1941, he either hid the seriousness of his illness well or was never informed of its eventual conclusion.
Afterward, though, Gehrig tried to abide by doctor’s orders and went about living his life as best he could without baseball. His correspondence with O’Leary was frequent but this letter from a dying, yet remarkably positive hero is scheduled to be offered by SCP Auctions beginning April 30 on the 75th anniversary of Gehrig’s final game. Bidding will open at $50,000.
“We are of the opinion that this letter is clearly among the most significant Gehrig pieces ever offered and that it is and will probably remain the most coveted and significant letter in sport,” stated SCP Auctions’ President David Kohler.
The three-page letter is typewritten on Gehrig’s personal letterhead and he signs it with his first name, a revelation of the comfort level he felt with O’Leary (read the letter below). The signature has been authenticated by PSA/DNA and James Spence.
The October visit resulted in one of the most famous photos taken during the World Series of 1939. It shows a laughing Gehrig sitting in the dugout with O’Leary standing next to him as the Iron Horse signs an autograph for a face that looks familiar. The signature seeker is none other than a young Frank Sinatra. The photo is included with the auction letter, which remains virtually untouched since the day O’Leary filed it in his personal correspondence papers.
Bidding will close May 17 at SCPAuctions.com.