He’d gone four-for-five the day before, in an 11-4 Yankees rout of the Philadelphia Athletics. Hit is 16th home run of the season, en route to 49 for the year, to go along with 165 RBI and a .363 batting average. When a fan sent him a letter asking for a Lou Gehrig autograph on a photo, the big slugger wrote back on June 9, 1934.
John Frank of Columbus, Ohio was probably a little disappointed by that. But he knew that Lou Gehrig had read his note because not only did Gehrig address the envelope, he wrote on the back of it, in beautiful, flowing script that collectors know so well. The penmanship was of an educated man oozing grace and class.
“Dear John: I certainly appreciate your kind remarks, but unfortunately I haven’t any photos. Wishing you good luck and kindest regards, from Lou Gehrig.”
Just because he didn’t get the photo he asked for didn’t mean Mr. Frank was tossing away the envelope. It had to have been like a letter from royalty. No, he’d save it.
Teams didn’t hand out dozens of publicity photos for players to sign in 1934, so Gehrig probably wasn’t being lazy when he claimed he didn’t have one. The autograph would have to suffice.
More than 77 years later, it’s still around. The envelope bearing Gehrig’s handwriting, now encased in a holder from PSA/DNA, is one of the premier items in Collect Auctions’ latest sale. It’s one of those pieces that collectors love. Something unique touched by one of the great ones. It’s more than that, though. It’s perfect evidence of Gehrig’s stature as a fan-friendly player not above writing a note to a fan and making sure it could be read without a decoder.
Few players write like Gehrig today. Fewer still will send hand-written notes.
The current high bid just three days into the auction is $3,222. It will sell for much more.
Long before computers and before teams employed an army of public relations and security members, players wrote back. Most had been taught the value of good penmanship. It was still how most people communicated and if the letter reader couldn’t decipher it, you weren’t held in very high esteem.
That’s not the case anymore.
Two years after that, Lou Gehrig would be dead.
The disease that took his life at a relatively young age made him an icon; never growing old enough to be jaded or annoyed by fans.
From auction catalogs and private collections, we know he wrote other notes just like this one. It wasn’t that someone caught him on a good day. Little did he know that a simple note would still be of great interest to his fans in the next century, even though they’d never seen him play.
He also never knew that the five minute commitment to answer a fellow human being in a professional and courteous manner could serve as a pretty effective teaching tool. Gehrig autographs today are treasured–even if they don’t contain a great inscription.