“Lou Gehrig: The Lost Memoir,” by historian Alan D. Gaff, includes a collection of first-person syndicated newspaper columns by the Yankees legend himself. This is an excerpt.
The so-called “home run derby” of 1927 is over.
The winner is Babe Ruth. And no one is happier than myself.
During the season, the newspapers have been more than kind to me. They have compared me to the Babe; they have called me the “new home run king”; they have given me the kindliest sort of criticism.
For which I am grateful — but — and this is honest — I never expected to beat the Babe in honors, and I never expected to break that 1921 record. After all is said and done, there is just one Babe. He stands alone and incomparable. He is the greatest slugger of all time, and in my humble opinion, there will never be another like him.
Unless he breaks it himself, I believe that the 1921 record of fifty-nine home runs in a season will stand forever. I hope it does.*
I owe much to the Babe. He has advised me and taught me and helped me more than I can tell. At times during the season, when I was leading him in home runs, the opinion prevailed that there was a feud between Babe and myself. Nothing could be further from the truth. When I would hit one, Babe would be the first to congratulate me.
In private and in public, he has always been my best booster.
And I really believe he is as delighted when I succeed in breaking a record or establishing a new mark as I am myself. There is nothing small, nothing selfish about the Babe.
And now a word about home run hitting. If the ball goes in the bleachers, well and good. If it goes for a single that scores a run, better still. I am proud of my record for driving in runs. I think I have a right to be. And if I live to be ninety and play baseball every day of that time, I will still get a thrill when I pound out a hit that sends a run over the plate.
But I am not a rival of the Babe. To consider myself one would be presumptuous. There is only one Babe Ruth, and never before has there been a player who could hit a ball as far or as frequently. He stands alone.
And don’t forget this.
Babe Ruth is something else besides a home run hitter. He is a great ballplayer. Babe would rather see the Yankees win a ball game than to hit five home runs and lose. If a situation arises which demands a sacrifice, the Babe will do it willingly and gladly. Many times I’ve seen him go up there and shorten his stride and cut his swing in a frank effort to hit the ball just over the infield. I’ve seen him take strikes right through the middle, in order that a steal might be put over or a play made that would help win the ball game.
Does that sound like he was out for home runs, without regard to team welfare or team play?
Not by a long shot, it doesn’t. And he isn’t.
He hits home runs because he is a great hitter. When he gets hold of one, it just naturally sails out of the park.
Some folks think the Babe can do nothing else but hit. That’s a laugh. He’s a great ballplayer in every sense. He can throw, he can run, he can field. There is no smarter player in the game — no player with keener baseball instinct or better baseball judgment.
To talk of me, or anyone else, rivaling the Babe is to laugh. All I hope to do is just the best I can. If I have a good year and hit a lot of homers, I’m happy. But if I don’t, it’s quite all right.
So far as I am concerned, the Babe’s record is safe. He is the greatest of the great — and I honestly believe that the only man who ever has a chance of breaking his record is Babe Ruth himself.
(*Editor’s note: Two days after this was written Ruth hit home runs No. 58 and 59, and the day after he hit his 60th of the 1927 season, a record that stood for 33 years.)
I am proud to be a big league ballplayer and proud to associate with the men who make professional baseball. I believe that baseball is a real profession, worthy of the best that any man can give. In my experience as a ballplayer, I have found nothing to be ashamed of, nothing that was not within the bounds of good judgment and good sportsmanship.
I gave up college to take up baseball — and I do not consider my efforts wasted. I’m glad I attended college, and I’m proud to be known as a college man. But I don’t subscribe to the old-fashioned idea that a college man belittles himself when he goes in for a career of college athletics. I don’t believe I would have met a finer group of men anywhere than I have met in baseball. Nor a squarer, fairer lot of men, either.
Of course, I am just a kid at the game, and I realize it. I still have much to learn, and I hope I still have many years in which to learn it. But this I do know, that baseball is today and will be the greatest game in the world.
And if I ever get married and have any sons who show promise of real baseball ability, I can only hope that professional baseball will offer them as much as it has offered me, and treat them as kindly.
As for the years that lie ahead, I can only hope for the best. If I succeed or if I fall, if I’m a star or a flop, there can at least be this said: I’ll give the best I have, play the best I can, do the best I can. And that, I think, is the spirit of every man in professional baseball today.
It has been my good fortune to break into the game at a time when some of the greatest of all stars were playing. There will never be another Babe Ruth. He stands alone and incomparable.
And I doubt if there will ever be another Ty Cobb.
But there will always be great ballplayers so long as kids can find sandlots on which to mark off a diamond; and baseball can never grow less honorable so long as those same kids look to the big league stars as their heroes.
When I came into baseball, I was a green kid who knew nothing about the game.
Older men befriended me and helped me and advised me. I will never forget their kindness. And perhaps someday I’ll have a chance to repay them by passing that same advice and that same aid on to youngsters who come along while I am a regular.
I hope I may be able to do just that.
From “Lou Gehrig: The Lost Memoir” by Alan D. Gaff. Copyright © 2020 by Alan Gaff. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.
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