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Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man

This week -- as shouts of Plaaaaay ball! echo across North America -- is the perfect time to introduce a new picture book from David A. Adler. A "must-have" for school libraries, Adler's compelling story of a Yankee legend will appeal to all readers -- boys and girls, young and old. A great tool for teaching compassion and good citizenship!

Lou GehrigPlaaaaay ball!

This week -- as those words echo in ballparks across the land -- is a great time to take a look back in time.

The year is 1903:

"1903 was a year of great beginnings. Henry Ford sold his first automobile and the Wright Brothers made the first successful flight in an airplane. In baseball, the first World Series was played. The team later known as the Yankees moved from Baltimore to New York. And on June 19, 1903, Henry Louis Gehrig was born. He would become one of the greatest players in baseball history."

So begins Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man, a new biography from the pen of David A. Adler (and the presses of Gulliver Books/Harcourt Brace). Adler's book tells the inspirational story of one of the greatest ballplayers of all time. It's the stuff from which movies are made!

Indeed, Gehrig's story did make it to the big screen in Pride of the Yankees, which starred Gary Cooper.

Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man is a great teaching tool too! It's a quick read that will inspire a lively discussion about American heroes. What is it about Gehrig that makes him a hero? Words such as stick-to-itiveness, compassion, and bravery will head your students' lists.


Adler, award-winning author of more than 100 books for children, has exposed his lifelong love of the Yankees and of one the team's greatest players in this new, heartfelt biography. For anyone who knows the Gehrig story, Adler's title might seem a contradiction, a misnomer.

Gehrig died in 1941 at the age of 37 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a disease that attacks the central nervous system. Today the disease is often referred to as ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease.

But even the saddest moments in Adler's book are inspiring because of the way Gehrig handled them. He never complained. He spoke instead of his many blessings -- his fans, his family, his teammates. It is Gehrig's emotion-packed words to his fans -- in a speech given at Yankee Stadium on Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day, July 4, 1939 -- that provided the inspiration for the seemingly ironic title to Adler's book:

"Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got," Gehrig told the crowd. "Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

Just as Gehrig didn't dwell on the disease that would take his young life, neither does Adler. Few details of Gehrig's disease are needed here, and few are provided. Instead, Adler focuses on the upbeat side of this American icon's life. Among the important lessons to be learned from Gehrig's life is the lesson of stick-to-itiveness. Readers learn that Gehrig never missed a day of grade school. His life on the baseball diamond would mirror those early days. Gehrig set a record for on-the-field stamina. He didn't miss a game in 14 years! He played a record 2,130 games in a Yankee uniform, a record that stood until Cal Ripken broke it on September 6, 1995. And Gehrig's Yankee uniform, Number Four, has never been worn again since it was "retired" in tribute to the man the world called "Iron Horse."

Readers will learn some of the other details of Gehrig's life:

  • Upon graduation from high school, Gehrig enrolled at Columbia University. He played on Columbia's baseball team, where a Yankee scout saw him. Lou's family needed the money, so he quit college and joined the Yankees -- a move that made his mother furious: "She was convinced that he was ruining his life."
  • In 1927, Gehrig's teammate Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs. But it was Gehrig who won the American League's Most Valuable Player award that year!

But the true beauty of Adler's words isn't in the details of Gehrig's career. It's in the way they convey an image of Gehrig as he was. A shy and modest man an everyday kind of guy. That's the lasting impression of Adler's words.


Stunning acrylic images by Terry Widener bring the story of Lou Gehrig to life. Created in the style of the era, mirroring the rounded lines of WPA art, Widener's illustrations convey the heroic proportions of the man and the game. He vividly captures life on the streets of the Yorkville section of New York City, Gehrig's boyhood home. And he captures the energy and the versatility of Gehrig on the field. But it's the emotional scenes toward the end of Gehrig's story that are packed with real power. Widener conveys the emotion of the moment as Gehrig walks to the microphone on Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day, his Number Four dwarfed by a stadium full of cheering fans. Tears fill Gehrig's eyes as he addresses the crowd. A hug from Babe Ruth concludes Gehrig's memorable speech.

Gehrig died at age 37 on June 2, 1941. On June 4, the day of Gehrig's funeral, it rained. The Yankees game was canceled that day -- a fitting tribute to one of its greatest players. The last of Widener's illustrations -- a lone baseball, pelted by raindrops, against a field of grass -- offers a simple, silent, and powerful conclusion.

Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man is available at bookstores everywhere. If you are unable to locate a copy, ask your local bookseller to order one for you. Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man is written by David A. Adler and illustrated by Terry Widener. The book is published by Gulliver Books, a registered trademark of Harcourt Brace & Company, 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, FL 32887-6777.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 1998 Education World


More on the Web:

Lou "The Iron Horse" Gehrig
"Frank Graham of the New York Sun memorialized Lou Gehrig's first appearance in Yankee Stadium. During batting practice Gehrig unknowingly picked up Babe Ruth's bat and missed on his first two swings before bouncing one over second base. The next time up he hit one into the same distant zone where only Ruth had hit them.Then he hit three more into the same territory, while the rest of the team looked on, speechless." So starts the text from this site produced by CMG Worldwide, the marketing agency. Included are quotes, trivia, and a photo gallery.