There’s one contemporary account of Lou Gehrig’s full 1939 farewell speech. And we can’t trust it. II

The official version of Lou Gehrig’s Farewell Speech was not readily available until Gehrig’s wife – Eleanor – published her biography (with sportswriter Joseph Durso) in 1976, 37 years after Gehrig gave the speech.*

Read the speech. The language is distinctive. The rhythm of the words infectious. The effect is very moving.

Yet, given that we only have recordings of four sentences, and contemporary accounts consistently disagree on the wording of Gehrig’s statements, and don’t provide a complete catalog of what he said, and occasionally disagree even on the substance of what he said (for example, Povich said Lou Gehrig thanked Babe Ruth), why should we trust that Eleanor Gehrig got it right 37 years later?

You might reply that the popular book by author Jonathan Eig, Luckiest Man (2005), contains a version of the speech as well. According to Eig, he “pieced together” the speech from contemporary accounts. And Eig’s version is very, very similar to Eleanor Gehrig’s. So is this independent confirmation that Eleanor Gehrig basically got the wording right?

Maybe.

It is certainly true that Eig’s version is very, very similar to Eleanor Gehrig’s. There are 14 lines in Eleanor Gehrig’s version, 15 in Eig’s (Eig added a line on Bill Dickey). Of the common 14 lines, 12 are practically identical in wording, a 13th nearly so.*

Practically identical. No two newspaper accounts written by sportswriters there in the stadium that day are anywhere near as harmonious as the versions written by Eleanor Gehrig in 1976 and Jonathan Eig in 2005. This suggests that perhaps they were working from a common text.

Eig’s version varies from Eleanor Gehrig’s account most notably in the fourth line of the speech, for which Eig had audio to refer to. Presumably Eleanor Gehrig did not have access to the same recording. Eig has:

When you look around, wouldn’t you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such fine-looking men as are standing in uniform in the ballpark today? Sure, I’m lucky.

That’s basically what we can hear Gehrig say on the audio tape. Eleanor Gehrig  got it wrong in her version when she wrote:

Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky.*

What is mysterious, of course, is that they both agree that Gehrig then said, “Sure, I’m lucky.” That wasn’t on the tape. And unless some writer in 1939 recorded a complete transcript, it seems unlikely they would both have the same line, in the same place.

Yet there it is.

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