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

Sadly, Eleanor Gehrig is long since passed-away (as is her co-writer Joseph Durso). We will never know how, in 1976, they recreated Lou Gehrig’s Farewell Speech of July 4, 1939. Perhaps Eleanor Gehrig simply saved a copy of the script she and her husband wrote before he spoke. E. Gehrig and Durso might have used that as the basis of the speech that appears in their book.

One note about the speech that appears in E. Gehrig’s book – she gets the fourth line wrong. She claims Gehrig said:

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?

Surviving newsreel footage of the day records Lou Gehrig saying something more like:

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?

It is a (seemingly) minor error.

We can ask more questions of the version of the speech reproduced by modern Gehrig biographer Jonathan Eig. Of special interest is his claim about “piecing together the snippets I found in newspaper reports.”

Consider this: if you look at newspaper reports of the day, you see that there was little agreement among contemporaries about what Gehrig said, and no agreement about how he said it.

How did Eig (writing in 2005) wind up using nearly identical phrases as Eleanor Gehrig (writing in 1976)?

The simple answer, I believe, is that Eig found a remarkable article published on July 5, 1939 by a Daily News reporter name Rosaleen Doherty. Doherty, normally a society-pages reporter, sat with (and interviewed) Eleanor Gehrig in the private stadium suite where they watched the game that day. And Doherty somehow emerged from that afternoon with what we now believe is a complete transcript of the speech. Doherty’s version has all those odd little phrases that appeared both in Eleanor Gehrig’s 1976 and Eig’s 2005 versions of the speech.

How did Doherty capture the whole speech, including all those unusual phrases?

Who knows? She passed away in 1950.

Might Eleanor Gehrig have given to Doherty the script of the speech she wrote with her husband, allowing Doherty to copy it?

If so, that raises another question. If Doherty worked from a paper script handed her by Lou Gehrig’s wife, does that mean Doherty didn’t actually capture what Gehrig said in front of the crowd at Yankee Stadium?

Well, we know of the four recorded lines of text in Lou Gehrig’s speech that the tell-tale fourth line of the speech is very different from the version Doherty produced. And that this same fourth line is also incorrect in Eleanor Gehrig’s official 1976 version (Eig used the newsreel footage to ensure his version got the fourth line right).

What other discrepancies exist between Doherty’s version and the speech Gehrig delivered on the field? We may never know.

But let’s get back to Eig.

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