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

How closely did Jonathan Eig follow Rosaleen Doherty’s 1939 transcript of Lou Gehrig’s speech (aside from that tell-tale fourth line that could be directly corrected by reference to newsreel footage)?

Judge for yourself. Here is Eig’s version of the speech. And here is Rosaleen Doherty’s version, stripped of editorial comments about Lou Gehrig wiping his brow and the roar of the crowd.

Now, obviously, this isn’t plagiarism. Doherty was capturing the words of a public speech. Eig wanted to present his readers with that speech. And there the speech was, in its entirety (except for that fourth line, which Eig revised to fit with the newsreel footage).

If we take with a grain of salt any claims about the current record of Lou Gehrig’s Farewell Speech being “pieced” together in “snippets” from “various” sources, then we more clearly see that Rosaleen Doherty is an unsung historical hero.

Other contemporary observers didn’t even come close to capturing the fullness of the words we now associate with Lou Gehrig’s Farewell Speech.

Rosaleen Doherty’s version remains the only complete, contemporary source for Lou Gehrig’s speech that day. And without Doherty’s account, whatever it’s provenance or accuracy, the words we recognize as constituting the greatest speech in sports history might well have been confined forever to the dustbin of history.*

She deserves a little more acknowledgement.

There.

Now let’s get back to the problem. Doherty’s version is the only complete version that emerged from that day. It is almost too complete, too perfect, to reflect the mad scribblings of a reporter, soaking in this incredibly powerful moment, working from a stadium chair, listening – without audio recording equipment – over an echoing public address system that made the word “break” sound like “brag” (listen to the audio yourself).

Doherty’s account is entirely – in its completeness and sensitivity to phrasing – unlike any of the other contemporary accounts. This is THE contemporary source for Lou Gehrig’s Farewell Speech – for Jonathan Eig certainly (though he may have been trying to obscure this fact), and maybe even for Eleanor Gehrig and Joseph Durso in 1976.

And Doherty’s account is problematic. Let’s not forget that it contains an obviously erroneous line, the tell-tale fourth line that reflects what the Gehrigs may have planned to say that day, but that Lou Gehrig did not in fact say. Put another way: if Doherty didn’t know exactly what Gehrig said that day, then Eig doesn’t know either.

If Eleanor Gehrig allowed Rosaleen Doherty to copy the script that Eleanor and Lou Gehrig prepared the night before, then Doherty’s version would certainly reflect what the Gehrigs meant to say that day.

What we know: Doherty (and thus Eig) don’t have a fully accurate record of what Lou Gehrig actually said that day.

What we don’t know: How the words came out; what phrases Lou Gehrig garbled, or forgot entirely; which extemporaneous phrases might have come out of his mouth as he looked out over that field and packed stadium; which words were actually said during the greatest speech in sports history.

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