Who says dogs are “pack animals?”

Well, there’s always this guy. And many laypeople believe that dogs are pack animals. The logic goes like this:

  1. wolves are pack animals;
  2. dogs descended from wolves; thus
  3. dogs are pack animals (with maybe a bit of their wolf-ish tendencies bred out of them by generations of domestication).

But, uh…

Wolves aren’t really pack animals. The concept of the wolf-pack suggests that wolves come together to patrol a certain territory, compete for their place in a rigid hierarchy, and are ruled over by an “alpha wolf.” Recent research repeatedly shows that wolves in the wild do not live in these sorts of packs at all, but instead live in extended family units (where the “alphas” are just the parents). One leader in the study of wolves now calls the very notion of an alpha wolf “outmoded” and “outdated”.*

Dogs did not descend from wolves. It is a popular notion that dogs descended from wolves, but it is not supported by genetic research. Dogs and wolves share a common ancestor, but dogs and wolves are two different species that split from that common ancestor a long time ago like 30,000 years ago. Saying that dogs descended from wolves is about as accurate as saying chimpanzees descended from humans.

Dogs are not pack animals. Dogs – observed living wild in cities and the country-sidedon’t assemble into packs. They tend to form small groups (2-3 dogs) that come together easily and last for very short periods of time, with no clear leader or hierarchy.

In ideal situations, dogs are family animals. They are very good at picking up delicate clues about behavior, modifying their actions based on what is happening in the family around them, learning norms (like house-training), figuring out boundaries (I can lick the forks in the dishwasher when there are people in the kitchen, but if I want to grab raw hamburger off the counter I need to do that when people are not around), and tolerating the occasional clumsy violation of personal space by humans – especially children.

These domestic situations all require subtle reads and an elastic sense of social order. A rigid pack hierarchy, as imagined in early wolf studies, wouldn’t help you here. What we imagine as normal pack behavior – snarling and snapping at a smaller pack member (like, say, a toddler) who starts eating your dog-food – might well get a domestic dog euthanized.

The point is that the “dogs as pack animals” mumpsimus is worse than inaccurate. It threatens to blind us to the astuteness and flexibility that makes domestic dogs so wonderful.

* Wolf packs do exist in zoos, like prison gangs exist in penitentiaries. But  to say that wolves are “pack animals” is like saying that all humans outside of prisons sort themselves into violent gangs and compete over control of drug trafficking. Not always untrue, but it wouldn’t help you understand how to navigate your way through normal life in, say, Bethesda, Maryland.
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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.


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

So what do we make of this mystery? We have two, nearly identical versions of a speech, one version published in 1976, the other in 2005. The first version claims a sort of personal authority – Eleanor Gehrig said she helped Lou Gehrig write his speech, and perhaps she held on to the script they developed together.* For the second version, Jonathan Eig claims that he “pieced together as much of the speech as I could from newspaper accounts of the day.”

* Though we know Lou Gehrig did not bring notes with him when he addressed the crowd, and if he followed the script that would have been quite a feat for a man who was both shy about public speaking and was visibly overwhelmed with emotion almost to the point of being literally speechless.

I take Eig at his word about a contemporary source for such idiosyncratic lines as “Sure, I’m lucky” and a host of other unusual lines that are identical in both Eleanor Gehrig’s and Eig’s versions, phrases like:

  • builder of baseball’s greatest empire    
  • little fellow 
  • that smart student of psychology    
  • you can have an education and build your body    
  • been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed
  • When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles against her own daughter— that’s something.    

It really is something. Such idiosyncratic phrasing. Yet identical in both versions.

What happened here?

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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?


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

The speech that we currently think of as Lou Gehrig’s Farewell Speech is available online (this version was published in 1976 in Eleanor Gehrig and Joseph Durso’s My Luke and I). Jonathan Eig published a modified version in 2005, “by piecing together the snippets I found in newspaper reports.”

As you may know, only four sentences of Gehrig’s speech survived on film and audio. We are sure what he said in those sentences.

For the past two weeks, you’ve been reading about a bad break. Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth…

…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?…

…So I close in saying that I might have had a bad break, but I have an awful lot to live for. Thank you.

That’s it. Those are the only lines we know Gehrig said for sure.

There are many contemporary newspaper accounts of that day, July 4, 1939. They note (among other things) that Gehrig mentioned his manager and former manager, that he mentioned his Yankees roommate Bill Dickey, that he acknowledged his parents and his wife.

But these accounts don’t tell us what he said about them.

And where these accounts attempt to render complete quotes from Gehrig’s speech, they come up with formulations that don’t fit the few recorded words we do have, or don’t fit with the other quotes produced by other contemporary writers.

So for instance, Shirley Povich recorded the first lines of Gehrig’s speech this way:

For weeks, I have been reading in the newspapers that I am a fellow who got a tough break. I don’t believe it. I have been a lucky guy. For 16 years, into every ball park in which I have ever walked, I received nothing but kindness and encouragement. Mine has been a full life.

That’s pretty close to what we have in the official version, and in the recordings, but not exactly. There are some important differences. The landmark “luckiest man on the face of the earth” line somehow gets chopped down to a rather pedestrian “I have been a lucky guy.”

Gehrig notes that he’s received nothing but encouragement in ballparks, but in Povich’s version he doesn’t credit the fans with providing that encouragement.

As for whether he received a bad break, Povich has Gehrig saying “I don’t believe it.” That isn’t in the official version.

These are just the variations in one handful of sentences.

John Drebinger of the New York Times rendered those lines as

You’ve been reading about my bad break for weeks now. But today I think I am the luckiest man alive. I now feel more than ever that I have much to live for.

Also Drebinger had those lines being delivered at the end of the speech not the beginning.

There was little agreement among contemporaries about what Gehrig said and no agreement about how he said it.


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Lou Gehrig’s Terrible and Wonderful Farewell Speech, Part 2

It is perhaps the most famous speech in sports history – Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech (given to a large Yankee Stadium crowd, two weeks after he retired, on July 4, 1939). You know the line, “today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

But aside from that line, and three other sentences, we don’t know exactly what Gehrig said that day.

Only four sentences of the speech survive on tape. The official version of the speech that we have today was in fact (loosely) recreated by Gehrig’s wife, Eleanor (and, after that weekend, not published again until 1976).

Eleanor Gehrig’s version, the most commonly cited, is online at LouGehrig.com. From what little audio recording remains, we know it is not fully accurate. For instance, Gehrig actually said:

when you look around, wouldn’t you consider it…privilege…to associate yourself with such a fine…looking men, as is standing in uniform in this ballpark today

The accepted transcript renders that line (I think it’s supposed to be that line) as:

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?

It’s close, but not really.

Who knows what else was missed? And what survives in transcript that may not have been said at all?

Jonathan Eig, the author of a book on Gehrig, had this to say:

When I wrote a book on Gehrig, I pieced together as much of the speech as I could from newspaper accounts of the day.

He then proceeds with decided confidence about what was said that day:

The words are beautiful in their simplicity, and sportswriters back then tended to lay it on more thickly. It also seems unlikely that a sportswriter would have thought to thank the ushers and groundskeepers.

Here Eig is dismissing the possibility that a sportswriter helped Gehrig prepare by ghost-writing Gehrig’s farewell speech. Fair enough.

But since only four recorded sentences survive, Gehrig used no written script, and no official notes were taken, the larger issue is ghost-writing after-the-fact.

How good were the memories of the sportswriters about what they heard. Eig himself says they weren’t taking notes when Gehrig spoke:

…every photographer and writer seemed to stare and wait. Even the men in the press box stopped typing…

In the press box, where the typewriters began to clack again as soon as Gehrig finished, the power and importance of his speech registered instantly.

It is possible that the surviving transcript was made from a recording that is now gone, and would thus be more accurate. But we know the surviving transcript does not conform well to one of the four sentences we still have on audio tape. That’s a pretty big error rate.

Regardless, this was a beautiful human moment, even if we acknowledge that the speech we have today is something we need to take on faith, as a cleaned-up approximation of what Gehrig may have meant to say on that wonderful day.

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