In The New Yorker 80 years ago, Lou Gehrig was portrayed as an unsophisticate and a mama⁈⁚s boy once rumored to have gone to the movies with a ⁈Å"red-cheeked German girl who wore a bunch of flowers in her hat.⁈
Asked in the profile, written by Niven Busch and titled ⁈Å"The Little Heinie,⁈ if he would ever marry, Gehrig said, ⁈Å"My mother makes a home comfortable enough for me.⁈
His mother, Christina, Busch wrote, ⁈Å"is continually cooking for him, making apple cake, and cookies with raisins and pieces of bright red suet in them, making roasts, and frying the fish and eels he catches in the Sound.⁈
Lou caught so many eels that his mother pickled them, Busch reported. Some Yankees seemed to believe that pickled eels helped their hitting.
⁈Å"Why should Lou eat eels?⁈ one teammate apparently said to Gehrig⁈⁚s father, Heinrich, during a meal at the Gehrigs⁈⁚ residence in New Rochelle. ⁈Å"He always hits good, doesn⁈⁚t he, Mr. Gehrig?⁈
It is unimaginable that such a chaste, even fluffy, article would be written about Derek Jeter, who now shares Gehrig⁈⁚s Yankees record of 2,721 career hits. Jeter is also close to his parents, but has lived on his own for quite a while, and his active social life (parodied in a Visa ad with George Steinbrenner) is no secret. But unlike the naÃ ¯ve Gehrig, Jeter is a shrewd manager of his public image, perhaps one reason he has never been profiled by The New Yorker.
Roger Angell, who has written about baseball for decades at the magazine, and greatly admires Jeter⁈⁚s hitting, said: ⁈Å"I⁈⁚ve never heard him say an interesting word. He⁈⁚s not a guy who likes to talk. But he⁈⁚s very well liked.⁈
In the 1929 Gehrig article, Busch sets up Gehrig as something of a cipher unsuited ⁈Å"to have a public⁈ because he is not ⁈Å"stimulated or discouraged by the reactions of the crowds that watch his ponderous antics at first base for the Yankees, or cheer the hits he knocks out with startling regularity and almost legendary power.⁈
Aside from baseball, Busch wrote, Gehrig⁈⁚s main amusement is fishing and his primary associates are ⁈Å"his mother and Babe Ruth.⁈ Gehrig⁈⁚s mother ⁈Å"has exercised a good deal of care on his upbringing.⁈
Christina could not keep Lou from reacting in anger when mean old Ty Cobb repeatedly called him ⁈Å"a Wiener schnitzel⁈ and ⁈Å"thick-headed Dutch bum,⁈ Busch wrote. Gehrig got so unnerved that he charged Cobb, who eluded him, and ⁈Å"hit his head on a stanchion of the low roof and fell down stunned.⁈
Busch reappeared in the Gehrig saga in 1941 when, as a story editor for the producer Samuel Goldwyn, he suggested making a film about Gehrig. Goldwyn said a baseball movie would be ⁈Å"box-office poison,⁈ according to A. Scott Berg⁈⁚s biography of Goldwyn. Ray Robinson, a Gehrig biographer, said that Busch told him he had a projectionist show Goldwyn newsreels of Gehrig⁈⁚s ⁈Å"luckiest man⁈ speech of July 4, 1939. Goldwyn cried at hearing Gehrig⁈⁚s simple, heartbreaking oration, which guided him to produce ⁈Å"The Pride of the Yankees⁈ as a love story between Lou (Gary Cooper) and Eleanor (Teresa Wright) that would appeal to a female audience. The film was released in 1942 ⁈” the year that Busch married Wright. They divorced 10 years later.
Their son, who is also named Niven but goes by Terry, does not recall his father talking about meeting Gehrig in 1929.
⁈Å"He didn⁈⁚t tell many New Yorker tales,⁈ said Terry Busch, whose father wrote the novel ⁈Å"Duel in the Sun⁈ and co-wrote the screenplay for ⁈Å"The Postman Always Rings Twice.⁈ ⁈Å"He never talked about ⁈