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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Lou Gehrig in Japan

I'm writing this on July 1, 2011 - Canada Day. Which is why it seems strange that today's blog involves a New York Yankee. But... I love baseball. I actually love hockey more (especially my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs - I bleed blue & white!), as such I thought I would write about baseball rather than be accused of being a maple-sucking, puck-slapping Canucklehead. Besides... I have to tie this in with Japan, don't I?   

Everyone knows who Lou Gehrig is, right? The fantastic New York Yankee baseball player from 1923-1939 nicknamed the Iron Horse because he never missed a game, playing in an astounding 2,130 straight. He also had the unfortunate luck to die from an illness that bore his name. I mean, what are the odds of that?

What? Too soon? Okay... he died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease). But before he died, on June 21, 1939, the Yankees feted him on July 4, proclaiming the U.S. Independence Day to be Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day. They made THE U.S. holiday in 1939 a day to honor Gehrig! That's how beloved he was!

The speech given between a Washington Senators doubleheader at Yankee Stadium can be read below in its entirety. You just have to say it out loud and pretend you are in a massive stadium with your words echoing after you say them. It still brings chills down my spine. I've provided  link to the original Movietone News footage - click on the speech. But the entire speech is presented here for your perusal.

So what does Lou Gehrig have to do with Japan - It's A Wonderful Rife? Well, considering he thought he was a lucky man even though he was dying - that's not it. Actually, up for auction is a 1934 Lou Gehrig baseball uniform that he wore while the U.S. Major League Baseball all-stars toured Japan to play some ball!

Front and back images are here to see within this blog.

Expected to bring some (US/Cdn) $300,000 for the beautiful uniform, it's up for auction on Thursday, August 4 as part of Heritage Auction's Signature Sports Collectibles Platinum Auction, taking place in conjunction with the Chicago National Sports Show in Rosemont, Il.

Chris Ivy, the director of Heritage Sports Collectibles says: "There are dozens of pieces in this auction that would, individually, be the lead lot on their own in any other auction. Needless to say, it's an issue that we're happy to have. This is easily one of the finest groupings of material that the hobby has ever seen."

The 1934 Gehrig Tour of Japan uniform represents what is unquestionably the most significant hobby find of the young decade. It also ends a widely debated mystery regarding one of baseball's most noteworthy foreign excursions. Only a tiny handful of uniforms from this famous trip have been unearthed in the 75 years since Gehrig, Babe (George Hermann) Ruth, Jimmie Foxx and about a dozen other American players steamed back from Japan, with the Babe's uniform commanding more than $750,000 in a 2005 auction — the highest price ever paid at auction for an exhibition baseball uniform.

According to Ivy, it really wasn't that difficult to track down the Gehrig uniform, much to the chagrin of collectors everywhere, saying that it was a "simple telephone call from the son of a serious ex-girlfriend of Gehrig's, who almost became Mrs. Gehrig before Eleanor (Gehrig's eventual wife) took the job."

Despite the fractured romance, this ex remained close with Gehrig and his family, a bond that survived past Gehrig's tragic 1941 death and until Lou's mother herself passed away in the 1950s. The special friendship is documented in Christina Gehrig's (Lou's mom) will, which provided for a college fund for the consignor and stipulated that a portion of her famous son's belongings be left to the ex-girlfriend of Lou.

Man... regular readers of this blog will already note that there is no way in hell I want any of my ex-girlfriends to get anything of mine when I die of Andrew Joseph's Disease (also known as Extreme Poor Taste).

What? Not soon enough?

Anyhow, since the 1950's, this uniform, and the four other pieces in The Lou Gehrig Collection in this auction, resided in the familial home of Gehrig's ex, its residents largely unaware of the historic and monetary value stored in the attic.

How do you not know that the baseball uniforms of one of the most beloved New York Yankees and one of the greatest ever baseball players might be worth a few bucks? Do these people not own a television or read a newspaper? Heck... even if you only get your news from The Daily Show or the Colbert Report, you'd still know that these uniforms either belong in Cooperstown (baseball's hall of fame), or could net you a enough money to buy yourself a new television - with digital cable!

Somewhere waiting for my number to be retired,
Andrew Joseph

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