Lou Gehrig is one of the most wrote-about baseball players in history. Like most people, I knew the general details of his life and career: poor kid born in Manhattan, star first baseman for the Yankees, tragic death due to ALS.
This week I read a recently published book called Lou Gehrig: The Lost Memoir, which is a unique read because half of the book is penned by Gehrig himself. During the legendary 1927 season, he wrote a series of articles that were only partially published. The author of The Lost Memoir stumbled upon the rest of these articles, included them in the book as well as wrote a biographical essay of Gehrig’s life and career. Also included at the end of the book were Lou’s nine tips on how to watch a baseball game. They were published in an article titled “Meet Lou Gehrig” in the Detroit Free Press on June 2, 1940 — the year after Lou was forced into retirement and a year, to the day, before his sad death.
1. To properly enjoy the game, you should have a thorough knowledge of the playing rules, which can be bought in almost any book or sporting goods store.
This tip can apply to any sporting event. But instead of the entire rule book, can I just get the sparknotes version?
2. Always follow the ball. I remember a game my wife and I were watching in Detroit. There was a man on second base with two out. The ball was hit to the outfield. Instead of following it, many of the fans, my wife included, were watching the runner on second, who had left to try and make home. But the man who had hit the ball — I think it was Goose Goslin — was trying to make second. The ball was thrown to second base, and had he been put out, the run would not have counted. By following the base runner instead of the ball, many of the fans missed the play.
This is the greatest benefit of watching a baseball game in person versus on TV. You have the ability to see the entire field of action, assuming you have a firm grasp on tip number one.
When you’re at the game and a ball is hit to the gap with a runner is on first, you can shift your eyes back-and-forth from the outfield to the base runner to judge if he’s going to be sent home. On TV, you just have to wonder until the camera shows it or the announcer mentions it.
I figured Lou would also mention watching the outfielder to judge if a fly ball was going to be caught or not, but back in the ’20s-30s, you had to shoot the ball out of a cannon to get it out of most parks.
3. You can enjoy the game more if you try to put yourself in the position of one of the players on the field or one of the managers of either team.
I know a few thousand couch managers and twitter players that do this.
4. When there is an exciting moment on the diamond — for example, two men out and two on base — try to visualize all the possibilities of the situation while waiting for the pitcher to deliver the ball.
Sadly, this is something that is becoming less and less prevalent in the game today. While the numerous possibilities still exist, only a few — home run, walk, or strikeout — seem to happen now.
5. When a new batter comes to the plate, it’s interesting to notice how the outfield and infield shift to play them. You can then tell what sort of batter he is.
It is now more rare for a team not to shift on a hitter. In the book, Lou talks about how Babe would love laying down a bunt on a shifted infield. Gehrig said he got as big of a kick out of fooling the opposition with a good bunt as he did a blast to the right-field bleachers.
6. It’s interesting to notice the different attitude of players during a hot game. Some are excited, some very cool, and others seem to be half asleep. But most of the time, those who seem to be sleeping certainly fool you when the play starts.
By “hot game” I believe Gehrig means important game.
7. Keep up on your baseball news in the newspapers and on the radio. You’ll get more kick out of the game if you know the past performances of the various players.
8. When the umpire makes a decision, you may think him wrong. But, remember, he is well grounded in the rules of play. Keep in mind that in an argument between players and the umpire, the umpire is usually right. The player is prejudiced by his desire to win.
I found this one funny. One thing you’ll notice from the book is that Gehrig was unbelievably humble (almost laughably humble). I don’t know many players today who would include this tips in their list of nine. These tips are also so wholesome, which seemed to be Gehrig’s personality.
9. Don’t be misled by the shouts and opinions of other spectators. Sometimes, from the shouts around you, it seems as if everything on the field is a mistake. It usually isn’t. The cry you most often hear is “Balk.” You hear it perhaps a hundred times, and during that time, the pitcher makes, perhaps, one balk.
In his articles, Gehrig alluded to the game within the game frequently. This included running feuds and ribbing among players, as well as the role fans played in the game. Baseball back in the day was a more intimate event. Because games were always played in the afternoon, midweek games would often have only a few thousand people in the stands. It allowed them to play a different role in the action.
Lou’s whole life was baseball. After he was unable to play, he was offered jobs to commentate on the game, but he was not up for the task. That did not stop him from occasionally attending a game (he would sit in the Yankees’ dugout) and following the box scores. He also gave a few interviews in 1940 and ’41 about baseball, including the “Meet Lou Gehrig” article that included these tips.