Last Ride of the Iron Horse Book Review

The Last Ride of the Iron Horse is subtitled “How Lou Gehrig Fought ALS to Play One Final Championship Season” and the author, Dan Joseph, used radio broadcasts, newspaper stories, and rare film footage to share the story of Lou Gehrig’s difficult and final year in the New York Yankees’ lineup. Baseball Almanac loved it, enjoying how brief and well-researched it was, TRULY enjoying the telegram-style game recaps, but what happened when we gave it to Shaq, a baseball book expert…

Last Ride of the Iron Horse

RICK “SHAQ” GOLDSTEIN SAYS: THERE’S NOT MUCH NEW TO WRITE ABOUT LOU GEHRIG

Hall of Fame New York Yankee Lou Gehrig… was perhaps the greatest first baseman in baseball history. His exploits as a ballplayer… and just as importantly his personal character on and off the field is legendary and will live on in the annals of baseball history and humanity.

So much has been written about him in the seventy-eight years since his passing… and even a movie starring Gary Cooper as Lou… was released after his death and won an academy award.

Synonymous with Lou’s home-runs … hits… batting average… fielding… championships… and all around good citizenship… was his quick… and unfortunately losing… battle… with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Due to Lou’s popularity… and the attention his affliction brought to this horrid disease… it is known more commonly to everyday people as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”.

With all the multitude of books written over the decades about the legend… “Larrupin’ Lou” (“after a nineteenth-century verb that means “to beat or thrash””)… along with a Hollywood movie… and ESPN Lou Gehrig Baseball Cardspecials… there really isn’t much virginal literary ground when it comes to Gehrig. What the author’s game plan was… was to highlight Gehrig’s last complete season… 1938… before the disease made him end his consecutive game streak (since broken by Cal Ripken, Jr.)… end his career… and fight a short battle against his demise.

The crux of the storytelling… is how Gehrig had his worst season ever… and trying to reverse engineer what comes across as trying to create 20/20 vision as to his demise and athletic regression with quotes from teammates and opponents… decades upon decades later… as if they knew what was happening in 1938.

Amazingly… what was Gehrig’s worst season… was easily a season… that ninety-per-cent of big leaguers would probably have demanded a salary increase for the next season… if they had a season such as Lou’s. Gehrig’s 1938 stats included a 295 batting average… 29 home runs… 114 RBI’s… 115 runs scored…170 hits… 32 doubles… 6 triples… and 107 walks.

The trouble I found with the writing style… was that game… after game… after game… of the 1938 season… is reviewed as if from an old Western Union teletype in the days when that’s how they transmitted baseball scores and activity. A myriad of games all describing the weakness of Lou’s bat… the stranding of base runners… comments about loss of strength with promises of improvement… and of course the ubiquitous “looking back” with unimpeachable clarity thirty to seventy years later. The flow becomes flat in stretches.

No Gehrig book would be complete without his 4th of July “Luckiest Man Speech”… and an additional extremely touching scene… is with Lou sitting in the dugout the following day as a non-participant… Lou was overhead during the following scenario….

JOE GORDON WAS TEARING AROUND SECOND BASE AND GEHRIG SAID, ‘IF I WERE ONLY IN THAT BOY’S SHAPE I’D BE GLAD TO PLAY FOR NOTHING.’”

Of course the story ends sadly… because how could it not? Surprising is how poorly the Yankees treated one of the greatest players and Yankees of all-time… along with being a man of unimpeachable character… after he retired following the 1939 season… they literally told him they had no use for him and didn’t even offer him a meaningless title and salary… after seventeen years with the team!

NOTES: 1) This is a paperback book. 2) Not counting notes and index it is 179 pages long. 3) Ten of those pages are non-glossy black and white photos.

Amazon: Last Ride of the Iron Horse

Reviewer: Rick “Shaq” Goldstein

Three Stars

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