They called him the Iron Horse …the Pride of the Yankees in their golden years. But when baseball great Lou Gehrig came to Mayo Clinic 75 years ago this month, he gave his name to an illness called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Since then, around the world, ALS has been known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease.” Today, Mayo Clinic is on the forefront of innovative research to advance medical understanding of the condition.
A native of New York City, Gehrig signed with the Yankees in 1923 and set several major league records in his career including most grand slam home runs and the milestone for which he is most remembered, the longest streak of consecutive play – 2,130 games – which stood until 1995. Gehrig’s diagnosis cut short that remarkable career.
Gehrig found comfort in the care that Mayo Clinic provided during the course of several medical visits that summer. The staff of the Kahler Hotel baked a cake for his 36th birthday on June 19. He attended ball games and conducted baseball clinics and demonstrations for local youth teams. He befriended many people at Mayo, especially Paul O’Leary, M.D., who became a close and highly respected friend for the rest of Gehrig’s life. In his biography Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig (Simon & Schuster, 2005), Jonathan Eig wrote:
Gehrig wrapped himself in the blanket of Rochester’s innocent charm. Away from the big-city reporters and expectant teammates, away from his anxious wife and parents, he unwound completely. … As he grew accustomed to the fact that he would never play again for the Yankees, Gehrig began to treat the Mayo Clinic as if it were his new team. He wrote letters to his doctors in Rochester, thanking them for their time and attention, and vowing to follow their advice throughout his treatment. Over and over, he expressed his gratitude. …he appreciated the personal attention he’d received in Rochester – from doctors, from hotel workers, from neighborhood kids, even from the local press. Gehrig had never been so coddled and so warmly embraced in all his life as he had been during his week of exams at the clinic.
Click here to learn more about Lou Gehrig, and listen to an interview with Lou Gehrig on radio station KROC during his first visit to Rochester in June 1939.