In 1932, Gehrig finally overcame his inordinate shyness and began to court Eleanor Grace Twitchell. In many ways she was his opposite, a party-goer, a drinker, a serious poker player, and a serious drinker. She was to have a profound influence on his career. She stuck by him when he was sick and worked toward a cure for ALS. Eleanor interpreted her role as Gehrig's "manager, agent, and promoter" to the extent that she introduced herself as Mrs. Lou Gehrig. This was not subservient; rather, it was an effort to ensure that his name stayed in the public's eye in every instance. She was successful, for example, in convincing Gehrig to park his car near the main entrance to Yankee Stadium and sign autographs. In 1934, Gehrig was the first athlete to appear on a Wheaties box.
Gehrig began to lose strength in 1938, when he was not quite 35 years old. He was chosen for the All-Star game primarily on sentiment. He was now trying to get hits, not homeruns. By July reporters began to notice a difference, yet in August, when the Yankees played an astounding 36 games in 31 days, Gehrig raised his average to over .300 through sheer force of will and hard work. Over the course of the season, he ordered ever lighter bats, dropping from 37 ounces to 33.5 trying to compensate for slower and weaker hands. His first customized bat in 1924 had weighed an incredible 40 ounces!
In Detroit on May 2, 1939, Gehrig took himself out of the lineup, and Babe Dahlgren took his place after 2,130 games. The Iron Horse knew he was nearly finished as a player, and he was not willing to hurt the team. He played only one more game, on June 12, against the Yankee's AA Kansas City farm team. He played three innings, made 2 errors and was knocked down by a line drive into his glove. He was truly finished. He was soon at the Mayo Clinic where after a week of tests, he learned that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Only a few people knew the extent of his illness, and the word did not get out. Throughout his debilitating illness he remained positive and, until near the end, told people, including his doctors, that he was getting better.
Jonathan Eig has revealed an honest portrait of a very human Lou Gehrig. It pulls no punches, though Gehrig was so straight arrow there were almost no punches to throw, a clear difference from so many of today's baseball stars. In the notes, Eig says, "Nothing here is invented or interpreted. I have taken no literary liberties." Luckiest Man is a great baseball biography.
Gehrig was a quiet, shy man. He believed that hard work would triumph, a belief that failed only in his battle against ALS. His courage and fortitude were never more clearly demonstrated as in the manner in which he faced death. Give Eig the last word: "ALS is a disease of weakness, but Lou Gehrig's disease is associated with strength - the strength of a stricken man who said he felt lucky."