Last night I turned on PBS and saw a man holding an old baseball game ticket from the 1930s. It was for game number 34, at Yankee Stadium, in the year 1939. That is a famous game because it was the double header where Lou Gerhig made his famous speech, declaring himself ‘the luckiest man on the face of the earth.’ He died just a few years later, and never played after that fateful day.
The owner of the ticket was excited, he thought he had a truly valuable piece of memorabilia. It had a hand-written date on the top of the ticket, and on the back neatly signed was the Big Guy’s signature. The TV show set out to investigate whether this was genuine, so first they went to the baseball office and dug out a book that listed every game in 1934. So far so good. Then they interviewed an old man who said he was actually at the game, explaining about the double header, and how the ceremony for Gerhig was held between games. But the signature…was it real?
Then they found a man with a laptop full of authentic Gerhig signatures. The slugger’s e’s and i’s were tiny, and there was a bit of a backward loop to the capital letters. The ticket’s signature, by contrast, had bigger e’s and leaned forward just a bit. It looked a little too neat for the Man thought the expert. It turned out that Gerhig’s wife often signed the tickets and balls for him. This one, while signed on an authentic ticket, was not an actual Lou signature, but more likely one written by his wife.
Despite this evidence, the man who owned the plexiglass-encased ticket said he’d never sell it. Because it was from one of the most important times baseball ever knew…and the experts said that they thought Gerhig actually knew he was dying from ALS when he made the poignant speech.