Former NYC Parole Commissioner 'Henry L. Gehrig'
To Be Inducted Formally Into Baseball's Hall of Fame

A profile view of the Hall of Fame Gehrig statue affords a better look at enlarged photo of an autograph signing; a poignant picture of a boy on crutches and the Iron Horse before he could no longer walk.

Above is front view of a former NYC Parole Commissioner's statue in the entrance lobby of Baseball's Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, N.Y.

'Iron Horse'
Top Headliner
in July 2013

Yes, THAT Gehrig!

After having retired from the Yankees due to illness diagnosed as ALS, the "Iron Horse" did indeed serve as a New York City Parole Commissioner, visiting the Tombs, the Rikers Island Penitentiary and the Women's House of Detention in Greenwich Village.

At those NYC DOC facilities, the famed former first baseman and team captain interviewed inmates as part of his evaluating whether they were suitable for supervised early release.

Seeking not to draw attention to himself as a celerity when functioning officially as one of the parole board's five Commissioners, he insisted on no press coverage of his correction facility visits and inmate interviews.

Also he used in all activities with the parole agency his Americanized first name (Henry, which few ever called him if they even knew it) and he turned his Americanized widely-known middle name (Louis, the basis of his nickname Lou) into its initial (L). But his amazing 17-seasons baseball career had made his family name, Gehrig, too well known for its appearance on the New York City Parole Commission's letterhead to go unnoted.

The Gehrig statue is one of three cast bronzes, by Stanley Bliefeld in 2008, that together form the striking "Character and Courage" display in the Hall of Fame entrance lobby. An accompanying wall panel explains "Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente . . . . faced personal and social obstacles with strength and dignity that set an example of character and courage for all others to follow."

Besides, Mayor LaGuardia had deliberately sought and did capture headlines by announcing Gehrig's appointment at the World's Fair in Flushing Meadow Oct. 11, 1939.

Three-quarters of a century later, the proven Gehrig capacity to generate headlines once again is being utilized; this time by Baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Here's why:

The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) members, who constitute the "electoral college" which decides what modern era former players get into the Hall of Fame, clearly sent an anti-steroids message by rejecting for induction this year such superstars as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa whose otherwise outstanding stats fall under taint of suspected performance enhancing drugs use.

However, as an unintended consequence, none of the remaining candidates for induction had on-the-field achievements of quite the same magnitude as the rejected superstars.

The lesser stars too failed to gain the 3/4th majority necessary to be awarded the honor.

The Associated Press, reporting on the Jan. 9th the Hall of Fame vote announcement, noted that Craig Biggio, 20th on the career hits list with 3,060, topped the 37 candidates with 68.2 percent of the BBWAA 569 ballots, 39 shy of election. Among other first-year eligibles, Mike Piazza received 57.8 percent and Curt Schilling 38.8.

As a result, no player was elected, However, that is hardly the first time such has happened. The years 1945, 1946, 1950, 1958, 1960 and 1971 also saw no players elected.

Among the scores of Gehrig-related items displayed in the Baseball Hall of Fame is Lou's locker, which includes his uniform and the trophy given to him by his teammates on his July 4th, 1939 farewell day. Its base features their inscribed names and a poem they commissioner John Kieran of the NY Times to write. Its closing lines read:
Let this be a silent token
Of lasting Friendship's gleam
And all we have left unspoken.

Even without a live ex-player to induct, the Hall of Fame ceremonies are still scheduled for the weekend of Sunday July 28th but with a new wrinkle.

The program will include for the first time the formal induction of former superstars who had been voted in by the writers but whose actual installation rites were put off due to wartime considerations. Among the initial such "new" inductees are only two who can be counted as real headliners: Lou Gehrig elected by BBWAA in 1939 and Rogers Hornsby, 1942.

The latter, though undoubtedly one of the greatest hitters ever in baseball history, was difficult to work with or for, which perhaps accounts both for his frequent switching to different clubs, and for his lack of any sizeable fan following. In many respects, Hornsby was the complete opposite of Gehrig in personality and popularity.

Thus has come about the situation wherein the top headliner for the Cooperstown Hall of Fame event July 28, 2013, will be the "Pride of the Yankees" who on July 4th, 1939, stepped to the microphone at Yankee Stadium home plate and uttered to the hushed fans filling every seat and every standing-room-only space his farewell to the game he loved and that loved him back:

Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

I have been in ballparks for seventeen years, and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. . . . So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.

The colorful and daring Babe -- who batted third in the lineup to Lou in the clean-up spot -- had infused the game with his Ruthian zest, verve and excitement but reliable and decent Gehrig had ennobled it with his own natural dignity, grace and character.

LaGuardia acknowledged this aspect of his appointee by explaining in his announcement the following October:

I believe he will be not only a capable, intelligent commissioner but that he will be an inspiration and a hope to many of the younger boys who have gotten into trouble.

Surely the misfortune of some of the young men will compare as something trivial with what Mr. Gehrig has so cheerfully and courageously faced. He expects to devote his life to public service.

Baseball Hall of Fame exhibits include this poster and other memorabilia from the Ruth-Gehrig off-season barnstorming tours.

On tours, they led teams in exhibition games. As per the framed photo displayed, Ruth led the "Bustin Babes;" Gehrig, the "Larupin Lous."

The unspoken issue was how much life could be expected for him, never how much devotion could be expected from him.

As usual, he gave it his all. Lou applied himself to his new career with the same perseverance, gusty grit and determination that he had applied to his former one.

To prepare himself for it, the Columbia University-educated Gehrig (he had left after his sophomore year to enter professional baseball) read a shelf load of books and reports on parole and attended commission meetings regularly even before his term formally began.

Lou expressed a firm belief in parole, properly administered, and indicated he accepted the parole post because it represented an opportunity for public service.

The poster and movie stills for the classic "The Pride of the Yankees" are on display in the Hall of Fame.

He had rejected other job offers -- including lucrative speaking and guest appearance opportunities -- worth far more financially than the $5,700 a year commissionership.

Up until about a month before his death Gehrig went regularly to his Parole Commission office at 130 Centre St.

He stopped on doctors' orders after he was hardly able to walk any more.

Two weeks later he was completely confined to bed where, another two weeks later, the disease that had been little known until he was diagnosed with it took his life and he gave it his name.

More than 70 years have passed since that rare day in June, 1941 when every front page in America proclaimed the same story: that the great and gentle Gehrig, the Pride of the Yankees, the Iron Man, the player of 2,130 consecutive games, had been scratched from the lineup card of life by a crippler with an appropriately cumbersome name: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. He was 37.

Though Gehrig was never officially inducted, his plaque has been on Hall of Fame display 70+ years.

By making it better known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, he has -- if not overcome it -- risen above it and made his courage in the face of it, including performing his Parole Commissioner duties to the virtually very end, an example for others facing such adversity.

In a certain sense, the Hall of Fame's selection of the Yankee "Iron Horse" to be the headliner formally inducted in 2013 after the BBWAA members' rejected superstars under cloud of suspected drug-enhanced performances seems ironically appropriate.

Whereas Lou had persevered despite muscle deterioration too advanced to reverse, steroid stars accelerate their muscle growth with banned substances.

For Lou, the game -- like life -- was about giving one's all, whereas for PED users it seems to be all about getting as much as one can.

That's why nearly 75 years later, Gehrig still stands tall in terms of character, while some so-called modern superstars don't appear to be even in his league.

Image of New York City Parole Commission official letterhead from the era when the name Henry L. Gehrig -- Americanized from Heinrich Ludwig Gehrig II which his devoted German immigrant parents had Christened him -- appeared on it.


While attending a three-day Conference on New York State History in Cooperstown, the New York Correction History site webmaster came across a tourist guidebook's full page ad for the July 28th 2013 weekend ceremonies to be held by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. It made prominent mention of the planned formal induction of Gehrig, Hornsby and others previously voted in but not actually tended official ceremonies at the time due to wartime considerations. So the webmaster revisited the Hall of Fame, took photos of gthe many Gehrig-related exhibits, some of which appear above, and did follow-up research. Some Gehrig-tied text from a presentation posted on this site by the webmaster some years ago was imported into this page, along the letterhead image above. Visit that presentation -- The Correctional Connection of Some New York 'Firsts' -- for more about the NYC Parole Commission. That agency was a spin-off from Correction under DOC's first woman commissioner, Katharine Bement Davis, who became the parole board's first chairperson. NYC DOC's first Black Commissioner, Benjamin Malcolm, began his correctional career at an officer with the NYC Parole Commission.

In the days and weeks ahead, medical history revisionists will be hard at work trying to blame Gehrig for his debilitating illness, claiming it wasn't ALS afterall but the effect of his playing despite injuries. Some of these revisionists are undoubtedly motivated by a sincere desire to seek the truth and to advance the cause of accurate medical diagnosis and preventative care. But one suspects an occasional few may also find satisfaction if they can succeed in bringing down a sports hero and lowering public acceptance of competitive athletics.

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