By the Book
Book That Changed My Life
book about Lou Gehrig
lit a fire inside young Maury
By MAURY ALLEN
IT WAS ALMOST 60 years
ago when this kid from Brooklyn--me--got a gift of a book for
my ninth birthday signed with love from Mom and Dad.
Through marriage, children, grandchildren and half a century
of journalism no present mattered that much. It didnt change
my life. It made my life.
The book was called Lou Gehrig: Pride of the Yankees
by Paul Gallico and it was published in 1942 by Grosset and Dunlap
in conjunction with the film of the same name starring Gary Cooper
about the great Yankee first baseman who died a year earlier.
I write about sports books for TheColumnists.Com and on the celebration
of the second anniversary of the site, I can only think back
with thanks to that book, that revelation, that epiphany generated
by a gift of a book.
The gifts before were toys and clothes that I hated and an occasional
bat and ball ruined quickly in pickup games in the old lots near
We were Brooklyn Dodger fans, of course, in my house with an
occasional visit to Ebbets Field for a 55 cent bleacher seat
with my father, who could barely sneak in any off time from a
six and a half day work week as a salesman in the Depression,
or with my older brother.
I was a street kid, which wasnt considered bad in those
days. That meant I played ball in the lots, swung a broomstick
in a stickball game, shot baskets in the school yard until dark
and starred in hide and seek because I could run fast.
I read the sports pages and cut out the pictures of my favorite
players, Pee Wee Reese, Pete Reiser, Dixie Walker, Whitlow Wyatt
and Hugh Casey. I filled dozens of notebooks with their photos
and clippings from the papers.
Teachers tried to get me to read some books in those days but
after a page or two my mind would wander to the next street game
or the next big league game I could listen to on the floor radio.
Then Lou Gehrig came into my life. I opened it that night in
my room and read the introduction by Bill Dickey. I cried. I
made it through half the words in the book that first time out,
missing a word here and there, and finished up the next night.
was a great hero
to many young kids and one
of them was our Maury Allen.
Miss Kuhlenberg--no first names of grade school teachers are
ever known--asked us a few days later if we had read any assigned
books. I had not. How about unassigned books? I asked.
The other kids in my 4B class laughed.
Could you write a report for the class? she asked.
That night I began my first journey into journalism. I started
at the top of the lined page and printed out, Lou Gehrig
was the Pride of the Yankees, just the way the title of
the book and film spelled it out.
The rest seemed easy. I talked about Gehrigs youth in New
York City, his days at Columbia University, the signing with
the Yankees, the glories of the game as he led the Yankees alongside
Babe Ruth and The Streak. Who could know there would be a Cal
The Streak made Gehrig heroic, a man among men, a figure all
the kids could admire with dreamlike worship. Even Brooklyn Dodger
fans. Gehrig rose above all that partisanship and when Gallico
writes, On June 2, 1941, Lou Gehrig died in the arms of
his wife in their home in Larchmont, I dissolved into gasping
My report was handed in the next day. I stood next to Miss Kuhlenberg.
I remember the smell of her perfume to this day. It was four
pages long of blocked letters. She pushed her hair off her face
a bit, grew a little sad as she lifted the last page and wrote
a large A plus on the top. This is a wonderful piece of
work, she hand wrote. You can be a writer.
My goals were clear now. I would be a writer. Sure, I played
ball and made a couple of high school teams with ideas that professional
sports would be for me. My heart wanted it. My head knew better.
I wasnt a player. I was a writer about players.
The books came furiously after that, about other players and
non-players, about World War II heroes and scientists, about
explorers and adventurers and philosophers and artists.
I never touched a book I didnt like. Every one offered
something, a phrase, a line, a paragraph I liked, a scene. Some
warmed me on cold nights and thrilled me on hot ones. I covered
sports on the road for 35 years and packed underwear after the
two books I dragged along.
I was 22 years old when the first book I wrote, Ten Great
Moments in Sports, was published and my 33rd book, All
Roads Lead to October (St. Martins Press, $24.95, plug,
plug) came out last year.
Reading and writing remain my work and my joys, my hobbies and
my profession almost six decades after the first book I read
from beginning to end entered my life.
One of the surprise joys added to my life in recent months are
the columns of colleagues and friends from TheColumnists.com.
Ron Miller, editor supreme, gave me the chance to add my column
on books to the site.
How could he possibly know I got a 60 year flashback from the
first one? Yes, Miss Kuhlenberg, wherever you are, I still small
your perfume. I still read books. I still write.
© 2001 by Maury Allen. The Maury Allen caricature is ©
2001 by Jim Hummel. The photo of Lou Gehrig is from the Baseball
Hall of Fame website.
can comment on this column or contact Maury Allen with an email