How A Single Comment Ended The Friendship Between Babe Ruth And Lou Gehrig

Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig are undeniably two of the greatest players to ever step onto a baseball diamond, and as such are some of the greatest players to ever throw on the iconic New York Yankees pinstripes. Typically, when the two legends come up we discuss their on-field accomplishments, but it's easy to overlook that their personal lives were intertwined, perhaps even more so than most people realize.

Ruth and Gehrig had a complicated relationship, but the extent of it wasn't always public knowledge. A hug from the Babe to the Iron Horse on the day Gehrig delivered his famous "Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth" speech — which announced his retirement due to his being diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS; often referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease (per Mayo Clinic) — signaled some warmth in what had been a frosty relationship for several years, per SB Nation. According to the New York Post, one of the major reasons for the friction between the two had stemmed from an off-hand comment made by Gehrig's mother about the way Ruth's second wife dressed her children to go to Yankees games.

The early relationship between Ruth and Gehrig

While Ruth and Gehrig were teammates and in that sense contemporaries, according to Tony Castro's 2018 book "Gehrig and the Babe: The Friendship and the Feud," the two were in different stages of their careers when they first became teammates in 1923. According to Baseball Reference, Gehrig was 20 years old and in his rookie season with the Yankees that year, while Ruth was 28 and just about at the midway point of his legendary career, though as SB Nation points out, Gehrig didn't become a regular fixture in the Yankees' lineup until 1925, having appeared in just 23 games during the 1923 and 1924 seasons.

The two really hit it off away from Yankee Stadium thanks in large part to their shared German heritage. Ruth would often visit Gehrig, who lived with his parents early in his career, and The Bambino would break out his German chops and converse with Gehrig's mother, Christina. In return, she would whip up some German home cooking for Ruth. He described that time as "one of the rare tastes of home life I ever had." She even named her dog, Judge, after Ruth. Judge was her nickname for the slugger which stemmed from his birth name, George.

The falling out

According to SB Nation, sometime in the early 1930s, the Ruth-Gerhig friendship hit the skids. Ruth married his second wife, Claire, in 1929. Claire had a daughter named Julia, while Ruth had his adopted daughter Dorothy (who many believe was his biological child with a woman who wasn't his first wife) to complete the blended family. Of the two girls, Julia was older and almost an adult while Dorothy was just 11 years old at the time.

On a visit to the Gehrigs, Christina remarked how she wondered why Claire wouldn't dress Dorothy as well as she dressed her own, biological daughter, Julia. The New York Post reports that Christine had remarked that Claire dressed Julia in "silks and satins" while Dorothy was given "nothing but rags to wear. This upset Claire who was brought to tears and she asked Ruth to "tell Lou to muzzle his mother."

According to "Gehrig and the Babe: The Friendship and the Feud," Ruth did just that. He confronted Gehrig in the Yankees' clubhouse and told him that his mother needed to mind her own business. Other accounts of the incident allege that Ruth had a teammate talk to Gehrig on his behalf and that he had told Gehrig to never talk to him off the field ever again.

The grudge

Christine Gehrig was a big part of her son's support system, so he didn't take too kindly to his one-time friend's words toward her. When Gehrig married his wife, Eleanor, the Ruths were not on the guest list. While the initial problem between the two had stemmed from a disagreement between Ruth's wife and Gehrig's mother, it became personal in 1937. According to SB Nation, Ruth had been retired for two years, when he did an interview with The New York Times in which he took a swipe at Gehrig's consecutive games streak.

In the interview, Ruth said that he thought Gehrig was making a mistake in pursuing his iron man streak instead of taking games off to rest. He argued that by doing this, Gehrig was shortening his ow career by several years. Of course, the comments got back to Gehrig and while he didn't mention Ruth by name, he fired back.

"I don't see why anyone should belittle my record or attack it," Gehrig said. "I never belittled anyone else's. I'm not stupid enough to play if my value to the club is endangered. I honestly have to say I've never been tired on the field. If it develops that I am hurting the team by trying to stay in, why, I'll get out and the record will end right there."

The two reconciled in 1939

In 1939, Gehrig received the diagnosis that spelled the end of his iron man streak and his professional baseball career. According to Bleacher Report, earlier that year, Gehrig had started to experience symptoms and he went to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to try to understand what was wrong. That's when doctors determined the Iron Horse was dealing with ALS, a fatal disease.

Reports started appearing in newspapers about Gehrig's condition, but it was on July 4, 1939, that Gehrig himself publicly acknowledged what he was going through and announced his retirement. He delivered his now-legendary speech that echoed through Yankee Stadium. Ruth was on hand for the occasion. As Gehrig started to tear up toward the end, Ruth made his way over to his former teammate and friend. He put a big, slugger's arm around Gehrig and whispered something in his ear that made them both smile, per SB Nation.

Gehrig retired and went on to work as a New York City Parole Commissioner,but his disease weakened him rapidly. He died on June 2, 1941. Ruth died in 1948. For the rest of their lives, Eleanor Gehrig and Claire Ruth continued to represent their late husbands at Yankees events.