Through the wonders of online social networking I have made friends with people who share my interests, as well as those that simply do not--but I like them anyway. And that includes Yankee fans. I avoid them in real life when I can, but through the relative anonymity of sites like Twitter, Facebook, and blip.fm, that piece of damaging information sort of snuck through after we had already become friendly.
So where am I going here? A few months back I wrote about Tintin in the Congo and censorship. As a librarian I have the power to put whichever books I deem fit on the shelves. And while some might self-censor books dealing with hot-button issues like race, same-sex marriage, or religion, the one area in which I am always the most tempted to judge a book as "not worthy" is on the topic of baseball. The little librarian devil that sits on my shoulder can point out a million reasons why I shouldn't put a Yankee book on the shelf, which then makes the little librarian angel on the other shoulder have to work extra hard to ensure that my professional duties are maintained and carried through. So, because I have stumbled into some Yankee friendships, and because I am simply not magnanimous enough to say "Congratulations," this is the best that I can offer them:
If I am ever in the challenging position of having to recommend a book to a Yankee fan, I always hand them David Adler's picture book biography, Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man. Some kids might know that he has a disease named after him (Lou Gehrig's Disease, officially known as amytrophic lateral sclerosis.) Most baseball fans are familiar with his record of playing in 2130 consecutive games--a record which spanned fourteen years and stood unchallenged until Cal Ripken, jr broke it in 1995. Some might have even heard soundbites of the speech he delivered at Yankee Stadium in 1939, in which he uttered the now iconic phrase "today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth." But what this book does so well is show young readers how Gehrig's tenacity, consistency, and positive attitude came from a lifetime of trying to be the best human being he could. He never missed a day of grade school. He worked hard because he had watched his parents, poor immigrants to the United States, work hard themselves. When he could no longer play effectively, he benched himself and was happy enough simply to put on his ball uniform and bring the lineup cards to the umpires. When he left baseball he took on a job working with former prisoners with the New York City Parole Commission, in the hopes of inspiring and reforming troubled youth. Gehrig's No. 4 was the first uniform ever retired by a team.
Terry Widener's illustrations are warm and old-fashioned, representing a now distant past with a certain amount of nostalgic glow. It is a fitting style for a man who, in truth, seems like a saint, even without holding him up to the likes of many modern professional athletes who often come across as barely contained hooligans making as much money as they can. Adler's text is easy to read and keeps the story focused on Gehrig's modesty and character, his love of the game and his love of life. This is a book which not only serves as a fine introduction to one of the great figures of the game, but it is also a book which shows young readers how to be a hero through honesty, hard work, and gratitude. It is a book which should be read by Red Sox and Yankee fans alike.