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Tales of Tiger and wondering what killed Lou Gehrig ...


Aside from both being varying degrees of intriguing and involving two monster names from professional sports, these two entries have little in common,
Still, when the question gets asked if Lou Gehrig actually died from Lou Gehrig’s disease, it would take a better man than me not to read on.

An Aug. 17 article in the New York Times is a bit more carefully headlined than what its ostensible rivals, The Post or the Daily News might offer, like: “Did Lou Gehrig die from Lou Gehrig’s disease?” Instead, the Times headline notes that brain trauma can mimic A.L.S., and then leaves it to the Times reporter to point out the implication from the study that the Hall of Famer might not have been afflicted with the disease that bears his name.

In a paper published in a leading journal of neuropathology – my subscription lapsed; I had to cut back somewhere – the Times says the authors “suggest that the demise of athletes like Gehrig and soldiers given a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, might have been catalyzed by injuries only now becoming understood: concussions and other brain trauma.”

The Times also points out that although the paper does not discuss Gehrig specifically, its authors in interviews acknowledged the clear implication: Lou Gehrig might not have had Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Not unlike the many decades of fund raising that have been undertaken to combat the illness, just managing to include Gehrig’s golden name in the story provides a readership vastly greater than would have otherwise been available.

And for me it provides yet another opportunity to showcase the amazing artwork of Graig Kreindler (

What the paper and the Times story explain is that the vast new information that is being developed about concussive injuries is fueling the speculation that some instance where A.L.S. is diagnosed may really be instances reflecting earlier trauma to the brain, as in getting slammed to the terra firma by a guy weighing 320 lbs., or more precisely in Gehrig’s case, being struck by a pitched baseball traveling in excess of 90 mph. Widespread use of batting helmets was still more than 15 years away from the time of Gehrig’s death in 1941.

* * * * *


The other item, also in the New York Times, mentioned the fall 2009 article in Forbes magazine that remarked about Tiger Woods being the first athlete to earn $1 billion.

According to the Times, a classical scholar at the University of Pennsylvania pointed out that Tiger isn’t even history’s best-paid professional athlete.

Instead, that noble distinction belongs to a chariot racer in ancient Rome, one Gaius Appuleius Diocles. The scholar, Peter Struck, cites a monument inscription in the Year 146 that called him “the champion of all charioteers” upon the occasion of his retirement.

He reportedly earned 36 million sesterces in prize money – enough dough to pay the entire Roman Empire’s ordinary soldiers for 1/5th of a year. Comparing that with the U.S. military today, he says that’s about $15 billion. I'll ignore the obvious shortcomings in the methodology, as I am sure the scholar did as well, all in pursuit of a good story.

My online research tells me that a sesterce is a silver or, later, bronze coin of ancient Rome worth a quarter of a denarius, or roughly 21/2 asses.

My question is, where would you keep 90 million asses? And don’t say the Eastern Seaboard.

I wonder if Gaius ever had second thoughts about retiring in A.D. 146, maybe rolling out the old charriot once again in A.D. 147 for a couple of million more sesterces?

LouG.jpg (94.26 KB)

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