Book Review: Gehrig and The Babe: The Friendship and the Feud

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from Triumph Books to review for this blog.  This fact did not and does not in any way influence my honest review of the book.

From the Publisher:  "Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were big names on their own, but from the moment they were thrown together, they became known by many as just 'Gehrig and the Babe.'  From their time as teammates to their differing personalities off the field, the dynamic duo have a story all their own.  Now baseball fans can get the inside story at how a friendship forged by a shared love of the game was destroyed by a feud that proves that not everything is always as it seems."

My Review: I liked this book.  It was informative, detailed, and shared a great deal of the history of the Yankees of the 1920's and the 1930's focusing, specifically, on the lives of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.  At 246 pages, the book is a perfect length.  This allows for detail and some specificity without bogging down into the minutia of the day-to-day.  This was a "big picture" book noting the forest, not the trees.  As such, it provides the reader with a great overview of a very important period of Yankees history, specifically as seen through the lens of the relationship between these two larger-than-life icons of the sport.

Tony Castro is a fine writer who tells a great story.  This book reads very quickly which makes it one that is easy to keep coming back to.  Since the protagonists are familiar figures, Castro has the difficult task of telling their oft-told stories in a way that brings new life to old tales.  In this he succeeds.  As a long-time baseball fan, and a baseball historian myself, I was pleased that I found anecdotes and stories in this text that I was not familiar with or at least are not as well known.  Castro also had to re-tell much of the standard Gehrig and Ruth history for the reader.  Castro does a great job in this - he balances both the new material and old standards extremely well.

All-in-all, this is a solid book, well worth the reader's time.  It's great to recall the greatness of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and for these heroes to be remembered time and again.  

Of Special Note:

  • The book begins with a compelling story of Babe Ruth on the set of the movie "Pride of the Yankees."  This is a gripping tale and one I had never read before.  This was a great way to begin the book and capture my attention.
  • I enjoyed the way author Tony Castro brought Ruth's heroics forward in the aftermath of the Black Sox scandal.  Of particular interest was the comparison of the batting approaches of Shoeless Joe Jackson and Babe Ruth.
  • The childhoods between Ruth and Gehrig are compared as part of the bigger story of how these two baseball giants lived their lives.  Of particular note was the dispelling of some of the myths around Ruth's childhood.
  • Please note - this isn't a particularly appropriate book for younger readers.  Much text is spent discussing Babe Ruth's escapades in the bedroom.  At times, for this reader at least, it becomes a bit much.  The stories of Ruth's "accomplishments" were told over and over again.  As the book went on this distracted a bit from the Ruth and Gehrig tale.  It was already readily apparent how these two Yankees greats led different lives.
  • Tony Castro is an excellent storyteller.  One of the reasons the book is so readable is that the story isn't told in a direct chronological format.  Instead, anecdotes are shared and then expanded upon.  The story weaves throughout the entire era of Babe Ruth both before and after Lou Gehrig comes on the scene.  This approach keeps the reader on his toes and reading page after page.
  • While the story of Lou Gehrig's closeness to his mother is well established and told in many texts, this book shares how close Mrs. Gehrig was to the entire team and to Babe Ruth and his family in particular.  This is a new approach and it quite informative.  In this Castro adds a great deal to the overall history of these two players and what transpired off the field.
  • The book could have used better proofreading.  There were some facts that I believe were incorrect or just typos.  Also, the author seems to make separate opposing claims about Ruth's natural ability to father a child.  Throughout some ideas are taken as facts when they are more just speculation.  
  • Ample attention is paid to Babe Ruth's called shot in the 1932 World Series.  Castro uses contemporary newspaper accounts to give credence to the idea that Babe Ruth might have really called that home run.  This chapter is one of the best.  
  • Since the story wasn't entirely chronological, I wished that the "feud" was brought more to the forefront of the text.  The reader doesn't get to the feud until he's about 200 pages into the text.  I would have liked to see this, the big story, come earlier in the text so it could have been examined a bit more closely and in more detail.  One of the big thoughts on the genesis of the feud is more speculation than documented fact.  
  • The entire Lou Gehrig Day speech is contained in an appendix.  This is a great addition.  

Overall, this is a worthy book that adds to the stories and legends of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.  I recommend it with the caveat that it's not necessarily for children.