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Volume 1709

The Edgar Rice Burroughs / Baseball Connection
with rare photos of a Tarzan 'wannabe':
Baseball Great, Lou Gehrig

Ed Burroughs

While a cadet at the Michigan Military Academy Ed Burroughs -- despite his uneven scholastic record and his occasional problems with discipline, -- excelled in both Football and Baseball serving as captain of both teams. Later, after graduation, he was kept on staff as an assistant commandant. The weight of his duties as cavalry and gatling gun instructor, tactical officer and professor of geology plus his responsibilities in supervising the cadets did not prevent him from staying very active in sports. On the letterhead of the Michigan Military Academy Athletic Association he is listed as one of the three directors in charge of football. Captain F. A. Smith, the commandant, is the secretary of the organization while Cadet A. T. Conner has replaced Ed as the "Foot-Ball and Base-Ball Captain." But Lieut. E. R. Burroughs is now given the title of "Foot-Ball and Baseball Manager."

Ed Burroughs had, on occasion, shown a strong interest in the Chicago Cubs baseball team, revealing himself to be a staunch fan. One of the earliest poems, saved in his collection and dated September 16, 1911, appeared in "In the Wake of the News." It and was titled "O, Yes; It's Getting Thick." Its humorous subject is about the differing effects of the Cubs' losses and victories:
O, Yes; It's Getting Thick
by Normal Bean (E. R. Burroughs)

My dear, he said at breakfast time,
The Cubs have lost some more,
But as a loser I'm sublime,
`A Good Game Loser,' that is I'm;
List' not, you'll hear no roar.

Say, what in is this stuff?
It tastes to me like slops;
As coffee it's a rotten bluff.
This steak is raw and awful tough;
Those market guys are wops.

Then at the office: "Say, how much
Do you folks think I'll stand?
That straight front blonde'll get in Dutch
If she ain't here on time. Lord, such
A bunch should all be canned.

"Say, boy, you ain't no brickybrack,
You're paid to do some work.
Hike out o' here, and don't come back.
Who wrote these credits here in black?
Where's that billing clerk?

"My sweet," he said, at eats that night,
"Although it's naught to me,
I note the Cubs played outosight
Today. They'll nail that pennant right.
This is delicious tea."

A Few Baseball References from the ERB Bio Timeline:

The 1914 biographical sketch written for William G. Chapman (author unknown) the author writes jokingly about Ed's ability in sports:

"Next to Mr. Burroughs' devotion to his family comes his love of motoring. Rain or shine, summer or winter, you may see him every afternoon with his family upon the Chicago boulevards or far out on some delightful country road beyond the city's limits.... His tennis is about the funniest thing I ever saw, and his golf is absolutely pathetic, yet he loves them both, and baseball too, though he couldn't hit a flock of balloons with the side of a barn door, and if he did probably he would be as likely to run for third base as first.

On October 28, 1931Ed attended the All-Star baseball game at Wrigley and then to Pantages Hollywood. 
On June 22, 1941, Ed's Doctor advised him to return to the hospital but he treated himself with alcohol and went to a baseball game. 
"On July 3, 1947, Ed entered a statement in his diary: "My RCA television set was installed this afternoon. I watched an LA-Hollywood baseball game at Wrigley Field the first television picture I had ever seen. . . ." From then on it was television almost every evening, with Ed watching boxing, wrestling, and baseball. 

A 1922 photo postcard of the Tarzana Baseball Team and
its founder and sponsor, Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Baseball References in the Burroughs Novels

The autobiographical elements in The Efficiency Expert are evident in the creation of Torrance as a college graduate with a poor educational record, who had concentrated mainly on football, baseball, and boxing. The ultimatum by the college president that he should either start studying or leave school brings to mind Burroughs' expulsion from Phillips Academy and his later problems at Michigan Military Academy.
One of Burroughs' most exhilarating tales, a type of situation comedy, is The Strange Adventure of Mr. Dinwiddie, in which a Walter-Mitty-like character, a nonentity, the most insignificant of men in real life, has his one moment of glory because of a mistaken identity. In creating the character of Abner Dinwiddie, Burroughs exhibits an awareness of environmental influences. As a boy working in his father's grocery store, Abner was denied all the normal experiences: "His only social contacts had been kitchen-door and over-the-counter; and being naturally shy, he had not profited by these. Other boys went swimming and fishing; they played baseball and football; but not Dinwiddie." He found his escape from the dull world of commerce (as Burroughs did) in his imagination.
Swords of Mars: The kidnappers are not in such good odor, but among the more notorious assassins are men who hold much the same position in the esteem of the masses as do your great heroes of the prize ring and the baseball diamond.

Stay On First, Tarzan Author Tells Gehrig
The Washington Post (UP)~ November 9, 1936

Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of Tarzan fiction, today ridiculed the desires of Lou Gehrig, New York Yankee first baseman, to play this superman role for the movies. Burroughs sent Gehrig the following telegram:

"Having seen several pictures of you as Tarzan and paid about "50 for newspaper clippings on the subject, I want to congratulate you on being a swell first baseman."


Gehrig "Tarzan" Photos courtesty Brian Bohnett

The Luckiest Man
He did not take himself so seriously that he couldn't fantasize about becoming a movie star. Lou Gehrig's only film appearance turned out to be in Rawhide, a 1938 B-oater about an ex-ballplayer who heads out West to start a ranch, only to meet with opposition from some crooked cattlemen.

As part of Gehrig's surprising desire to take Hollywood by storm he had earlier set his sights on playing Tarzan. Publicity photos went out. Jonathan Eig discussed the event in his Gehrig biography:

"In one, Gehrig wore a leopard-skin loincloth only slightly bigger than a jock strap and swung a papier-maché war club. . . . In another, he wore a caveman-style outfit that covered one shoulder and came down barely low enough to cover his crotch and rear end."

"These were the most revealing portraits of Gehrig's body ever taken . . . his lower body appeared to belong to another species, neither man nor ape. Each thigh was bigger than many a man's waist, each calf the size of a Christmas ham. Here was the hidden source of his tremendous power and durability." ~ Jonathan Eig. Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005, 432 pp.

The title of Jonathan Eig's  book, Luckiest Man, refers to a statement Lou Gehrig made when he was honored at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939, after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis - now known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease." Gehrig, the Yankees' captain, had been a powerful, muscular man, which is why, not long before the first symptoms of the fatal disease struck him, he'd been considered as a potential star for the next Tarzan movie.

The Farewell Speech
"Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and I have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure I'm lucky. Who wouldn't have considered it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrows? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I'm lucky. When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat and vice versa, sends you a gift, that's something. When everybody down to the groundskeeper and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies, that's something. When you have a father and mother work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body, it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed, that's the finest I know. I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth. And I might have been given a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for." - July 4, 1939 at Yankee Stadium on Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day

Farewell to Heroes

"It may have been a child's perversity, but I like to think now that I was in tune with changing times when I selected not the Babe (Ruth), but (Lou) Gehrig as my hero. Handsome, shy, put together along such rugged lines that he was once screen-tested - wrapped in a leopard skin - in Hollywood for the role of Tarzan, a devastating hitter with men on base, Gehrig served perfectly as the idol of a small boy soon to reach adolescence." - Frank Graham in Farewell to Heroes (1981)

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