Linking Lou Gehrig's name to a bottle of Scotch whisky so aroused the ire of his widow, Eleanor, that she went to see a lawyer. The attorney wrote a letter to the advertising agency, demanding that the practice cease and desist or legal action would be forthcoming.
Now, years after a copyright was filed to further protect the use of Gehrig's name and picture, Cal Ripken Jr. is on his unrelenting march to break the longevity mark of playing 2,130 consecutive games, a baseball record that can't be copyrighted.
In the process, the Gehrig estate, through its charitable donations, will be appreciably assisted because of Ripken's overcoming the achievement of a man who has been dead since June 2, 1941.
It's a large chunk of irony that all the attention now being given to Ripken also will benefit Gehrig, or the humane causes his estate supports. Consider it a profitable byproduct, in this case, of the living helping the dead, or assisting the perpetuation of the memory of Gehrig, the onetime New York Yankees first baseman who in life and death reached legendary status.
There's not a single member of the Gehrig family still living to partake of the assets accrued from endorsements that come when commercial institutions utilize his name and photograph. The Gehrig name currently is controlled by the Curtis Management Group, located in Indianapolis, with approval from the late Mrs. Gehrig's lawyer, George Pollack, who lives in Atlantic Beach, N.Y., and is the executor of her will.
Pollack and Curtis Management, through its president Mark Roesler, have been grand protectors of Gehrig's reputation and have seen to it that his good name is associated with what they determine to be only clean and appropriate promotional enterprises.
"The Gehrig name has value, it has integrity," said Pollack. "I certainly feel and sense the anticipation building up over Ripken closing in on the streak. I watched young Cal on a CBS television interview and he seemed to be such a straight-shooting guy. Even though Cal didn't know Lou, he went out of his way to give him credit for being a great player."
Pollack, now 80 and a graduate of the St. John's University Law School, never met Lou, only watched him from a seat in Yankee Stadium. But he knows his story in intimate detail from listening to his widow, Eleanor, talk about him as they devised plans for where the posthumous endorsements should be directed.
They go to such outstanding endeavors as assisting Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, where there's a Lou and Eleanor Gehrig Hall; and to the Caldwell B. Esselstyn Foundation, located in Latham, N.Y., with the main focus directed toward finding a cure for the disease, now known as ALS, that proved fatal to the powerful first baseman called the "Iron Horse."
"Dr. Dale Lang is in charge of research and there are frequent lectures held, with other doctors attending, to discuss the disease," explained Pollack. "There are hopes about the results of two new drugs being used in the treatment of ALS. Dr. Lang is highly dedicated and it would be a magnificent development if some cure is found. It's been said that ALS is somehow related to multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease."
Pollack pointed out that Curtis Management approached him about taking charge of the Gehrig name and an excellent relationship has evolved.
"We knew about the wonderful job Curtis does from its work with the Babe Ruth estate and they have performed the same for us," according to Pollack.
Those directing the Ripken endorsements, known as the Tufton Group, realize Gehrig plays an important role in what's about to happen. Without Gehrig there would be no record to break or excitement created. A deal certainly will be finalized between Tufton and Curtis, where reciprocal arrangements will be made for connecting both names when joint promotions come about.
"I understand they will reach an understanding," added Pollack. "I was told Cal didn't want to make a deal in advance of the record because he's superstitious. That's understandable."
Going back to how controlling the name of Gehrig started, the Scotch whisky company was proclaiming in its advertising copy that it was the "blend of champions." Mrs. Gehrig told Pollack that the "pity of it all is that Lou never drank." That's not entirely true because teammates recall him being a moderate beer drinker and also, in his early baseball days, he consumed prohibition gin.
Lou Gehrig was close to being an impeccable human being. His name deserves the vigilance and protection it's getting, plus the mighty assist he's receiving as Ripken reawakens the nation to the character and ability of the ghost he's chasing.