May 2014

Helping out a good family in need of a lift.

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If you have been a follower of the Astros, Padres or Reds, you may remember Ricky Stone, a right-handed relief pitcher who pitched in the Majors from 2001-07. He quietly put together a pitching career that didn’t grab many headlines, but what he and his family have been through lately could fill a 300-page book, that sadly, doesn’t end with happily ever after.

Ricky’s wife, Tracey, recently passed away after a long battle with cancer. Her courage and upbeat spirit through that ordeal is heroic enough on its face, but the fact that she started this journey just after Ricky had battled — and beaten — brain cancer makes you wonder how two good people, living a good, decent life, raising two young kids, were handed not one, but two challenges unimaginable to most of us.

Ricky had been out of baseball for about a year in 2008 when he visited some of his old friends with the Astros while the team was playing in Cincinnati (the Stones live in a Cincinnati suburb). I remember seeing Ricky sitting at a locker and chatting with Roy Oswalt and thinking he didn’t look quite right. He was a little thin and there was just something about his facial expressions that seemed a tad off. I went on about my day and didn’t give it much thought after that.

Oswalt pitched that night and won, and as he addressed reporters at his locker after the game, it was obvious something was very wrong. Oswalt gave three or four rambling sentences about the start — being a pretty media-savvy veteran, he knew what we needed from him without us having to ask many questions — and then he bolted out the door.

The next day, we found out why. After Ricky left the ballpark, he went home, collapsed and suffered a full grand mal seizure brought on by what turned out to be a malignant brain tumor. Tracey, upstairs giving the kids a bath, ran down and saved him by administering CPR.

Dozens of chemo treatments and a little more than a year later, Ricky was declared cancer-free. Another 18 months went by and then Tracy received her diagnosis: ovarian cancer.

Being a cancer patient didn’t stop Tracey from being a mother. She maintained an even-handed attitude as she made life as normal for her kids as possible, in a way that only a mother knows how. She blogged about her challenges, her pain, her chemo, her trips to Houston for treatments at M.D. Anderson, and most importantly, her optimism as she held on to her deep faith and desire to run a happy household regardless of what obstacles came her way.

She and her daughter, Lily, even started a charity to raise money for women who could not afford wigs after chemo. In the first five hours of the fundraiser, they raised more than $17,000.

Friends are now organizing a fundraiser for the Stones, and when I heard about what the money would be used for, I couldn’t donate fast enough. And now I ask that if you can, please consider helping out too.

The funeral home preserved Tracey’s fingerprint. From it, they can make jewelry items for the family members. Ricky’s memento will be a silver ring wrapped with Tracey’s fingerprint and engraved with “Always in my Heart.” Lily’s will be a silver pendant with Tracey’s fingerprint, and son Riley’s will be a dog tag with Tracey’s fingerprint on the front. The engraving on both will read “A Touch of Mom Forever.”

Tracey loved the beach, and incidentally, her last trip was just a few weeks earlier to the west coast to visit some friends they made through baseball. The above picture is of Tracey and Lily, on the beach, forming a heart with their arms.

Tracey’s final wish was for her family to take a journey to the beach together to spread her ashes. The family’s friends are rallying to make sure this happens, along with ensuring Ricky, Lily and Riley receive their mementos.

We look at ballplayers and immediately assume they’re all multimillionaires from day one. That’s not the way it works. Ricky pitched a short time and he made a modest living. Medical expenses piled up, and though they have received tremendous help from friends in the game and from the Baseball Assistance Team (who I refer to as Angels on Earth), these are lean times.

Here is the link to donate…and thank you.

http://www.gofundme.com/8swi7o

Lou Gehrig’s letter to his doctor reveals a very real side to a baseball legend

 

Most of what we know about Lou Gehrig and the disease that ended his life at age 37 centers around a few basic facts that have been well-documented in history books and through story-telling.

There was the noticeable decline in his performance on the field that led to an abrupt retirement at age 35. And, of course, his farewell speech on July 4, 1939, that ended with “Today I consider myself the luckiest man of the face of the earth,” which still, to this day, is considered the epitome of bravery and class in sports.

We know that the devastating effects of what is today best known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” — officially amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — came on quickly, debilitated him completely, and ended his life too soon, only two years after the original diagnosis.

But there are other parts of this story that haven’t been as well-documented and are just as fascinating, and tell a lot more about Lou Gehrig, the person.

He was, at his core, a normal man, dealing with his disease in the same manner as many who are afflicted with something that eventually could be, or undoubtedly will be, fatal. He followed doctor’s orders to the letter while finding a balance between dealing with the disease with some degree of optimism, while also being realistic about where he may be headed.

In other words, he was just like the rest of us.

A letter Gehrig wrote to Paul O’Leary, the doctor who diagnosed him with ALS at the Mayo Clinic, gives a touching glimpse as to what Gehrig was going through at the time. It showed Gehrig’s tremendous sense of humor and realness, like when he assured his doctor more than once that he was most definitely NOT drinking beer while taking the medication they were hoping would slow the effects of the disease.

This letter, and hundreds of other unique memorabilia items, is up for bid through an online auction held by SCP Auctions, located in southern California. Being a somewhat nutty baseball history buff, I took a ride to their headquarters on Friday to check out some of the swag in person. Gehrig’s letter was by far the coolest thing on display, which is saying a lot, considering other items included game-worn jerseys belonging to Sandy Koufax and Hank Aaron and Satchel Paige’s Hall of Fame ring.

Parts of Gehrig’s letter were heartbreaking. He wrote about how great he felt from the Thiamin injections, and you can really feel how hopeful he was that this would be a miracle cure of sorts. We know now, of course, that those Thiamin injections were nothing more than vitamins, giving a placebo effect rather than offering a real cure.

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(click on image for larger view)

“Please understand I have taken approximately only eighteen or nineteen to date, and the results almost make me dread the day when I shall have to stop them,” Gehrig wrote. “If Dr. Gehrig were prescribing for Lou Gehrig he would urge the continuation of these injections.”

Gehrig went on to describe that what normally made him tired in the morning — brushing his teeth, shaving, combing his hair, buttoning buttons — was somewhat lessened from the Thiamin. Driving became easier, his energy levels were higher at night and the shaking had largely subsided.

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You can hear the urgency through his words, as he was clearly trying to convince his doctor to continue the injections, indefinitely.

Gehrig’s medical issues, amazingly, didn’t deter him from also working to accommodate his doctor and some friends with World Series tickets, and he sounded genuinely concerned with making sure O’Leary could logistically get there in time for the games.

Other things we now know about Gehrig: he liked to use the term “swell guy,” he had a tremendous ability to spell, and he was funny: “Another prospective customer is Harry Geisel,” Gehrig wrote as a P.P.S. “A swell guy even though he is an umpire.”

The letter came from the estate of Dr. O’Leary, which sold it a few years ago before it was obtained by SCP Auctions. Some other items up for bid — specifically, Paige’s Hall of Fame ring, and Babe Ruth’s gold pocket watch from the 1948 celebration of the 25th anniversary of the opening of “The House That Ruth Built,” came directly from the families.

The auction, which runs until 10 p.m. ET on Saturday, includes hundreds of items, from the more affordable to the really high-end and exorbitant. Some of the memorabilia came from the Newport Sports Museum Collection, consisting of more than 10,000 game-used artifacts from every major sport.

There’s some great stuff here. But I am partial to Gehrig’s letter, which begins with a line I might text to a buddy on my lunch break:

“Dear Paul: Just a note to say ‘hello’ and find out how you all are…The best I hope. And before I go any further may I frankly assure you that I haven’t even had ONE beer.”

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Other cool stuff:

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Thurman Munson’s catcher’s mitt from his rookie year in 1969

 

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A Ruth family heirloom: a 14-karat Longines pocket watch. Since Ruth’s death in 1948, the watch has been carefully preserved by his family and is one of just a few items that hasn’t been gifted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Game-worn jerseys of Sandy Koufax (from the 1965 season) and Hank Aaron (1967).

Game-worn jerseys of Sandy Koufax (from the 1965 season) and Hank Aaron (1967).

 

Satchel Paige's Hall of Fame ring that he received upon his induction in 1971.

Satchel Paige’s Hall of Fame ring that he received upon his induction in 1971.

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