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Friday will mark 75 years since Lou Gehrig’s farewell, and a fan prepares to part with the Iron Horse’s glove

Posted: July 3, 2014 - 10:57am  |  Updated: July 3, 2014 - 2:11pm
In this photo taken on Monday, June 30, 2014, Howard Henderson, who as a boy in New York played catch with baseball legend Lou Gehrig, holds a signed baseball mitt given to him by Gehrig when he was young, near Henderson's Greenwich, Conn., home. Gehrig, a Yankee first baseman and a friend of Henderson's songwriter father, visited his home and Henderson visited him when he had ALS. The mitt, that was autographed by Gehrig with a hot instrument, will be auctioned in July, expecting to fetch $200,000 to $300,000.
Craig Ruttle/Associated Press
In this photo taken on Monday, June 30, 2014, Howard Henderson, who as a boy in New York played catch with baseball legend Lou Gehrig, holds a signed baseball mitt given to him by Gehrig when he was young, near Henderson's Greenwich, Conn., home. Gehrig, a Yankee first baseman and a friend of Henderson's songwriter father, visited his home and Henderson visited him when he had ALS. The mitt, that was autographed by Gehrig with a hot instrument, will be auctioned in July, expecting to fetch $200,000 to $300,000.
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In this photo taken on Monday, June 30, 2014, Howard Henderson, who as a boy in New York played catch with baseball legend Lou Gehrig, holds a signed baseman's mitt given to him by Gehrig when he was young, at Henderson's Greenwich, Conn., home. Gehrig, a Yankee first baseman and a friend of Henderson's songwriter father, visited his home and Henderson visited him when he had ALS. The mitt that was autographed by Gehrig with a hot instrument, will be auctioned in July, expecting to fetch $200,000 to $300,000.  Craig Ruttle/Associated Press
Craig Ruttle/Associated Press
In this photo taken on Monday, June 30, 2014, Howard Henderson, who as a boy in New York played catch with baseball legend Lou Gehrig, holds a signed baseman's mitt given to him by Gehrig when he was young, at Henderson's Greenwich, Conn., home. Gehrig, a Yankee first baseman and a friend of Henderson's songwriter father, visited his home and Henderson visited him when he had ALS. The mitt that was autographed by Gehrig with a hot instrument, will be auctioned in July, expecting to fetch $200,000 to $300,000.

GREENWICH, Conn. – It was 80 years ago that Lou Gehrig and the 12-year-old son of a songwriter got bored with talk of music and opted to play catch instead.

The legendary New York Yankees slugger and the boy were fast friends and next time they tossed the ball around the front yard, Gehrig brought Howard Henderson – a fellow – a better glove.

The autographed mitt was inscribed, "To Howard. I hope you have much luck with this glove as I did. Lou Gehrig." It will be auctioned July 15. It is expected to sell for between $200,000 and $300,000.

Henderson, a retired architect who lives in Greenwich, turns 92 on Friday. That's also the 75th anniversary of Gehrig's famous Fourth of July farewell speech at Yankee Stadium, in which he called himself "the luckiest man on the face of the Earth" despite having been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Henderson was used to encountering the famous such as actor Jimmy Durante and actress Ethel Merman. But Gehrig stood out to him.

"I was impressed. He was big," Henderson said, cupping his hands far apart to describe the size of his calves. "He was a very nice guy, probably one of the nicest people in baseball."

Gehrig and his wife, Eleanor, were friends with Henderson's father, Ray. Gehrig's wife Eleanor aspired to be a songwriter, Henderson said.

"We weren't interested. Somebody suggested let's go out on the front lawn and play catch," Henderson said.

Gehrig, nicknamed the Iron Horse for his legendary durability, promised to bring Henderson a better glove the next time he visited the family's Bronxville, New York, home.

"He said 'this one is already broken in. I used it for part of the season,'" Henderson recalled.

David Hunt, president of Hunt Auctions, which is selling the glove and a photo on behalf of Henderson, is confident the mitt is Gehrig's signed glove but cannot prove he used it in a game, though he likely did. Hunt said they couldn't find the exact glove among the photos of Gehrig, but found images of similar mitts Gehrig wore in the 1930s.

"It's our strong belief that this has a wonderful chance of being a glove that not only did Gehrig sign and inscribe but actually used," Hunt said.

Henderson and Gehrig kept in touch after their front lawn tosses. Henderson once visited him in the dugout and, later at his home as the Hall of Famer's health worsened because of the condition that would later become referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Gehrig played in a then-record 2,130 consecutive games for the New York Yankees. The mark was surpassed in 1995 by the  Baltimore Orioles Cal Ripken, Jr.

Gehrig was dying when Henderson visited him at his home in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, but was cautioned by Gehrig's wife not to talk about his illness and to keep the visit short. Gehrig was in a bathrobe and slippers, sitting in a wheelchair at the dining room table.

A friend came into the house and walked around the room, suddenly grabbing the flowers in a vase and eating them like peanuts. It was Pitzy Katz, a comedian.

"Lou said, 'Stop eating the flowers. Laughing hurts,'" Henderson said.