Published September 19, 2015
It was some 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 lefty — a better glove.
The autographed mitt — "To Howard. I hope you have much luck with this glove as I did. Lou Gehrig." — will be auctioned off July 15. It is expected to sell for between $200,000 and $300,000.
Henderson, now a retired architect who lives in Greenwich, turns 92 on Friday. That's also the 75th anniversary of Gehrig's famous July 4th farewell speech at Yankee Stadium, in which he called himself "the luckiest man on the face of the Earth" despite being 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, literally.
"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 aspired to be a songwriter herself, Henderson said.
"We weren't interested. Somebody suggested let's go out on the front lawn and play catch," Henderson said.
Gehrig 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 said.
David Hunt, president of Hunt Auctions, which is selling the glove and a photo on behalf of Henderson, said he's confident it is Gehrig's signed glove but can't 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 very 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 be commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
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.