At Age 79, the Yankees' Newest Fan
Reel Classics May 7, 1999
As NBC Sports commentator Bob Costas put it, "If you know movies
or you know baseball, you know PRIDE
OF THE YANKEES and. . . Teresa Wright." Ms. Wright played Eleanor Gehrig, wife of legendary Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig, in Samuel
Goldwyn's 1942 film about the life, career and untimely death of the
baseball star. Though more a romance than a baseball film, THE
PRIDE OF THE YANKEES was featured among the top dozen in a 1998 USA
Today readers poll of favorite sports movies. And as further testimony
to the story's longevity, THE
PRIDE OF THE YANKEES and THE HUSTLER (1961) were the only two pre-1970
films in the poll's top twenty-five.
Because of THE PRIDE OF
THE YANKEES' enduring romantic resonance and Ms. Wright's memorable
performance (she received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress), she has
forever since been associated with baseball and the New York Yankees. Yet,
the irony of that association is not lost among her friends and most loyal
fans, who remember that she knew very little about baseball before she
made the film and had never even been to a major league game -- until last
year, that is.
On July 4, 1998 Teresa Wright was invited by Yankees' publicity chief Rick Cerrone to throw
out the first pitch in celebration of the 59th anniversary of Lou Gehrig
Appreciation Day, the day in 1939 when Gehrig bid farewell to his fans
and fellow players with his now-famous
"Luckiest Man" speech.
Though she wasn't exactly pitching from the mound, Ms. Wright did manage to get the ball
over the plate. She also stayed around for the game, and the Yankees treated her royally, presenting her with a dozen red roses as well as a World Series jacket.
And today, you'd never know that Ms. Wright and the Yankees had ever been
strangers. After just one game, at age 79, she became a die-hard Yankees
baseball fan. As she told NBC's Keith Oberman, "I saw my first game
on July 4 and I've been just a great, mad fan ever since. I started watching
and reading, and the more I watched and the more I read, the more fascinated
I got by it."
When her children learned what a devoted fan their mother had become, they arranged for her to attend a second game in honor of her upcoming 80th birthday. This time she saw Game One of the American League Championship series
against Cleveland on October 6. She didn't throw any pitches,
but proudly decked out in a navy Yankees
cap, she watched the game from George Steinbrenner's box. At the top of the
fourth inning, NBC Sports interviewed her about her new-found devotion
to baseball and the Yankees: "I find it the most beautiful game in
the world," she said smiling. "I love everything about it. I
love this team, their sportsmanship, their cooperation with each other.
It just makes you feel good. I've never seen anything that I've gotten
so excited about in my life." She then promised light-heartedly, "I won't be around long, but while I'm here,
I'll be a fan."
© 1999 Reel Classics, L.L.C.