ON THE MORNING of May 2, 1939, at Detroit's Book-Cadillac hotel, Lou Gehrig informed Yankees manager Joe McCarthy that he wanted to take himself out of the lineup. His streak of 2,130 consecutive games, which had earned him an enduring nickname, the Iron Horse, was about to end.
McCarthy, realizing the significance of the occasion, had Gehrig present the lineup card to the umpires and Tigers manager Del Baker that afternoon at Briggs Stadium. An Associated Press photo shows him standing near the plate, wearing a blue wool Yankees warmup jacket with the famed interlocking NY logo. Gray expandable trim accents the collar, wrists and waist.
Tomorrow, the jacket that is almost certainly the one Gehrig wore that day will be sold during the second day of an auction that is part of the All-Star Fanfest.
And the story of how it ended up at the Jacob Javitz Center in New York, and where it's been for almost 70 years, runs directly through Delaware County.
Lou and Eleanor Gehrig were close friends and neighbors with Raymond and Marianne Parker in Riverdale, N.Y. He made his money in oil; the couple also had a penthouse on 5th Avenue.
After Gehrig died on June 2, 1941 of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis - ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease, as it is now known - his widow turned to Marianne to help decide what to do with his belongings.
The Parkers had no children. But they had two nephews and two nieces. Marianne's favorite was James Ennis, who lived in the Philadelphia suburb of Upper Darby.
"She said to Mrs. Gehrig, 'My Jimmy could fit these clothes,' '' Dave Ennis, his son, explained. "So they boxed a whole bunch of stuff up and sent it down to my dad. Suits and ties and shoes and all kinds of different things. And the jacket was in the box.
"A lot of it they gave to the Salvation Army. Some of the suits, my great uncle gave to his brother-in-law. I remember my one uncle, who lived in Newtown Square, used to rave, 'I never had a suit fit me as good as that Lou Gehrig suit.' ''
Dave has a home movie showing children sledding down a hill and his father watching, wearing the jacket.
"My dad dated those films and according to the date it was January 1, 1947. So it was New Year's Day and there was a snowstorm," he said. "I was only 6 months old. But we lived on a big hill [in Upper Darby] and everybody used to come from all around to go sledding on the hill."
James Ennis wore the jacket frequently.
"It was a big deal," Dave said. "But it wasn't like today, with collectibles and everything. Then I guess it just hung in the closet in the hall for years and years and years.
"I used to bring my buddies over. We were baseball fans and we played all the time. And I'd say, 'Wait 'til you see what I've got.' And we'd all put it on and get a big charge out of it."
By the time James Ennis passed away in 1987, Dave had taken possession of the jacket.
"I put it in my closet and had it wrapped up in a bag. Then when I was moving out to get married, I asked my dad, 'Can I have it?' And he said, 'Nobody ever paid attention to it but you, so go ahead and take it.' So that's how I ended up with it.
"I never wore it. It just hung up in the attic. I'd bring it out and show people. It was a bragging thing, really. That's it. All it ever did was hang there."
Dave and his wife Bonnie own a pressure washing and deck repair service in Delco. And the jacket might still be there, taken out every now and then to show to friends, except that Dave was friendly with George Wilson, who has an auction business in Chester Heights.
George Wilson mentioned the jacket to Dave Hunt of Hunt Auctions in Exton, the company that is in partnership with Major League Baseball for selling authenticated memorabilia.
This year, for example, items from the personal collections of Hall of Fame lefthander Whitey Ford and late Yankees catcher Thurman Munson will be included.
"Dave Hunt heard that I had it through George Wilson," Ennis said. "Me and George were kidding one day, 'I'll put the jacket in your auction and put you on the map.' Kidding around.
"Well, he knew Dave Hunt and must have mentioned it to him. And then Dave Hunt called me on the phone and said, 'Is this true what I heard from George Wilson?' And I said, 'Well, what did you hear?' And I said, 'Yeah, it's true.' And he said, 'My God, I'd give anything to see it.'
"So I said, 'Come on down and I'll show it to you.' And when he saw it, he was amazed. So he would stay in touch with me at least once a year. He'd say, 'Here's the market, here's what's going on here, here's what we sold there and are you ready?' And I'd say, 'No, I'm not ready. I'm saving it for retirement.' ''
Hunt was persistent, however. And even though Ennis, 62, laughingly said he's not ready to retire yet, he obviously decided to go ahead and sell the family heirloom.
"He [Hunt] called and told me this was going to be the auction of auctions if I was really thinking about it," Ennis said. "And I still didn't know. I was still hesitant. But the more he talked about what's going on and the more I talked to the rest of my family and they all said, 'You know what? Why don't you just do it? And take it easy, maybe.' ''
He and Bonnie, along with a few other family members, will take a limousine to New York tomorrow to watch the auction. He'll have mixed emotions.
"Oh, man, I'm going to miss it. It's very sentimental," he said. "I'm getting nervous. I'm scared. I just hope it does well because, if it doesn't, I'm going to be upset that I even did it.
"I don't know anybody who has something that goes back to when they were a kid. People say, 'I used to have all kinds of fishing rods and baseball cards.' I don't have any of that. This is the only thing I can say that I've had all this time."
There's no telling how much the jacket will go for, of course. But it will be a lot. Hunt Auctions lists the expected price of a Babe Ruth bat at up to $250,000. For the Gehrig jacket, the literature simply says Estimate Upon Request.
"The jackets were not given to the players in those days," said Cheryl Goyda, who works for Hunt. "If they wanted to keep them, they had to purchase them. We don't know how much they cost. But we know they had to be pretty expensive."
According to the catalogue that Hunt published: "Game worn warm up jackets from this period are virtually non-existent due to several factors, including the wool construction, which was subject to moth damage and frequently used for War rations. In addition, the jackets were expensive to produce and were typically issued to players for use over several seasons, thus limiting the initial supply."
ESPN has been by to film a story on the jacket. Goyda flew with it to Los Angeles for "The Best Damn Sports Show" on Fox. "The Today Show," MSNBC, CNBC and CN8 are among the media outlets that have featured it.
By tomorrow afternoon, the jacket will belong to someone else. And there's another item up for bid tomorrow that helps bring the story full circle. It's a photo of Gehrig sparring with Jack Dempsey. The champion boxer simply signed his name. Gehrig was more expansive.