Ray Robinson, Who Wrote of Gehrig the Man, Dies at 96

Ray Robinson, Who Wrote of Gehrig the Man, Dies at 96


“He could be trusted not to exaggerate a story or a fact; it was what it was, and you could trust Ray’s memory,” Marty Appel, the author of “Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees From Before the Babe to After the Boss” (2012) and other baseball books, said in an interview on Tuesday.

One of Mr. Robinson’s favorite players, and subjects, was Gehrig, the Hall of Fame Yankee first baseman who long held the record for consecutive games played, with 2,130, and who died at 37 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative ailment now widely known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

In many articles and in the book “Iron Horse: Lou Gehrig in His Time” (1990), Mr. Robinson portrayed the famously humble and hard-working Gehrig as a human being instead of the mythical hero many see him as, without hiding his own reverence.

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Mr. Robinson at Magazine Management, where he worked as an editor, in the 1950s.

“Suited up, Gehrig looked bovine, unathletic,” Mr. Robinson wrote. “His appearance earned him the uncomely nickname of ‘Biscuit Pants.’ But shouldn’t one win points for modesty, decency and determination? I thought so, and of all the Yankees, it was Lou I cherished the most.”

One undeniably superhuman moment of Gehrig’s career was his farewell speech at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939. Mr. Robinson, who was there and called the speech “baseball’s Gettysburg Address,” told The Daily News in 2014 that the sound system made it hard to make out all of Gehrig’s words, but that an almost religious solemnity descended over the stadium as Gehrig spoke.

“I have no way of knowing if 60,000 people were crying,” he said, “but I had tears in my eyes.”

Raymond Kenneth Robinson was born in Manhattan on Dec. 4, 1920, to Louis Robinson, a lawyer, and the former Lillian Hoffman, a homemaker. While growing up he watched the dominant Yankee teams of the 1920s and ’30s, whose stars included Gehrig, Babe Ruth and, later, Joe DiMaggio, as well as the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Mr. Robinson first encountered Gehrig after writing him to ask for an interview for his school newspaper. The interview did not work out, but Gehrig gave him free tickets to a game.

After graduating from DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, Mr. Robinson went to Columbia University, which Gehrig also attended. He graduated in 1941, the day after Gehrig died, and studied at Columbia’s law school before serving in the Army during World War II.

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Lou Gehrig, the subject of this biography, was one of Mr. Robinson’s favorite baseball players.

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W.W. Norton & Company

He began writing for local newspapers while stationed at military bases in the Southern United States. After he was discharged, he worked as an editor at various magazines.

He edited more than a dozen editions of “Baseball Stars,” annual collections of short biographical essays by burgeoning writers including Jimmy Breslin, Dick Schaap and George Vecsey. In recent years he was a regular at a monthly lunch with New York City sportswriters like Lawrence Ritter, Robert Creamer and Mr. Appel and broadcasters like Bob Costas.

In 1949 he married Phyllis Cumins, with whom he lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. She died in March. In addition to his daughter he is survived by two sons, Steve and Tad, and four grandchildren.

Mr. Robinson’s other books include “American Original: A Life of Will Rogers” (1996) and “Famous Last Words” (2003), a collection of memorable deathbed statements. He also wrote articles for The New York Times about baseball players like Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson and Cal Ripken Jr., the Baltimore Orioles shortstop who finally broke Gehrig’s consecutive game record, ending his own streak at 2,632.

Mr. Robinson said that he sent Ripken a copy of his Gehrig biography, but that Ripken refused to read it until after he broke the record in 1995. When he did, he returned the book with a singular inscription.

“ ‘It’s safe to finally read,’ he scrawled in the front of my book,” Mr. Robinson wrote in 2007. “I cherish the autograph — and understand his superstition.”



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