When the New York Yankees legend came to Mayo Clinic in 1939, he befriended many people in Rochester. Gehrig came to Mayo for answers. He had been feeling progressively weaker and had just ended his record-setting streak of playing 2,130 consecutive games. Even with the many medical tests he was undergoing and the concerns he faced, Gehrig reached out to local youth, playing catch, practicing with a local youth team and demonstrating batting, fielding and throwing techniques to starry-eyed youngsters.
Among them was Bob Tierney, a talented player with a heart for the game. The “Iron Horse” and the Rochester athlete struck up a friendship. Bob worked up the courage to ask Gehrig for his autograph, which he was happy to provide. They shook hands for the last time on June 16 – Gehrig’s 36th birthday, the same day he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – ALS, the condition with which his name became associated.
Bob Tierney kept the Gehrig baseball – and, along the way, got a signature from Leo Durocher as well – for 75 years. It is the only known baseball that Gehrig signed as a Mayo Clinic patient that stayed in the same hands for three-quarters of a century.
In 2014, to mark the 75th anniversary of Gehrig’s diagnosis and the Mayo Clinic Sesquicentennial, Bob Tierney sold the baseball to Rochester business leader Andy Chafoulias. With his daughter, Taylor, Chafoulias donated the baseball to Mayo Clinic. The baseball is displayed at Mayo Clinic Heritage Hall on our Rochester, Minnesota, campus as an example of generosity, community spirit and Mayo’s ongoing research in ALS and related conditions.