Shortly after Lou Gehrig’s famous farewell speech, movie producer Samuel Goldwyn purchased the rights to the story. The ultra-suave Gary Cooper was recruited to play the role of Gehrig, but his baseball skills were limited and adjustments had to be made. A natural righty, Cooper was too awkward to pull off a convincing facsimile of Gehrig’s powerful left-handed swing. Despite technical assistance from former NL batting champ Lefty O’Doul, the sequences had to be shot right-handed with Cooper instructed to run to third base when he hit the ball. The film was later “flopped” with the number on Cooper’s back reversed.
In an attempt to add some authenticity to the film, Babe Ruth was recruited to play himself on screen. Unfortunately, “The Sultan of Swat” didn’t have much swat left in him at the age of forty seven. With the Babe unable to generate the titanic blasts of his glory years, director Sam Wood called upon another former big league great, Babe Herman, who at thirty-nine was finishing up his career in the Pacific Coast League. Herman was also used as a stand-in for Cooper in faraway shots. Wood’s efforts paid off as The Pride of the Yankees was nominated for eleven Academy Awards.