Bob Ellis knew what he wanted from his mother-in-law's collection of Lou Gehrig memorabilia both times she asked him to pick something out as a Father's Day gift.
It was a hat worn by the New York Yankees slugger and a baseball signed by fellow Hall of Famers Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Tris Speaker and Eddie Collins.
“I could never wear the hat because my head was too big,” the Connecticut resident said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “The baseball to me is historic. I know statistically those four batters were four of the top 20 batters in the history of baseball.”
The hat and ball are among items Ellis and his wife, Jill, received from Jill's mother, Laurel Steigler, in 1998. The collection, which includes various photographs, letters and signed documents, and baseballs, is now available as part of Heritage Auctions' latest offering.
Gehrig batted .340 with 493 home runs and 1,995 RBI over his 17 years with the New York Yankees, helping the team win six World Series titles. He played in 2,130 consecutive games – a record that stood until Baltimore's Cal Ripken Jr. broke it 1995.
Gehrig retired in 1939 because amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, later called Lou Gehrig's disease. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame the same year and died in 1941.
Steigler originally inherited the items from Lou Gehrig's mother, Christina. Steigler and her husband, George, were longtime friends with Christina Gehrig when she and her husband, Heinrich, lived in the New York suburb of Mamaroneck.
Sometime after Heinrich Gehrig died in 1946, Christina went to live with the Steiglers in Milford, Connecticut.
Christina Gehrig stayed with them for several years until they helped her get her own place in Milford. When she died in 1954, she left part of the collection of her son's memorabilia in her will to the Steiglers.
Bob Ellis married Jill in 1964, and got the ball and hat from his mother-in-law over the years. The rest of the items were kept in a safe in the Steiglers' house. After George Steigler died, Jill encouraged her mother to decide what she ultimately wanted to do with the collection.
The ball signed by the four Hall of Famers was valued by Heritage at $20,000, and the photographs range from $100 to at least $4,000.
Ellis said he and his wife plan to give some of the money from the items to their son, daughter and three grandchildren.
“There's no intention for us to go and take crazy trips,” he said.