When free-lance writer David Noonan Showed up at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., to do research on Lou Gehrig for a book on neurological medicine, he had no idea of the treasure trove that awaited him. "What do you have on Lou Gehrig?" he asked one of the librarians. He was shown a filing cabinet loaded with material. "We also have this stuff over here," said the librarian, leading Noonan to a cache of memorabilia stored at the back of the building.
Noonan eventually hit pay dirt: two scrapbooks kept by Gehrig's mother, Christina, and his wife, Eleanor, that chronicle virtually every twist and turn in the Hall of Famer's life. "It was extraordinary," says Noonan. "There were telegrams congratulating Gehrig on his marriage, snapshots of him and Babe Ruth on camels in Egypt, clippings about him from high school that his mother had kept." Also included was a copy of the Mayo Clinic's terse, five-sentence press release disclosing that Gehrig had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the illness that took his life in 1941 and later became known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
The scrapbooks became the primary source for Noonan's chapter on Gehrig and his disease, an excerpt of which appears in this issue of SI (page 112). "I've come to think of Gehrig as just another one of the people in the book, as opposed to this legendary figure," says Noonan. "I see his story as a human tragedy, as opposed to a superstar story." Noonan's book, Nervous Energy, will be published by Simon & Schuster next year.
One result of Noonan's recent work has been an increased admiration for the human nervous system. "I don't think most people appreciate how well it works. Once you see it, you can't take your eyes off it." Noonan, 37, who has written most frequently on science and technology, is not the only magazine contributor in the family. His wife, Susan Faiola, is an illustrator whose work has appeared in numerous publications, including National Lampoon and Money. Last November, their son, David Crockett Noonan, was born.
Noonan grew up in Morristown, N.J., as a diehard Yankees fan, an affinity he renews every spring. Other sporting interests include jogging, Softball and golf. And sailing. The last is a longtime passion in which the former New Yorker can now indulge himself on a regular basis. Last summer he and Susan moved from Manhattan to Southern California. "I can't say that I've missed February in New York," he says.