Henry Louis Gehrig (born Ludwig Heinrich Gehrig; June 19, 1903 — June 2, 1941) was a Major League first baseman who played his entire career for the New York Yankees. Alongside teammate Babe Ruth, Gehrig contributed to one of the greatest teams in baseball history, the 1927 Yankees.
Lou Gehrig was known as "The Iron Horse" for his durability. Between 1925 and 1939, he played in 2,130 consecutive games -- a 14-year span -- before missing a game due to his being stricken with a fatal neuromuscular disease called Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. It would later become known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease." His streak, once believed to be one of baseball's few unbreakable records, would stand until shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. of the Baltimore Orioles played in his 2,131st consecutive game on September 6, 1995.
Other nicknames given to him were: "Columbia Lou" and "Larrupin' Lou."
Late in his career, Gehrig's hands were x-rayed, and they showed that he had suffered 17 distinct old and new fractures. It is a testament to his toughness; considering how battered his hands alone were, it is not difficult to imagine what condition the rest of Lou's body was in during his career.
- 1 Life before professional baseball
- 2 The Pride of the Yankees
- 3 Ruth and Gehrig
- 4 2,130
- 5 Something's Wrong
- 6 "The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth"
- 7 Death
- 8 Records, Awards and Distinctions
- 9 On film
- 10 External links
Life before professional baseball
Template:MLB HoF Lou Gehrig was born in New York, New York the son of German immigrants, Heinrich Gehrig and Christina Fack. He attended Columbia University, where he was a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. However, due to his having played baseball for a summer professional league during his freshman year, Gehrig could not play intercollegiate baseball, and, at the time, was unaware that that jeopardized his eligibility to play any collegiate sport. But Gehrig was ruled eligible to play on the Lions' football team and was a standout fullback.
Lou Gehrig first garnered national attention for his baseball talents while playing in a game at Cubs Park (now Wrigley Field) on June 26, 1920. Gehrig's New York School of Commerce team was playing a team from Chicago's Lane Tech High School. With the score tied 8-8 in the eighth inning, Gehrig hit a grand slam completely out of the ballpark to win the game. Ironically, his parents, particularly his mother (who saw little future for her son in the game,) were initially opposed to Gehrig making baseball his career.
The Pride of the Yankees
Gehrig joined the Yankees mid-way through the 1923 season and made his debut on June 15, 1923 as a pinch hitter. Over his first two seasons, Gehrig would see limited playing time, playing in only 23 games, usually as a pinch hitter. He was not on the Yankees' 1923 World Series roster, however. In 1925, he batted 437 times for a very respectable .295 batting average with 20 home runs and 68 runs batted in.
Inarguably, 1926 was Gehrig's breakout season. He batted .313 with 47 doubles, an American League leading 20 triples, 16 home runs, and 112 runs-batted-in. In that year's World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Gehrig hit .348 with two doubles and 4 RBI's. Still, the Cardinals took the championship, winning the best-of-seven series four games to three.
Lou Gehrig would not bat under .300 again until his last full season, 1938. He would have five seasons with more than 40 home runs and would lead the American League in RBI's five times (including 184 in 1931, a league record that stands to this day,) and established himself as a bonafide star in his own right despite playing in the omnipresent shadow of Babe Ruth.
Ruth and Gehrig
From 1923-1934, the Yankees had what many consider the best offensive tandem in the history of baseball: George Herman "Babe" Ruth, Jr. and Henry Louis Gehrig. Long after their deaths, the duo still holds records for combined hitting between two teammates.
Both men were prominent figures in America's growing German community, but, outside of their prolific hitting, there were few, if any, similarities between the two men.
Babe Ruth had been raised in an orphanage (sent there by his father, who couldn't control him,) was very outspoken, arrogant, and loved the lavish lifestyle his fame and money brought him -- and the ladies, too.
By stark contrast, Lou Gehrig was a quiet man who doted on his parents. It was not uncommon for his wife or his parents to accompany him on road trips with the team. While Ruth would spend his free time at clubs eating and drinking too much or womanizing, Gehrig typically remained in the team's hotel. Lou Gehrig even went so far as to deny interviews to reporters he knew cheated on their wives, believing that any man who was unfaithful to his wife was beneath contempt.
Toward the end of Ruth's time with the Yankees, the two men completely stopped talking to one another over a perceived insult to Gehrig's wife, the former Eleanor Twitchel.
On June 1, 1925 Lou Gehrig was sent in to pinch hit for light-hitting shortstop Paul "Pee Wee" Wanninger. The next day, according to legend, regular first baseman Wally Pipp showed up with a headache (he had actually suffered a fractured skull after being "beaned" during batting practice some time before and was still feeling the aftereffects,) and asked for the day off. Gehrig was penciled into the lineup as his replacement. No one could have imagined that 14 years later, Gehrig would still be there, playing day after day through injury and illness. In a few instances, Lou Gehrig managed to keep the streak intact through pinch hitting appearances.
One of those instances involved Washington Senators pitcher Earl Whitehall. On April 23, 1933, Whitehall beaned Lou Gehrig, knocking him nearly unconscious. Still, Gehrig recovered and was not removed from the game. On June 14, 1933, he was ejected from the game along with manager Joe McCarthy, but had already been at bat to get credit for the game. On July 13, 1934, Gehrig suffered a lumbago seizure, and had to be assisted off the field. The next day he led off the game (and was recorded as the shortstop, even though he didn't actually take the field,) to keep the streak going. Gehrig singled and was immediately replaced by a pinch runner to rest his throbbing back.
Lou Gehrig earned the "The Iron Horse" nickname legitimately.
Gehrig's record of 2,130 consecutive games played stood until September 6, 1995, when Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr. played in his 2,131st consecutive game to establish a new record. Ironically, the monumental event occurred in Baltimore, which has several distinctions in regards to the New York Yankees. Firstly, the Yankees were founded as the Baltimore Orioles (the current Orioles franchise operated as the St. Louis Browns from 1902 to 1953). Secondly, Babe Ruth was a native of Baltimore. And thirdly, the second base area of the playing field at the Orioles' current home park, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, was the former location of the tavern owned by Babe Ruth's father, George Ruth, Sr.
In the Yankees' 1939 spring training, almost everyone in the Yankees organization realized that Lou Gehrig was no longer the ballplayer he once was. But even more alarmingly, he was also becoming increasingly clumsy and weak. They probably believed that it was due to the cumulative effect of injuries and the wear and tear baseball had put on his body. But at age 35, Lou Gehrig was still a relatively young man and his teammates thought that he had at least a couple of more seasons left in him. Although he was pressured by ownership to relegate Lou Gehrig to a part-time player, Joe McCarthy could simply not bring himself to bench Gehrig.
Sadly, he would not have to.
On April 30, Lou Gehrig went hitless against the weak Washington Senators (Pete Appleton was the final pitcher Gehrig faced,) and finally decided that he could go no further. He was not feeling well, and doctors in New York were unable to do anything to help him. He had just played his 2,130th consecutive major league game. No one knew it would be the very last of his career.
On May 2, Lou Gehrig approached Joe McCarthy and asked to be benched "for the good of the team." Gehrig himself took the lineup card, with Ellsworth "Babe" Dahlgren penciled in as the first baseman, out to the shocked umpires before the game. He was granted a leave of absence to pursue further testing at the famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The result of the batteries of tests the doctors gave him was a death sentence. Henry Louis Gehrig was suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. He was given just a few more years to live.
On June 21, the Yankees announced that Lou Gehrig was retiring due to his illness, but would remain with the team as a captain.
"The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth"
The New York Yankees celebrated "Lou Gehrig Day" on July 4. Numerous people, including many from other major league teams, came forward to give Gehrig gifts and to shower praise on the dying slugger. The Yankees retired his uniform number 4; the first player in history to be afforded that honor. Babe Ruth even showed up and ended their long-standing feud by giving his old teammate a hug. After the presentations, Gehrig was asked if he wanted to speak. The shy, quiet Gehrig had planned nothing and did not expect to be asked to speak. He took a few moments to compose himself after the tremendous outpouring of love and respect from so many people.
He approached the microphone, and addressed the crowd:
"Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been to ballparks for seventeen years and I have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t have considered it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I'm lucky. When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat and vice versa, sends you a gift, that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in the white coats remember you with trophies, that’s something. When you have a father and mother who work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body, it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed, that's the finest I know. So I close by saying that I might have had a bad break, but I have an awful lot to live for. Thank you."
Fearing that Gehrig would not live to see his deserved induction into Baseball's Hall of Fame if they adhered to the mandatory five year waiting period, the Baseball Writers Association of America, which was then the only body that conducted the Hall of Fame induction voting, waived the five year mandatory waiting period and enshrined him in 1939 during a special session at the annual winter meetings in Cincinnati. Gehrig, however, was too ill to attend.
On June 2, 1941, at the age of only 37, Henry Louis Gehrig died at his home in The Bronx neighborhood of Riverdale. The disease that robbed him of his life and baseball career would come to be known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease."
The Yankees dedicated a monument to Gehrig on July 6, 1941. It calls him "A man, a gentleman and a great ballplayer whose amazing record of 2,130 consecutive games should stand for all time." The record stood for another 54 years. The monument also gives the date of its dedication as "July the Fourth 1941," but it was delayed by rain for two days. The monument, the second to be placed in front of the center field flagpole in Yankee Stadium, following the one to Miller Huggins, now rests in the Stadium's Monument Park.
Records, Awards and Distinctions
Despite roughly seventy years having passed since Gehrig played, many of his accomplishments remain at the top or very nearly at the top of baseball's record books. He remains one of baseball's most iconic and respected figures.
Major League Baseball Career Records
- Grand slams: 23
- Runs batted in by a first baseman: 1,995
- Consecutive seasons, 120+ RBI: 8 (1927-1934)
- Seasons, 100+ RBI: 13 (1926-1938; tied with Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx)
- Consecutive seasons, 100+ RBI: 13 (1926-1938; tied with Jimmie Foxx
- Runs scored by a first baseman: 1,888
- Highest on-base percentage by a first baseman: 0.442
- Most bases on balls by a first baseman: 1,508
- Highest slugging percentage by a first baseman: 0.632
- Most extra base hits by a first baseman: 1,190 (in danger of being passed by Rafael Palmeiro)
Major League Baseball Single Season Records
- Runs-batted-in by a first baseman: 184 (1931; also the American League record)
- Runs scored by a first baseman: 167 (1936)
- Highest slugging percentage by a first baseman: 0.765 (1927)
- Extra Base Hits, by a first baseman: 117 (1927)
- Most extra base hits by a first baseman: 447 (1927)
Major League Baseball Single Game Records
- Inducted to National Baseball Hall of Fame: 1939
- League MVP: 1927 (award discontinued, and usually not considered a true MVP award)
- American League MVP: 1936 (voted on by Baseball Writers Association of America; runner-up in voting for this award in 1931 and 1932)
- Named to seven All-Star teams (1933-1939)
- Named starting first baseman in Major League Baseball's "All (20th) Century Team" (1999)
- July 4, 1939 farewell speech is voted by fans as the fifth greatest moment in Major League Baseball history in 2002. The number one moment is Cal Ripken, Jr. breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive games played record.
- Triple Crown of hitting in 1934 (.363 batting average, 49 home runs, 165 RBI)
- Only player in history to collect 400 total bases in five seasons (1927, 1930, 1931, 1934, 1936).
- With Stan Musial, the only player to collect at least 500 doubles, 150 triples, and 400 home runs in a career.
- One of only six players (Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, and Ted Williams) to end their career with a minimum .320 batting average, 350 home runs, and 1,500 RBI
- Only player to hit 40 doubles and 40 home runs in the same season in three different seasons (1927, 1930, 1934)
- Played in 27 World Series games where the Yankees were victorious in seven World Series. Eight times, he scored the game winning run.
- Hit a MLB record 23 grand slam home runs in his career. Interestingly, although he usually batted fourth in the lineup, in the cleanup position, he hit behind Babe Ruth.
- The first Major League Baseball player to have his uniform number retired.
- Held the record for most consecutive games played from August 17, 1933 (passing Everett Scott with 1,308) until September 6, 1995 (when Cal Ripken played in his 2,131st consecutive game).
Aside from the statistical achievements, Lou Gehrig also stands as an important historical connection. When Gehrig began playing, players like Ty Cobb and Eddie Collins were still playing. Even players who had started their careers very near the turn of the century, like Frank Chance, and Tris Speaker were managing. When Gehrig left the game, young stars like Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller, and Ted Williams were starting their own prolific careers. Thus, Gehrig got to play with and against some of the greats of the game whose careers spanned from very near the beginning of Major League Baseball, to the 1960s.
The Pride of the Yankees, a 1942 film about Gehrig's life, featured Gary Cooper. It received 11 Academy Award nominations, but only garnered one win. Real-life Yankees Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel, Mark Koenig and Bill Dickey, then still an active player, played themselves, as did sportscaster Bill Stern. In a famous scene, Gehrig visits a crippled boy named Billy (Gene Collins) in a hospital and promises to hit two home runs for him in a single World Series game; Gehrig successfully fulfills his promise, and Billy is soon able to walk again. This event was parodied on an episode of Seinfeld and in the movie Baseketball.
- Lou Gehrig Memorial Website
- Lou Gehrig's page on the Baseball Hall of Fame website
- Urban legend about Wally Pipp's headache (from Snopes.com)
- Original All-Stars in 1933, at Baseball Almanac