An Introduction to the Legends of Baseball
| Hank Aaron
| Yogi Berra
| Ty Cobb
| Joe DiMaggio
Lou Gehrig | Rogers Hornsby | Mickey Mantle | Willie Mays | Stan Musial | Cal Ripken Jr
Jackie Robinson | Pete Rose | Babe Ruth | Ted Williams | Cy Young | The Baseball Hall of Fame
There was absolutely no reason to dislike him, and nobody did.
-sportswriter Fred Lieb
Hall of famer Lou Gehrig was one of the most inspirational voices of baseball ever, and also one of its greatest players. His playing skills were comparable to his teammate Babe Ruth (who was quite possibly the greatest player of his time). The lineup of Gehrig following Ruth was one of the most effective orders ever. Gehrig was also very possibly the best first baseman ever to field a diamond.
Besides being a great player, he was a nice guy. He was modest and friendly, and never seemed to exhibit any offending characteristic. He was an 'every-man', as some might say.
His nickname was the 'Iron Horse', which came from the fact that he was very reliable. He would appear in 2,130 consecutive games before he contracted a rare disease1 and stop playing. He was able to play through back pain, a broken toe and many other problems. X-rays taken late in his career, showed Gehrig's hands had 17 different fractures that had healed whilst he continued to play. He never missed a game until the day that he was forced to end his career. He was also consistent in his performance. In 13 seasons, he scored at least 100 runs each season. His fielding abilities were quite impressive. He played on first base from 1923-1939, doing it very well.
His Life and Career
Henry Louis 'Lou' Gehrig2 was born on 19 June, 1903 on Manhattan's Upper East Side, New York. He played in his high school team, in fact he was the team's star player and led them to a championship. He went to Columbia University on a football scholarship, but became a baseball star. There Gehrig set several records for his school, including a .444 batting average.
In 1921, he was hired away by the Yankees to play for their minor league club in Hartford, Connecticut. But this was while he was still playing for Columbia. This was illegal, so he played under a pseudonym. He was caught and returned to the Columbia team. In 1923 an arrangement was made for Gehrig to play for Columbia and the Yankees. He was given 3,000 dollars a year.
He became a full-time Yankee in the 1925 season. He wore the number four uniform3 from then on. For a while, he wasn't in the lineup and didn't have a permanent position, but on 1 June, he demonstrated his hitting power by pinch-hitting for Peewee Wanninger. On 2 June, he played first base and was in the lineup. Gehrig played regularly without missing one game for the next 14 years.
Gehrig played for the Yankees extremely well for more than a decade. In 1927, he won the American League Most Valuable Player award which was a controversial decision, as 1927 was the year that Babe Ruth hit his record of 60 home runs. He won it again in 1936. He was the first to win the Triple Crown Award in 1934 and was the first American Leaguer to hit four home runs in one game. His record of 2,130 games was broken in 1996 by Cal Ripken, but is still very impressive. Lou Gehrig was simply one of the best ever. He may not have been the most publicised Yankee, (since teammates Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio had more attention) but he is certainly appreciated.
Lou Gehrig hit 23 career grand slam home runs, a major league record. He collected more than 400 total bases in five different seasons; another major league record. Only 16 players have achieved that level of power in a single season. In his 13 full seasons, Lou Gehrig averaged 147 RBI's a year, from 1926 through 1938. No other player was able to even reach the 147 RBI mark until 1977. In 1969, he was voted the Best First Baseman of all time.
The Luckiest Man...
In 1939, Gehrig was suffering from an unknown disease. On 2 May, he presented the umpire with the lineup card as team captain. But his name wasn't on it. Lou returned to the dugout with tears in his eyes. The announcer said 'Ladies and gentlemen, Lou Gehrig's consecutive streak of 2,130 games played has ended'.
He was later diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. He would never play baseball again. This disease is now popularly referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease.
On 4 July, 1939, a Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day was held Yankee Stadium. Paul Gallico, the writer, helped create this day. 61,808 fans crowded into the stadium to witness Gehrig thanking his fans and supporters in his famous speech-
Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. Look at these grand men4. 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 consider 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 white coats remember you with trophies - that's something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter - that's something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so 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 in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.
This is possibly the most memorable moment of baseball. The black and white image of Gehrig making the speech to thousands with several fellow Yankees standing behind him is very well known to people who do not even follow baseball.
He was inducted into the The Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939. The regulation that required a player to wait to be inducted for at least five years after they retire was waived because of his illness. Lou Gehrig died on 2 June, 1941, only 37 years old, exactly 16 years to the day after taking over first base for the Yankees.
In 1942, only one year after his death, The Pride of the Yankees, a film on the career and life of Lou Gehrig came out. Many consider it the best baseball film ever, and it was nominated for eleven Oscars.
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