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Lou Gehrig

Lou Gehrig

Position(s):
1B, OF, SS
Nicknames:
The Iron Horse, Biscuit Pants
Born:
June 19, 1903
Bats:
Left
Throws:
Left
Height:
6'
Weight:
200 lbs
Major League Debut:
6-15-1923 with NYA
Allstar Selections:
1927 MVP, 1934 TC, 1936 MVP
Hall of Fame:
1939

Gehrig in action!

Lou Gehrig was the greatest player who was rarely considered the best player on his team. For more than a decade he shared the spotlight with Babe Ruth and then Joe DiMaggio, unable to match their flare or popularity. Asked about toiling alongside Ruth, Gehrig responded with typical modesty, "It's a pretty big shadow. It gives me lots of room to spread myself." He set a record for the most consecutive games played, doing so while he was the best at his position, year in and year out. He excelled in the post-season, winning six World Championships while batting cleanup. He holds the career record for most grand slams and he was the first player to have his uniform number retired. His career and life ended tragically when he was struck with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease which today bears his name.

Unform Number

#4 (1929-1939)

Quotes About

"Gifted with no flair whatever for the spectacular, except as it might be produced by the solid crash of bat against ball at some tense moment, lost in the honey days of a ballplayer's career in the white glare of the great spotlight that followed Babe Ruth, he nevertheless more than packed his share of the load." — Bill Corum, The Journal-American. "He could be counted upon. He was there every day at the ballpark bending his back and ready to break his neck to win for his side. He was there day after day and year after year. He never sulked or whined or went into a pot or a huff. He was the answer to a manager's dream." — John Kieran, The New York Times

Quotes From

"This 'Iron Man' stuff is bunk. It is true that I have considerable physical strength, but that isn't the answer. There have been many powerful players in baseball who weren't in there every day. It wasn't exceptional strength in my case, nor even exceptional endurance. It was the determination to be in there and to hustle every minute of the time I was there that has made that record a reality." — Gehrig, in 1937

Replaced By

Ironically, Gehrig was replaced by a "Babe" � Babe Dahlgren. Dahlgren was forced into the lineup at first base in June, when Gehrig finally benched himself due to the onset of his yet unknown illness.

Best Season

Gehrig drove in more runs in 1931 (184 - an AL record), but he had his best overall campaign in 1927, the year of Ruth's 60 home runs. Lost in the drama of Babe's season was the tremendous year that Gehrig enjoyed. For much of the season he shadowed or led Ruth in homers, but the Bambino belted 18 round-trippers in September to separate himself from Lou. In '27 Gehrig batted .373 with a career high .765 SLG and .474 OBP. With Ruth, he posted the best numbers by a pair of teammates in baseball history. "The Iron Horse" played every game of course, hitting 52 doubles, 18 triples, 47 homers and scoring 149 runs. He collected 218 hits, walked 109 times and drove in 175 runners (many of them Babe Ruth). Gehrig accumulated 447 total bases and a 1.240 OPS. Would you believe he also had 21 sacrifice hits?

Factoid 1

Lou Gehrig and Chuck Klein are the only players to amass as many as 100 extra-base hits in a season more than once.

Factoid 2

In the first Ladies Day ever held at Yankee Stadium, on April 29, 1938, Lou Gehrig was greeted with cheers of "We Want a Homer"from the crowd, which featured nearly 5,000 women in the total of 12,395. Gehrig didn't deliver a homer, but his two hits helped the Yankees defeat the Red Sox, 6-4.

Transition

The Yankees offered Gehrig to the Boston Red Sox prior to the 1925 season for first baseman Phil Todt. The Sox refused. Todt never hit higher than .278 in six years as Boston's regular first sacker. No telling what Gehrig may have done in Fenway Park.

Strengths

Power

Weaknesses

None

Feats

Played in 2,130 consecutive games while performing at a superstar level every year... Triple Crown in 1934... Hit four homers in one game, on June 3, 1932, at Philadelphia.

Description

Sportswriter Jim Murray described Gehrig as a "Gibraltar in cleats."

Gehrig Discusses His Streak

Lou Gehrig was a modest man. In contrast to Babe Ruth, Gehrig was painfully shy and reserved. Gehrig played the game in a machine-like fashion, pounding out home runs and driving in piles of runs year after year in the shadow of Ruth, and later DiMaggio. However, Gehrig's consecutive games played streak set him apart from the other superstars in the game. But the modest Gehrig even shunned the attention that the streak brought him. "This 'Iron Man' stuff is bunk. It is true that I have considerable physical strength, but that isn't the answer. There have been many powerful players in baseball who weren't in there every day. It wasn't exceptional strength in my case, nor even exceptional endurance," Gehrig recalled in May of 1937. "It was the determination to be in there and to hustle every minute of the time I was there that has made that record a reality." "Don't think for a moment that I haven't had plenty of excuse for hanging up the old glove and taking a short vacation now and again," Gehrig continued. "I've had my share of hard knocks, plenty of them. I encounter players almost every day who are laid up with injuries that I have simply ignored. At least five times while my unbroken record has been going on, I've played with a cracked finger. This isn't pleasant, but it can be done." "If any credit is due me, it isn't because I've got beefy ankles or big shoulders, but because I've had a settled determination ever since I donned a big league uniform to do my very best work in spite of minor accidents or injuries."

When The Streak Ended

On the last day of April, 1939, in New York, 601,484 people went through the turnstiles during the opening of the World's Fair as President Roosevelt opened the exhibition. Across town, only 23,712 were at Yankee Stadium as the Washington Senators beat New York 3-2. Lou Gehrig went 0-for-4, dropping his average to .143. No one, not even Gehrig, knew it would be his final game. The Yankees were off the following day, gathering at Grand Central Terminal for the train ride to Detroit. While Gehrig had started the season in a 4-for-28 slump, the talk around the team was of Joe DiMaggio. The 24-year-old outfielder had torn muscles in his right ankle during Saturday's game and was taken, in a wheelchair, from his apartment in the Hotel New Yorker to St. Elizabeth Hospital, near the site of the Yankees' original ballpark. Despite Gehrig's slump, Yankee manager Joe McCarthy didn't expect Gehrig to take himself out of the lineup Tuesday. McCarthy flew to Detroit from Buffalo and saw Gehrig in the lobby of the Book Cadillac Hotel. "Joe, I'd like to talk to you," Gehrig said, according to Arthur E. Patterson's account in the New York Herald Tribune. "Sure thing, Lou. C'mon around the corner here and sit down," McCarthy said. "Joe, I'm not helping this team any," Gehrig said. "I know I look terrible out there. This string of mine doesn't mean a thing to me. It isn't fair to the boys for me to stay in there. Joe, I want you to take me out of the lineup today."

Gehrig's streak had begun June 1, 1925, when he pinch-hit for shortstop Pee Wee Wanniger. Gehrig replaced Wally Pipp at first the following day and went on to smash Everett Scott's record of 1,307 consecutive games played, a streak that ended in 1924. Gehrig wound up with a career average of .340, 493 homers and 1,976 RBIs. He still holds major league records for consecutive seasons playing all of his team's games (13), career grand slams (23), seasons with 400 total bases (5), and American League records for RBIs in a season (184) and seasons scoring 100 or more runs (13).

Gehrig's average had dropped to .295 in 1938 from .354 the previous season. In a July 1938 issue of The Sporting News, Dan Daniel wrote: "Gehrig has been in a long and seemingly hopeless slump. We hope he can rally. But he just can't keep going consistently once he does right himself. It is my conviction that Gehrig is a very tired man."

Gehrig had tears in his eyes when he took the lineup card out with Babe Dahlgren's name on it at first base. At 2,130, the streak had come to an end. "The signs of his approaching fadeout were unmistakable this spring at St. Petersburg, Fla.," James F. Dawson wrote in The New York Times. "I decided last Sunday night on this move," Gehrig said that day. "I haven't been a bit of good to the team since the season started. It would not be fair to the boys, to Joe or to the baseball public for me to try going on. In fact, it would not be fair to myself, and I'm the last consideration. "It's tough to see your mates on base, have a chance to win a ballgame and not be able to do anything about it. McCarthy has been swell about it all the time. He'd let me go until the cows came home, he is that considerate of my feelings, but I knew in Sunday's game that I should get out of there. "I went up there four times with men on base. Once there were two there. A hit would have won the ballgame for the Yankees, but I missed, leaving five stranded, and the Yankees lost. Maybe a rest will do me some good. Maybe it won't. Who knows? Who can tell? I'm just hoping."

It wasn't known yet that Gehrig was suffering from amytrophic lateral sclerosis, would never play in another major league game, and would die June 2, 1941. By July 4, 1939, two months after he came out of the lineup, Gehrig's illness had been diagnosed and he was honored at Yankee Stadium with Lou Gehrig Day.

"Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth," he said in his famous speech. At first, Gehrig's 1938 slump was attributed to lumbago, then to a gall bladder condition. "I just can't understand," Gehrig said the day after the streak ended. "I am not sick. The stomach complaint which was revealed last year in three separate examinations I underwent has been cleared up by observance of a strict diet. My eye is sharp, yet I was not swinging as of old. I reduced the weight of my bat from 36 to 33 ounces, thinking a change might work to my advantage, but it didn't. I went back to the 36 and it was the same."

Teammates thought Gehrig would be back quickly. "They told me he was slumping when I first joined the club, but he's still here," DiMaggio said from his hospital bed. "He never was a spring hitter in my time with the club. I think he'll come around in this warm weather. It's a funny game. The breaks count a lot. Now, if Lou had held off another day, he might have got himself a couple of hits in that game. It's almost a cinch that with the Yankees winning by 22-2 that he would have done something, and it might have pulled himself out of that slump."

DiMaggio, who also would play until he was 36, was amazed at Gehrig's feats. "Whatever Lou does in the future doesn't count," DiMaggio said. "He has had 14 great seasons -- and I mean great. If I could have only 10 of them, I'd be satisfied. Here's a fellow who has lasted 'til he's 36, and only this morning I was wondering -- and me 24 -- how long I'll last. Say, if I could go 10 more years, 'til I'm 34, I'd be glad to call it a career."

When Gehrig came out of the lineup, it was front-page news in the afternoon papers, alongside stories of Adolf Hitler offering a non-aggression pact to Scandinavian and Baltic countries. Columnists immediately filled their stories with praise. "Gifted with no flair whatever for the spectacular, except as it might be produced by the solid crash of bat against ball at some tense moment, lost in the honey days of a ballplayer's career in the white glare of the great spotlight that followed Babe Ruth, he nevertheless more than packed his share of the load," Bill Corum wrote in the Journal-American.

"So they unhitched the Iron Horse from the old wagon, but Marse Joe McCarthy didn't order him to be taken behind the barn and destroyed," John Kieran wrote in The New York Times. Even back then, they weren't so sure the consecutive games record would last forever. But they thought it would last a long time.

"Mighty few major league ballplayers are going to play in 2,130 baseball games without missing one," Corum wrote. "But his greatest record doesn't show in the book," Kieran wrote. "It was the absolute reliability of Henry Louis Gehrig. He could be counted upon. He was there every day at the ballpark bending his back and ready to break his neck to win for his side. He was there day after day and year after year. He never sulked or whined or went into a pot or a huff. He was the answer to a manager's dream."

Gehrig's Farewell Speech, July 4, 1939, "Lou Gehrig Day" at Yankee Stadium

"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 in ballparks for 17 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 Barrows? 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 groundskeeper and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies, that's something. When you have a father and mother 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 in saying that I might have had a bad break, but I have an awful lot to live for."

Historic recall of his speech

Worst Stolen Base Percentage, All-Time

(Minimum 200 attempts) Lou Gehrig ... 50.2% (102-for-203) Babe Ruth ... 51.3% (123-for-240) Greg Gagne ... 52.9% (108-for-204) Charlie Jamieson ... 54.4% (131-for-241) Pete Rose ... 57.1% (198-for-347) Well, you have to be a pretty good player to attempt 200 steals. Ruth was known for his hubris - he thought he was faster than he was. Gehrig was said to be quick, but for whatever reason he stole bases at a poor clip. The other three players: Gagne, Jamieson and Rose, couldn't afford to be poor base stealers as much as Babe and Lou could. Had Rose never tried to steal a single base in his career, he may have scored the 80 or so runs he needed to catch Ty Cobb on the all-time list.

Notes

Edward Herrmann had trouble getting into the role of Lou Gehrig for the biographical movie, Pride of the Yankees. "What made it so tough is I could find no 'key' to his character. There was no strangeness, nothing spectacular about him." ... When she died in 1984, Eleanor Gehrig left $180,000 to medical research and all of her husband's baseball items to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

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Lou Gehrig, New York Yankees, Old Iron Hands, The Iron Horse

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