New York Yankees 1923-39
lived the "American Dream." He rose from meager beginnings to become the an American icon, only to fall victim to a crippling
disease. Here is a look back at the triumphantly tragic life of Lou Gehrig.
Heinrich Ludwig Gehrig was born on June
19, 1903 in Manhattan's Upper East Side. His parents, poor German immigrants, had four children. Lou, however, was the only
to live past infancy.
Comparisons to Babe Ruth began in high school, when Gehrig hit a towering grand slam to clinch
the "national championship" for his school. Opting for college, rather than pro ball, he enrolled at Columbia University in
At the urging of legendary New York Giants manager, John McGraw, the 18 year old played semi-pro ball during
the summer under the name of Henry Lewis. "Everyone does it," McGraw reportedly told the young Gehrig. After just twelve games
for Hartford, however, Gehrig got caught and was banned from college athletics until fall of 1922.
A two sport star
at Columbia, Gehrig was a standout halfback for the football team while pitching and playing first base for the baseball squad.
Following the school's 1923 baseball season Gehrig signed with the New York Yankees for $1,500, against the advice of his
After spending the summer in minor league Hartford hitting .304, Gehrig was called up to big leagues in September
1923. He hit .423 in 13 games. After another successful season at Hartford (.369) in 1924, Gehrig again joined the Yankees
in September and was there to stay.
On June 1, 1925 Gehrig pinch hit for shortstop Pee Wee Wanniger and slapped a
single. The next day incumbent first baseman Wally Pipp had a headache, Gehrig replaced him in the lineup and "The Streak"
had officially begun.
The rookie hit .295 with 20 home runs in 1925 - he would not hit below .300 again for thirteen
years. In 1926 the Yankees captured the American League (AL) pennant, but lost to the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals
in seven games. Gehrig hit .348 in his first Fall Classic.
Gehrig and the Yankees came back with a vengeance in 1927.
The first baseman posted eye-popping numbers: .373, 47 HR, 175 RBI, while his teammate, Babe Ruth, broke his own single season
record with 60 home runs. Gehrig won the MVP (Ruth was ineligible because he won it in 1923 and the rules at the time prohibited
a player from winning the award more than once), and the Yankees swept the overmatched Pittsburgh Pirates to capture the World
The 6 foot, 200 lb. Gehrig was an impressive physical specimen, and the anchor of the team. While the
erratic Ruth would often spend his nights partying, show up late for games, and draw suspensions, the dependable Gehrig was
a model of professionalism. It was Gehrig, not Ruth, that his teammates looked to as a role model.
Despite their different
personalities and philosophies on life, Ruth and Gehrig became close friends early on. The two would barnstorm throughout
the Midwest during off season forming teams and playing against each other. Their relationship turned frigid, however, when
Gehrig's mother reportedly made a disparaging comment about how the Ruth's dressed their daughter. After that point, the two
were not on speaking terms.
The Yankees again won the World Series in 1928, sweeping the Cardinals - as Gehrig hit
.545 with 4 home runs in the Series. In 1931 the first baseman set the AL single season RBI record with 184. On June 3, 1932
the slugger became the first man in AL history to hit four home runs in a single game. The Yanks returned to the World Series
that year and swept the Chicago Cubs - Gehrig hit .529 with 3 home runs in that Series.
By this time Ruth was beginning
to lose hold on his status as the games' greatest player, and Gehrig was reaching his prime. In 1934, Ruth's last season in
New York, Gehrig captured the Triple Crown with a .363 average, a career high 49 home runs, and 165 RBI.
In 1936 another
star rose to share the headlines with Gehrig. This time it was in the form of rookie sensation Joe Dimaggio. The duo led the
Yankees back to the World Series as they defeated the cross-town Giants in six games. Gehrig won his second MVP that season
(the rule had been changed) posting .354 average with 49 home runs and 152 RBI.
Gehrig again posted spectacular numbers
in 1937 (.351, 37 HR, 159 RBI), and the Yanks repeated as World Champions defeating the Giants, this time in five games. Gehrig's
production dipped slightly in 1938 (.295, 29 HR, 114 RBI), but it was good enough for the Yankees to capture their third consecutive
World Series title, a four game sweep of the Cubs.
By the beginning of the 1939 season Gehrig seemingly indestructible
body began to fail him. He was becoming increasingly weak and his production had fallen off the chart. Manager Joe McCarthy,
however, remained committed to Gehrig, saying that the Iron Horse would remain in the lineup as long as he wanted to. After
eight games, Gehrig pulled himself out when teammates began congratulating him after making routine plays. "The Streak" was
over at 2,130 straight games.
Gehrig's ailments remained a mystery. On June 19th, he flew to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester,
MN to determine what exactly was behind his deteriorating health. The prognosis was not good: Gehrig had contracted amyotrophic
lateral sclerosis (ALS). His playing days were over, and his days on this earth were numbered.
Lou Gehrig posted a
.340 average, belted 493 home runs, and drove in 1,995 runs during his career. He drove in and scored over 100 runs 13 straight
seasons, averaging 153 RBI over an 11 year stretch, and his .632 slugging percentage ranks third all time. Unlike many great
players, Gehrig didn't limit his excellence to the regular season, the Yankee stalwart hit .361 with 10 home runs in 34 World
Series games. The Yankees reached the World Series seven times during Gehrig's tenure, winning six titles.
4, 1939, the Yankees held "Lou Gehrig Day" as former teammates gathered to honor the ailing legend. On that day he gave one
of the most honest, heartfelt, courageous speeches any man has ever given. By the time he concluded even the most hardened
men could not contain their emotions. The most touching moment came when Babe Ruth embraced Gehrig and whispered to his ailing
friend - it was the first time they had spoken in almost six years.
Gehrig worked for the city of New York until his
health had left him unable to walk, and on June 2, 1941 - sixteen years to the day after he replaced Wally Pipp in the lineup
- Lou Gehrig died at his home in Riverdale, NY. He was just 37 years old.
-David Zingler, December 2002
Simply Baseball Notebook
DISCLAIMER: All pictures are assumed to be in the public domain.
No violation of copyright is intended here. If one of the photos above is not in the public domain, please notify us and it
will be removed.