He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939. Remarkably, 76 years later he is still remembered, even revered by baseball fans, who still clamor for his memorabilia. Baseball great Lou Gehrig, hit behind the “Sultan of Swat”, falling fourth behind The Babe in the New York Yankees’ batting order. Both men were superlatives in their own right of course, but there was something very special about Lou Gehrig. He was certainly more soft-spoken than Ruth.
Gehrig was a quiet sort that went about the business of baseball in a gentlemanly way. Apparently Gehrig didn’t feel threatened by Ruth’s great hitting. Referring to his own performance as compared to Babe Ruth’s, Gehrig said, “I’m not a headline guy. I know that as long as I was following Ruth to the plate I could have stood on my head and no one would have known the difference”. Still, even in the shadow of Ruth, and eventually Joe DiMaggio, Gehrig loomed bigger than life and Yankee fans did take notice.
For thirteen straight seasons Lou Gehrig personally scored more than 100 runs and drove in just as many. Seven times he finished among the league’s top hitters. He had multiple 200-plus hit seasons (eight in fact), and from 1933 to 1939 he played first base in the All-Star games. Gehrig set the 1931 American League single season, with 184 RBI’s (Ruth had 163). He set the Major League golden record of 23 grand slams, until Alex Rodriguez broke it in1995. Gehrig was the first baseball player in the American League to drive in four home runs in a single game during the summer of 1932.
During Gehrig’s 17-year career with the Yankees, the team brought home seven pennants and won six World Series championships. The Iron Horse, as he was dubbed, won baseball’s Triple Crown, with .363 batting, 49 homeruns, 166 RBI’s. More than once Gehrig was named MVP, and the big man, (6′ 0″, 200 lb.) stole home 15 times during his 2130 consecutive game career.
Lou Gehrig: A man’s man
Gehrig was a man’s man. But, he is well remembered for more than his legendary, athletic prowess on the baseball diamond. He stood for something.
“Lou Gehrig was to baseball what Gary Cooper was to the movies: a figure of unimpeachable integrity, massive and incorruptible, a hero. Today, both are seen as paradigms of manly virtue. Decent and God-fearing, yet strongly charismatic and powerful”, said Kevin Nelson, author of “The Greatest Stories Ever Told About Baseball”.
Gehrig’s wife Eleanor was asked what kind of man he was. She said, “…he was just a square honest guy”. And so he was. Before African American players were admitted to play baseball in the United States, Lou Gehrig made, what at the time was a very unpopular statement, short, but to the point. He said, “There is no room in baseball for discrimination. It is our national pastime and a game for all.”
During the 1938 season the unthinkable happened. The accomplishments of Lou Gehrig began to diminish on the field. Losing momentum, he no longer hit or run the bases the same. Gehrig who remained a revered Yankee figure removed himself from the game of baseball. His 2130 game streak came to an end on May 2, 1939. The disease that was ravishing his body and athletic ability hadn’t been diagnosed at that time, however Gehrig took the matter of expelling himself from baseball into his own hands. In his own words:
“I decided last Sunday night on this move. 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 [McCarthy] 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…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…”
Lou Gehrig was soon after diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis otherwise known as ALS. Before succumbing to the disease that became synonymous with his name, Gehrig was honored at Yankee Stadium. On the Fourth of July, 1939, 62,000 fans came out to say goodbye to Lou Gehrig, who called himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
Five months later Gehrig was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and two years following the baseball great passed from this life. He died on June 2, 1941.
It is no wonder that there is a continued demand by sports enthusiasts for Lou Gehrig memorabilia. “His greatest record doesn’t show in the book. 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.”1
1 New York Times Sports writer-John Kieran