Lou Gehrig

Position: First Baseman
Teams: New York Yankees, 1923-1939

On June 2, 1925, when New York Yankees backup first sacker Fred Merkle, who was giving the club’s longtime regular Wally Pipp a day off, seemed about to collapse from the heat, manager Miller Huggins called on rookie first baseman Lou Gehrig as a late-inning replacement. Merkle never started another game in the majors, and Pipp never got his job back.

Gehrig played a record 2,130 consecutive games for the Yankees. He did not always play all nine innings and he was not always stationed at first base, but one way or another his name always appeared on the lineup card. Only very rarely did he play for the sole reason of extending his monumental streak. He played because he was the best all-around first baseman in baseball history.

On the day Lou Gehrig hit four home runs, John McGraw resigned as manager of the Giants.
On the day Lou Gehrig hit four home runs, John McGraw
resigned as manager of the Giants.

Born in Manhattan, Henry Louis Gehrig (1903-1941) starred in all sports at the High School of Commerce. Upon graduation, he signed a pro baseball contract with Hartford of the Eastern League under the name of Lewis. Regardless of what disguise Gehrig chose, he could not hide his prodigious talent, and the ruse was soon discovered. As a consequence, he was declared ineligible for sports at Columbia University, where he had been planning to play for both the football and baseball teams.

Gehrig accepted a bonus of $1,500 from the Yankees against his father’s wishes and began playing with Hartford under his own name. A two-year apprenticeship in the minors was all he needed before he was ready to take his place among the game’s greats. In his first full season, Gehrig hit .295, scored 73 runs, and knocked home 68 teammates. He would never again tally under 100 runs or collect fewer than 100 RBI in a full season. Gehrig averaged the highest number of runs and RBI per game of any 20th-century player.

In 1931, Lou established an American League record when he drove in 184 runs, breaking his own mark of 175 set in 1927. The following year, he became the first player in the 20th century to clout four home runs in a game. He also once had three triples in a game that was rained out in the fourth inning before it became an official contest. When Lou left baseball he had 493 home runs, second at the time only to Babe Ruth.

Gehrig’s slugging exploits were only part of the story. He was also both an excellent baserunner and a solid first baseman. He was extremely consistent and, of course, very durable. Twice he was selected the AL’s Most Valuable Player, and he was always known for his overall performance.

In 1934, Gehrig won the Triple Crown while copping his only batting title with a .363 mark. Two years later he garnered his final home run crown with 49 four-baggers, tying his own personal high. When Gehrig’s batting average slipped to .295 in 1938 and his RBI and homer totals also dipped, it seemed just an off year at first. The strange slump persisted into the next season, restricting him to a meager four singles in his first eight games. When teammates began congratulating him for making routine plays, Lou knew the time had come to step down.

On May 2, 1939, he took himself out of the lineup for the first time in nearly 14 years. A few weeks later he entered the Mayo Clinic for tests, which revealed that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis -- a hardening of the spinal cord. The rare disease has no known cure and is always terminal. Knowing he would soon die, Gehrig retired formally on July 4, 1939, in a special ceremony at Yankee Stadium. Tearfully, he told the packed house, “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

Following the 1939 season, Gehrig took a job with the New York City Parole Commission. He worked with youth groups and played bridge with his wife and friends until just a few weeks before his death on June 2, 1941. He was inducted into the Hall in 1939.

Here are Lou Gehrig's major league totals:


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