by: Jason O'Brien
Henry Louis Gehrig, who lived June 19, 1903 through June 2, 1941, was an American baseball player. He played with Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees who were thought of as the best team of that time. He played with the Yankees for most of his career which started in 1923 and ended in 1939. He played in 2,130 games without a rest, which was the most of any player until Cal Ripken, Jr. in 1995. When he stopped playing, he went to a doctor who found out he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS — which is now sometimes called Lou Gehrig's disease). The doctor told Gehrig he had only a short time to live. On July 4, 1939 Gehrig gave a public speech that became well known. When he spoke that day he said he was "the luckiest man on the face of the earth". The mayor of New York City congratulated him for his teamwork. He died less than two years later.
Before the Majors
Gehrig was born in Yorkville, a part of Manhattan, and was the son of two German immigrants. His dad was frequently unemployed due to his health, so his mother was the one who took after him. Both parents didn’t think much of baseball and tried to push him towards a business career. Lou attended Commerce High School and he graduated in 1921. He then went to college at Columbia University where he did not graduate. When attending the college his freshman year, he played on a summer professional baseball team. Unfortunately, he did not realize that this made him ineligible to play sports for the college. He was later cleared to play football where he became a star fullback. Later he did join the baseball team.
He first gained national attention when his high school baseball team was playing in Cubs Park (now Wrigley Field) on June 26, 1920. In the 9th inning with his team up 8-6, he hit a grand slam that went out of the ballpark. This was amazing coming from a seventeen year old boy. He later played in New York where Yankee scout Paul Krichell was able to see Gehrig. Krichell was impressed most by his powerful left handed bat. It was less then a year later and he had signed a contract with the Yankees.
Major League Career
He made his major league debut midway through the 1923 season. His role at the time was pinch hitter. He only had 27 at bats and was not on the World Series team roster that year. He saw more time at the plate during the 1925 season, getting 437 at bats. In the 1926 season Lou Gehrig came out as one of the better baseball players. He batted .313 with 47 doubles, an American League leading 20 triples, 16 home runs, and 112 RBIs. He was only warming up to his 1927 season that is perhaps the most over all best season that anyone has ever had. Gehrig hit .373, 218 hits, 52 doubles, 20 triples, 47 homeruns, 175 RBIs, and a .765 slugging percentage. They went on to win the World Series that year and end with a 110-44 record.The rest of his career was extremely successful, winning six World Series championships and seven All-Star selections.Lou Gehrig’s most remarkable record was his 2,130 consecutive games played in a row. This is how became known as the Iron Horse. This record is second to Cal Ripken, Jr who has 2,632 consecutive games and broke Gehrig’s record in 1995.
It was halfway through Gehrig's 1938 season when he started to notice a slight collapse in his performance. At the end of that season, he said, "I tired mid season. I don't know why, but I just couldn't get going again." Statistically speaking, his numbers appeared to still be fine, but there was a noticeable drop from the previous year. Early in the following season of 1939, almost everyone could notice the loss of power from Lou. He was usually a speedy runner on the bases, but he didn't quite have to same quickness that he once possessed. It was on May 2, 1939 when there was a scheduled game against the Tigers in Detroit and this was two days after Gehrig had played his 2,130 consecutive game in a row. He went up to his manager, Joe McCarthy, and said that he was benching himself for the game due to his lack of strength. He told Joe that he was benching himself "for the good of the team". At that game the Tiger's announcer told the crowd that this was the first time in 2,130 games that the Yankees do not have Lou Gehrig in the lineup. All of the fans applauded Gehrig as he sat on the bench with tears in his eyes.
After Lou's condition was still getting worse he went to see Dr. Charles William Mayo. It took eight days of extensive studies and in the end they found that Gehrig and a condition called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). He was informed of this on June 19, Lou's 36th birthday. The outcomes of this disease was that he was going to have increasing paralysis, difficulty speaking and swallowing, and life expectancy was less than three years. ALS has no known cause and is painless. It attacks the nervous system, but leaves the mind completely alone.
Between games on July, 4 1939, Geghrig gave one of the most famous sport speeches of all-time. It front of 61,808 he gave his farewell speech. After a few presentations and remarks by Babe Ruth, Gehrig gave his 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 the 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 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 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 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 been given a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for. Thank you."
— Lou Gehrig at Yankee Stadium, July 4, 1939
The crowd applauded for almost two minutes. Gehrig stepped down from the microphone with his handkerchief patting his eyes. The New York Times account the following day called it "one of the most touching scenes ever witnessed on a ball field", that made even hard-boiled reporters "swallow hard". Lou was given many gifts and was the first baseball player to get his number ,4, retired. He was unanimously voted to the hall of fame in 1939. His accomplishments and legacy will be ever remembered.
"Lou Gehrig." 2009. Wikipedia. 5 Mar. 2009. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lou_Gehrig>
"Lou Gehrig the Official Web Site." 2003. The Rip Van Winkle Foundation. 5 Mar. 2009. <http://www.lougehrig.com/>