Henry Louis Gehrig
Nickname: The Iron Horse
Born: June 19, 1903 in New York, N.Y.
Died: June 2, 1941 in Riverdale, N.Y.
Debut: 1923 | Pos: 1B
Ht: 6′ | Wt: 200 | B: L | T: L
>> Visit the Lou Gehrig biography on Baseball Almanac for complete statistics.
Lou Gehrig was baseball’s original Iron Man, long before Cal Ripken Jr. arrived on the scene. His feats at first base and at the plate are still legendary and he was a key member of the 1927 New York Yankees and the 1936 Yankees, two teams often argued as the greatest in the game.
A native of New York, Gehrig’s career got its start at Columbia University. In his sophomore season, he hit 7 home runs with a .444 batting average. He was also a pitcher for Columbia, setting a school record with 17 strikeouts in a game.
After signing with the New York Yankees, Gehrig spent two seasons with Hartford of the Easter League. He made it to the Major Leagues before his 20th birthday.
Making the team
Gehrig pinch hit for the New York Yankees on June 1, 1925, and, on the next day, stepped in to start first base for Wally Pipp who was out with a headache. For 2,130 consecutive games, Gehrig stayed in the New York lineup through starts or pinch hits. Gehrig finished his rookie season with a .295 average, 20 home runs and 68 RBI in 126 games.
In 1927, Gehrig was shifted to the cleanup spot in the legendary “Murderer’s Row” lineup that included Babe Ruth, Tony Lazzeri and Bob Meusel. Gehrig hit .373 with 47 home runs and 175 RBI. His numbers earned him the American League MVP honor. In that season, Gehrig reached 447 total bases — second only to Babe Ruth’s 1921 mark of 457. In his career, Gehrig had five seasons in which he collected more than 400 total bases.
Lou and Babe
While he was a teammate of Babe Ruth, Gehrig always seemed to be a great, but not legendary player. Gehrig had a reputation of hard work and as an example for younger fans. Ruth, however, was bigger than the game. In his own right though, Gehrig made his own marks — he holds the AL record with 184 RBIs in a season, he hit 23 grand slams, he hit 4 home runs in a 9-inning game and he hit for the cycle twice. For 13 consecutive seasons, Gehrig had at least 100 RBI and 100 runs.
The stories are that Ruth and Gehrig were originally close friends. However, reports are that Ruth offended Gehrig by making an unwelcome comment about Gehrig’s mother. While their offfield relationship may have been strained, the two continued to be productive on the field. Gehrig and Ruth homered in the same game 72 times — 19 of those were in the same inning.
Oddly enough, Gehrig and Ruth are the only players to ever hit more than 400 home runs in a career and steal home more than 10 times. Ruth stole home 10 times in his career and Gehrig stole it 15. The two picked up a majority of their home steals as the result of double steals.
One of the famed incidents of their careers came on April 1931. With Lyn Lary on base, Lou Gehrig hits a home run into the stands at Washington. The ball, however, bounces back on the field and Lary sees a Washington outfielder catching it on the bounce. Lary thinks it is the last out of the inning and heads to the dugout after crossing third. Gehrig circles the bases, but is called out when he crosses third and “passes” Lary. Instead of a home run, Gehrig is credited with a triple. At the end of the season, Gehrig and Ruth end up tied for the home run title.
During the 1931 season, Ruth and Gehrig combined for 92 home runs and 347 runs batted in, the most ever by a pair of teammates. The Yankees, as a team, averaged more than seven runs a game.
One of the greatest times of Gehrig’s career came during the 1932 World Series against Chicago — series where Babe Ruth is credited with his infamous “called shot.” In the series, Gehrig batted .529 with 3 home runs and 8 RBIs.
Power at the plate
Earlier in the 1932 season, Gehrig became the first American League player to hit 4 home runs in a game. The feat came against the Athletics. Later, he talked about the feat with a magazine reporter.
“It wasn’t until the game had actually salted away that I realized that I had performed one of the rarest feats in baseball,” Gehrig said.
The 1933 season saw Gehrig play in his 1,308th game to beat Everett Scott’s record. Gehrig’s streak had another near miss on July 26. Gehrig was thrown out of the second game of a doubleheader. If he been ejected in the first game, his streak would have been broken. In June, Gehrig and manager Joe McCarty were thrown out a game. McCarthy was suspended for three games, but Gehrig was allowed to continue to play. In April, the streak had also been threatened. Gehrig was knocked unconscious by a pitch from Earl Whitehill. Gehrig was able to recover and continue playing in the game.
In 1934, Gehrig captured the American League Triple Crown with 49 home runs, 165 RBI and a .363 average. Gehrig struck out only 31 times in the season. He, however, loses the AL MVP to Mickey Cochrane who hits .320 with 2 home runs and 76 RBIs. On July 13 of the season, Gehrig has to be helped off the field when he suffers a seizure from lumbago.
Gehrig’s consecutive game streak came close to ending in 1935. On June 8, Gehrig collides with Carl Reynolds at first base and has to leave the game with injuries to his arm and shoulder. His streak continues because the Yankees’ next game is rained out and the team had an extra day off due to an open date. On May 15, Gehrig stole home for the 15th and last time of his career. On August 5, he leaves a game in the fourth inning after suffering an attack of Lumbago.
That season, in 1935, Gehrig led the league in runs, walks and on-base percentage. However, he only drove in 119 runs. During his career, Gehrig averaged 153 RBI per year.
Back on Top
Gehrig rebounded in 1936, hitting 49 home run, driving in 152 and batting .354 en route to winning the American League MVP honor. The Yankees went on to capture the World Series. This team is argued to be one of the best in the history of the game.
In 1937, Gehrig resigned with the Yankees for $38,000 and a $750 signing bonus. That season, he leads the American League All-Stars over the National League in an 8-3 win. Gehrig hits a home run and a double and drives in 4 runs in the game.
Gehrig’s career seemed to be slowing by the end of the 1938 season. He hit .295 with 29 home runs and 114 RBIs.
The End of History
By the end of spring training in 1939, Gehrig’s skills seemed to be failing. He played eight games of the regular season and decided that he could not go. On May 2, 1939, Gehrig brought his consecutive game streak to an end, at his request, for what he called “the good of the team.” His streak ended at 2,130 games.
The Yankees fans found out about Gehrig’s problems on June 21, 1939, when the Yankees announced that Gehrig was going to retire. Gehrig remained with the team and served as its captain.
In one of the most memorable moments in the history of baseball, Gehrig, 36, stepped in front of 61,808 at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939, and delivered his famous retirement speech. “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” On that day, the Yankees retired Gehrig’s No. 4 uniform, making it the first time a number had been retired. After his retirement, the Hall of Fame took a special vote on December 7, 1939, and elected Lou Gehrig for induction in to the Hall.
Gehrig’s life tragically ended on June 2, 1941, when he died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis at the age of 37. The illness later became known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Gehrig finished with a lifetime average of .340 with 493 home runs and 1,990 RBIs. His death came 16 years to the day that he earned a starting spot in the Yankees’ lineup.
The New York Yankees honored Lou Gehrig on April 19, 1949, by unveiling a granite monument to Babe Ruth and plaques honoring Lou Gehrig and Miller Huggins in centerfield.
The Legend Lives On
On September 6, 1995, Gehrig’s streak of consecutive games was broken by Baltimore’s Cal Ripken Jr. with 2,131 straight games. The Orioles beat Angels, 4-2, and Ripken added a home run in the 4th inning.
In an interview with Ripken talked about a suggestion he had received to sit out the next game after he had tied Lou Gehrig’s record.
“I told reporters that I believed sitting down after I had tied Lou Gehrig’s mark — one ‘respectful’ suggestion — would dishonor both of us by implying that the record was a purpose and not a by-product of my simple desire to go out and play every day, which had been Gehrig’s desire too,” Ripken said. “Lou Gehrig would not have wanted me to sit out a game as a show of honor. No athlete would. Take that to the bank.”
“Someone will break my record one day,” Ripken said. “Nobody believes me when I say that, but I do believe it, and I want this guy to break the record. I don’t want him to tie it.”
Sachio Kinugasa of Japanese baseball played 2,215 consecutive games over a 17-year career.
Research continues to fight Lou Gehrig Disease, but it continues to take its toll. Fellow Hall of Famer Jim “Catfish” Hunter also suffered from the disease.
In 1999, the uniform Gehrig wore during his farewell speech sold for $451,541 in an action. The winning bid came from a man in South Florida. In 1991, his 1938 road uniform sold for $220,000 and an autographed bat went for $47,500.
Sources: 20th Century Baseball Chronicle, Baseball Online Library, SI’s Greatest Teams, The Autobiography of Baseball