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Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man on The Face of the Earth

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Lou Gehrig is one of the most well-known names in baseball history. The first baseman for the New York Yankees, Gehrig was the first professional player ever to have his uniform number retired. He was signed by the Yankees after an impressive college career at Columbia University, where he also played football. He joined the Yanks for the first time on June 15th, 1923 as a pinch hitter, and became their everyday first baseman in 1925.

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Over his 17 year career, all with the Yankees, Gehrig posted impressive numbers.  A career .340 batter, he hit 493 home runs s (27th All-Time) and had 1995 Runs Batted In (5th All-Time).  His slugging percentage, (.632) is the 3rd best in Major League Baseball history, after Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. He was named the American League’s Most Valuable Player twice, in 1927 and 1936, and is one of only 16 players ever to win the Triple Crown, which he won in 1934.  Gehrig appeared in 7 straight All-Star games and was a key part of the dominating Yankees teams of that won 6 World Series titles in 11 years. 

The Streak

Arguably Lou Gehrig’s most impressive accomplishment, and certainly his most well-known, was his streak of 2130 consecutive games played. To put that into better context, there have only been 31 players in the history of baseball who have managed to play 500 games consecutively, which is a feat in itself.  Gehrig’s streak was more than four times longer. 

Gehrig at 1st
Gehrig’s run started in 1923, with a pinch hit appearance. It ended May 2nd, 1939, when he took himself out of the lineup because he was playing poorly, and he didn’t want his performance to affect the team as a whole. The streak--at one time thought unbreakable--spanned 14 seasons, stood for 56 years, and earned Lou the nickname “The Iron Horse.” Gehrig’s streak was finally broken in 1995, by the Baltimore Orioles’ Cal Ripken, Jr.

Lou Gehrig's Disease

During the 1938 season Gehrig began to struggle on the field. He would make clean contact, but the ball would not jump off the bat like it had in the past. He could no longer hit for power, and had also noticed that he was getting more tired than he had previously. He was having trouble making plays in the field, his base-running suffered and his batting average plummeted. He finished the 1938 season and played for part of 1939 before removing himself from the lineup, as it turned out, for good.

By June of 1939, Gehrig was getting progressively weaker every day. His wife arranged an appointment for him at the Mayo Clinic. After almost a week of tests, Gehrig was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS. The prognosis wasn’t good. Gehrig was told that he could expect to continue to lose strength, and that he wasn’t likely to live much longer.

ALS, now often called “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” is a disease that attacks the nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain. As these cells get weaker, signals between the brain and the rest of the body become more erratic. This leads to loss of strength and coordination, and as time goes on, can cause a person to become completely paralyzed. There is no cure for ALS at this time, but research continues, and there are forms of treatment which can slow the progression of the disease.

 

Lucky

The Yankees announced Lou Gehrig’s retirement on June 21st, 1939, two days after announcing his diagnosis of ALS.  On July 4th of that year, between games of a double header, Lou was honored at Yankee Stadium.  He was honored by his teammates and coaches, baseball’s leading dignitaries, his fans and his opponents, Yankees’ Stadium’s staff: pretty much everyone.  After Manager Joe McCarthy and teammate Babe Ruth spoke, Lou addressed the crowd.  His “Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth” speech may be as unforgettable as anything else that has ever happened on a baseball field.

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The Iron Horse was inducted to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame on December 7th 1939.  In 1999 Gehrig received the most votes of any player upon his election to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.

Lou Gehrig died of the illness that would later carry his name, on June 2nd 1941. He was by all accounts a great man and certainly one of the best players to ever to grace a diamond.  He has been missed.

 

Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig
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Comments

Jun 25, 2014 9:55am
Indexer
An interesting story, although I cannot see why baseball gets people so excited. It seems so "samey" to me, with nothing like the variety offered by cricket. But then, as a Brit, I would say that wouldn't I!
Jun 25, 2014 1:18pm
Sami41
Ah, Brits ;)

It's funny, I have a friend in Britain who has been trying to explain Cricket to me for 2 years now, as I try to explain baseball to him. I need to actually watch a game of Cricket, that might make me understand better. I do like that Cricket has the "Man of the Match" instead of the "Player of the Game." Much more poetic.

I'm not sure why I get so excited about baseball--but I can tell you that every game is different in it's way. I imagine you'd have to watch quite a bit to get all of the nuance, but it's there--it's not just strike outs and home-runs, I promise! I've been watching since I was a little kid, so it's as natural to me as anything.

Glad you found the article interesting! Thanks!
Jul 4, 2014 2:43pm
RLoftis4
How many players today would voluntarily take themselves out of the lineup because they felt it would be for the good of the team? I think that more than anything else shows the kind of player he was.
Jul 5, 2014 2:23pm
Sami41
I can't think of one who has in my lifetime, RLoftis4, although I could think of a few who probably should. Good point!
Jul 22, 2014 1:49pm
JeffHolmquist
Very nice job, Sami!

I read the book, Luckiest Man. The research was amazing, as was Gehrig. My favorite sports movie has always been "Pride of the Yankees". Lou's speech is probably the best speech in sports history, and maybe one of the Top 100 speeches of all time - who knows?

Baseball, at that time, was tremendously, tremendously popular in the United States.

Sami, why don't you drop by and read my latest? It's about Sam Rice - an equally amazing man, as hard as that is to believe! It should be a movie, without doubt. He played baseball till age 44, and played against Gehrig and Ruth!

Jeff
Jul 27, 2014 12:59pm
Sami41
Thanks Jeff! I'll definitely check out your article. I'm not familiar with Sam Rice, but I will be in a minute or so!
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