"The Iron Horse" of the New York Yankees, Lou Gehrig is considered to have been the greatest first baseman in baseball history. Gehrig was born in New York City on June 19,1903. He went to Commerce High School, where is played baseball and came to national attention. He went to Columbia College where he played college base ball. He started playing for the Yankees on April 18, 1923.
Gehrig played in a remarkable 2,130 consecutive games and amassed 493 homeruns and nearly 2,000 runs batted in. His lifetime batting average was 340. Gehrig's career came to a sad close after he was diagnosed with the fatal degenerative disorder, amyotropic lateral sclerosis, now popularly known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease."
Microsoft went on to develop "Windows" to compete with Apple's graphic interface, as well as scores of other software programs for desktop computers, covering almost every possible application. Gates sheperded Microsoft through its difficult period of fighting the US Government after being sued for anti-trust.
Gates began transition from day to day management in 2006 to give additional time to the foundation that he ran with his wife Melinda- The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Foundation is working in a number of different areas including the elimination of many childhood diseases.
Lou Gehrig Died 75 Years Ago. His Disease Still Devastates
T hursday marks 75 years from the June 2, 1941, death of Lou Gehrig, the great Yankees baseball player who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive debilitating and fatal disorder that today is still often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s disease.”
In every ball park, flags drooped at half-mast. In New York’s Polo Grounds, Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field and Detroit’s Briggs Stadium&mdashwhere New York ball clubs were playing&mdashtier upon tier the fans stood bareheaded for a minute of silent tribute. In baseball’s Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y., mourners filed past a black-draped plaque. For the baseball world last week mourned 37-year-old Lou Gehrig, onetime Yankee first baseman, who had succumbed after two years to a rare, incurable disease known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Only a few years earlier, Gehrig had earned the nickname the “Iron Horse,” for his success at bat. In a 1936 World Series cover story, TIME noted that Gehrig “takes boyish pride in banging a baseball as far, and running around the bases as quickly, as possible.”
But he had soon started losing his spark. In 1938 his game slowed, as did his coordination, and during the 1939 season he benched himself, ending a 2,130 game streak. In June of that year, Gehrig received the ALS diagnosis from the Mayo Clinic. It explained his debilitating skills, but the diagnosis did not come with a treatment. On July 4, 1939, a “Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day” was held at Yankee Stadium. In a powerful speech, Gehrig said: “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.”
As TIME reported in 1940, Gehrig tried in vain to stop the progress of the disease. He tried a variety of treatments, including taking large quantities of vitamin E by injection and by mouth. “It is still too soon for any perceptible results, but the doctors are cheerful, for five other patients have visibly improved, after long months of treatment,” TIME wrote. (Studies have looked at whether vitamin E can prevent the disease but more research is still needed.) And because he had been public about his diagnosis, the world also watched&mdashand hoped&mdashas he sought an answer. As news reports breathlessly covered each attempt, even during his lifetime, ALS was beginning to acquire the name by which many people still know it: as Jonathan Eig points out in his book Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig, the New York Times in March of 1940 proclaimed that a remedy had been found for “Gehrig disease.” That same month, TIME headlined an update on his progress GEHRIG’S DISEASE.
Eventually, however, he succumbed.
In recent years, ALS&mdashwhich afflicts around 5,600 people in the U.S. each year&mdashwas thrown into the spotlight once again. In 2014, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, a social-media fundraiser to raise research dollars for the disease, went viral. Everyone from Oprah to LeBron James dumped water on themselves and donated to the cause, raising millions. Some people with ALS have also become advocates in favor of the Right to Die movement, which wants to make doctor-assisted suicide legal for people who are terminally ill.
A full 75 years after Gehrig’s death, ALS is still a devastating diagnosis, despite decades of research. As the search for a cure continues, many remain inspired by Gehrig’s bravery, and the words from his historic 1939 speech: “I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.”
History of Lou Gehrig’s disease
In the United States, ALS also is called Lou Gehrig’s disease, named for the Yankees baseball player who died of it in 1941. In Britain and elsewhere in the world, ALS is often called motor neuron disease in reference to the cells (motor neurons) that degenerate in this disorder.
Lou Gehrig signed with the New York Yankees in 1923 and in June 1925 began a streak of 2,130 consecutive games that ended only when he became weak 14 years later.
First described in 1869 by French clinician Jean-Martin Charcot, ALS is a misunderstood illness. Doctors once thought it was rare but now consider it fairly common: about 5,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS every year.
The word “amyotrophic” comes from Greek roots that mean “without nourishment to muscles” and refers to the loss of signals nerve cells normally send to muscle cells. “Lateral” signifies the area of the spinal cord where portions of the dying nerve cells are located. “Sclerosis” means “hardened” and refers to the hardened nature of the spinal cord in advanced ALS.
The first description of multiple sclerosis dates back to the 14th century, but it was Jean-Martin Charcot and the use of the anatomoclinical method that made the first correlations between the clinical features of multiple sclerosis and the pathological changes noted post-mortem.
He described several cases of isolated progressive motor symptoms, with fasciculation, rigidity, contractures, bulbar involvement and death from respiratory failure. Charcot called this disease primary amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and correctly identified the dysfunction of anterior horn cells as the pathology underlying the clinical features.
Charcot described and diagnosed the first cases of ALS as a specific neurological disease associated with a distinct pathology. Studies conducted between 1865 to 1869 by Charcot and his colleague Joffroy found that lesions within the lateral column in the spinal cord resulted in chronic progressive paralysis and contractures (no atrophy of muscles), while lesions of the anterior horn of the spinal cord resulted in paralysis without contractures (with atrophy of muscles).
Charcot's work on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis brought together neurological entities formerly considered as disparate disorders, primary amyotrophy and primary lateral sclerosis. In addition, these studies contributed to the understanding of spinal cord and brain stem anatomy and the organization of the normal nervous system.
History of Lou Gehrig’s disease
Tag: Lou Gehrig
Bob Parker “cartoon” illustrating Babe Ruth blasting “a mighty 10th inning,” Michael C. Hawfield, Fort Wayne Sports Yesterday & Today (1994), p.18.
Legendary baseball player George “Babe” Ruth graced Fort Wayne with his presence during a personal visit on October 26, 1926. After putting on a show during at practice, he joined the Fort Wayne Lincoln Lifers, a semiprofessional team sponsored by Lincoln National Life Insurance Co., in a game against a very good Kips team. Ruth proceeded to put on a demonstration by playing every position except catcher. He topped the game off by hitting two balls out of the park. With the Bambino in their arsenal, the Lifers won 11 to 1.
Lincoln Lifers “Pete” Dietrich and “Bud” Devilbiss, The Fort Wayne Sentinel , May 10, 1923, 10, accessed Newspapers.com.
Ruth returned to the Indiana town on May 6, 1927 with the New York Yankees to play an exhibition game against the Lifers. In his Fort Wayne Sports History, Blake Sebring wrote that the Yankees, who were in first place in the league, made the stop on their way to take on Chicago. The game took place at League Park, now called Headwaters Park, located between Calhoun and Clinton streets. A wooden structure was erected at the park in 1883. Rebuilt several times, the place received a major overhaul in 1908 with new grandstands and a grass infield. After the damage caused by the Great Flood of 1913, additional restoration was required. It was readied as a host park for semi-pro Central League teams, including the Lifers when they moved up to a minor league status.
That 1927 exhibition season, League Park’s grandstand was filled with more than 3,000 fans, occupying all sitting and standing room. Enthusiastic Fort Wayne fans streamed in, eager to witness high drama from Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the other Yankee legends. The fans were not disappointed, as they sensed Babe’s charge into the annals of American history.
League Park, courtesy of ARCH Fort Wayne.
The regulation 9 innings were played. The Lifers held the Yankees to a 3–3 tie in the 10th, with two out and a runner on first when “The Sultan of Swat,” another of Ruth’s appellations, came to the plate. He took two strikes and then in classic style belted the next pitch over the center field wall, landing on the roof of one of the city utility barns across Clinton Street. The hit enable the Yankees to defeat the Lifers 5-3. The stands emptied and adoring fans mobbed Babe.
Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in their 1927 barnstorming uniforms, courtesy of Sports Illustrated , accessed The Midwest League Traveler.
It has been said that the Bambino often referred to that blow as possibly the hardest hit ball of his career. According to John Ankenbruck, after citing the official long hits by Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle, one sportswriter declared that, Ruth hit a longer one in Fort Wayne, according to the Bambino’s version.
After the 1927 season, Ruth went on a barn storming tour, playing again at League Park. He belted a ball over the left-centerfield fence and claimed that the ball landed in a freight car that was passing the park at the time. Local baseball historians are quick to note that, if true, the ball would have had to clear the fence then make a right angle, travel another 600 feet to land on the railroad tracks. Even so, 1927 was a banner year for Fort Wayne baseball and Babe Ruth was on hand to help make it a big hit.
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Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth in 1930, before the fall. Getty Images
Lou Gehrig's words, his grace in the face of invalidism or death, had resonated for exactly 75 years on July 4, but the moment that came before the last line, "I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for. Thank you," had echoed over the public address system and faded had great power as well. Looking back at the original coverage, it seems apparent that the writers in attendance thought Gehrig's words would not have much importance or meaning. No two of them wrote them down in the same way, as if it was only after they had realized the resonance of what they had heard and were left scrambling to recall it correctly. However, they all made a point of getting one thing right, a moment of reconciliation and forgiveness between two old friends that could only have happened that day, for that reason.
When the anniversary of 1939's "Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day" was observed by Major League Baseball as well as numerous commentators, the emphasis was, as it should have been, primarily on what Gehrig said -- even if, due to the writers' lack of fidelity, exactly what he said has been lost to time but for some fragmentary newsreels. Maybe what occurred between Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig on that day has become just a detail instead of the focal point of the story because there's nothing you can read, no recording you can hear, just a picture you can look at, and in this case the picture doesn't tell the whole story. Yet, there are times when a simple embrace can be more eloquent than any arrangement of words.
That hug ended five years of estrangement, and yet there is also a great deal of ambiguity to it. Human relationships, even the really close, ideal-marriage ones, have grey areas. If you have ever wished that an angry utterance could be recalled so that a broken relationship could be mended, or that there would be some impossible moment of forgiveness and reconciliation that would revive a love that died, Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day had that. Maybe that's not important to you you can't empathize. If you don't have regrets about an unfixable relationship somewhere in your psyche it is asserted here that you are superhuman in your powers of acceptance. Think of the version of Reinhold Niebuhr's ubiquitous serenity prayer, which now adorns dangling kitten posters worldwide:
"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can change,
And wisdom to know the difference."
The reason such an incantation is even necessary is that what many of us are really thinking is,
"God grant me the strength to change the things I cannot change
(Or just go ahead and change them, okay?),
Courage to continue to want to change them even though I know they aren't going to change,
And the Capacity for Self-delusion not to recognize the futility of it all."
Despite his protestations to the contrary, Lou Gehrig didn't have a great deal of luck in the end, but his illness did allow him that one final turn at-bat with an old friend. He didn't get to change the things he could not change, his illness, but the breach with Ruth was mended. Maybe in the end that means more to some of us than it did to him. We want the people we like to like each other. We want the people we like to like us.
Here's Rud Rennie describing the key moment directly after Gehrig's speech on July 4, 1939 at Yankee Stadium in the old New York Herald-Tribune:
"Gehrig evoked tears and laughter with words which made the previous speeches sound rather hollow. He was wonderful. Somehow he managed to control his voice. And when he was through, [Babe] Ruth put his arm around him. People were crying in the stands when Gehrig finished. And they were ready to laugh again when Ruth put his arms around Gehrig and advised him to try out the fishing rod that had been given him and catch all the fish in the sea."
"Ruth put his arm around him." That was the grace note within the grace note.
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Before we continue, it's important to point out that baseball history has traditionally not been treated like "real" history, with sources and footnotes and such. Back in Gehrig's time, sports journalism wasn't much better. Everyone agreed, as John Drebinger put it in the New York Times the next day that, "In conclusion, the vast gathering, sitting in absolute silence for a longer period than perhaps any baseball crowd in history, heard Gehrig himself deliver as amazing a valedictory as ever came from a ballplayer," but not only Gehrig's words but the order of events was confused from paper to paper.
The timing matters, because the interaction with Ruth was either a throwaway interstitial moment with an ill-timed gag about a fishing pole or the exclamation point on Gehrig's life as a New York Yankee. When Gehrig established himself as a Yankees regular in 1925, the 22-year-old had long been a Ruth fan. The two bonded easily, with Gehrig assuming a subservient, little brother role at first. The two barnstormed together in the offseasons once Gehrig became a star (a very lucrative venture for both), and traveled to spring training together. Ruth, who had been virtually abandoned by his family as a child, became a welcome presence at the house where Gehrig still lived with his German-immigrant parents. Ruth, also of German heritage, would sprechen sie Deutsch with Gehrig's mother, Christina, and she would feed him her German-ethnic cooking. "It was one of the rare tastes of home life I ever had," Ruth said.
Christina called Ruth "Judge," a corruption of "Jidge" (itself a version of "George," Ruth's real name, which is how his teammates often referred to him). Ruth gave Christina a dog. She called it Judge, too.
Eleanor Gehrig (center) with Christina and Heinrich Gehrig.
The Ruth-Gehrig relationship fell apart around 1932 or 1933. When Ruth remarried in 1929, his wife Claire brought her biological daughter Julia to the relationship. Ruth contributed Dorothy, the adopted daughter of his first marriage (who was probably his biological child, though not by his first wife). Julia was the older of the two, verging on adulthood, whereas in 1932 Dorothy was 11. Around this time, Dorothy visited the Gehrig household and Christina Gehrig wondered aloud why Claire didn't dress Dorothy as well as she dressed Julia. The comment perhaps made Dorothy sound a bit like Cinderella. It got back to Claire, who communicated her displeasure to the Babe.
Depending on who you read next, Ruth either sent an intermediary (Sammy Byrd, acting as "Babe Ruth's Mouth" instead of "Babe Ruth's Legs?" Always-hostile future Jackie Robinson antagonist Ben Chapman?) to deliver a message to Lou: "Never speak to me again off the field." In other accountings, Ruth himself went to Gehrig and said, "Your mother should mind her own goddamned business."
Claire, Babe, and Dorothy Ruth, 1935.
Every boy loves his mother. Well, every boy whose mother didn't say things like, "I'll pick you up after school" and then never arrived because she was on a vodka bender, but most boys. Gehrig had a weak father his mother was the rock of his life. When he married Eleanor Twitchell in September, 1933 (the Ruths were not invited to the reception), she had to pry him out of his boyhood home with a lever, and she never was able to get on with her mother-in-law, before or after Gehrig's passing. Prior to Eleanor came on the scene, Christina went to every Yankees home game and often followed Lou on the road as well. She had deflected some of Lou's romantic interests over the years, had provoked a last-minute quarrel with Eleanor that nearly derailed the wedding, and refused to go to the ceremony until the last moment. "There was a mother-son complex there," said sportswriter Fred Lieb, a good friend of Lou's, "that was as bad one way as the other."
Given that, there was no attack on Gehrig that Ruth could have made that would have been worse than one on his mother. Not that he didn't try. In 1937, two years after his retirement, Ruth went after Gehrig's consecutive games streak in the New York Times (annoying ellipses in the original):
"I think Lou's making one of the worst mistakes a ballplayer can make by trying to keep up that ‘iron man' stuff. He's already cut three years off his baseball life with it. He oughta learn to sit on the bench and rest. They're not going to pay off on how many games he's played in a row. The next two years will tell Gehrig's fate. When his legs go, they'll go in a hurry. The average ball fan doesn't realize the effect a single charley horse can have on your legs. If Lou stays out here every day and never rests his legs, one bad charley horse may start him downhill."
Here's another thing sportswriters felt free to do in the old days, paraphrase. Babe Ruth didn't really pull on his sorcerer's robe and go all oracular, saying, "The next two years will tell Gehrig's fate." He just didn't. This was the Bambino, not one of the Norns, and yet suddenly (forgive the mixed metaphor) he's all Delphic and we're in a Sophocles play.
Gehrig replied with obvious frustration, though he didn't call out Ruth by name: "I don't see why anyone should belittle my record or attack it," he said. "I never belittled anyone else's. I'm not stupid enough to play if my value to the club is endangered. I honestly have to say I've never been tired on the field. If it develops that I am hurting the team by trying to stay in, why, I'll get out and the record will end right there." Which is exactly what happened -- although not enough was understood about Gehrig's diagnosis in 1939 for reporters not to screw that up, too, even with the words right in front of them. Here's Dan Daniel in the Sporting News:
The event was a reconciliation between Ruth and Gehrig, who had not spoken to each other in some time. They had tiffed over some silly thing, and Lou had resented Babe's interview in which he said Gehrig was making a serious mistake playing every day. Ruth was correct, only Gehrig did not know it. Nor did any of us.
No, Ruth was not correct, and Daniel should have known that. The Mayo Clinic's press release on Gehrig, had been issued in late June:
. It was found that he is suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. This type of illness involves the motor pathways and cells of the center nervous system and in lay terms is known as a form of chronic poliomyelitis (infantile paralysis). The nature of this trouble makes it such that Mr. Gehrig will be unable to continue his active participation as a baseball player.
This was the "awful bad break" that Gehrig said "you have been reading about" when he began his speech. The errant reference to polio initially misled the public into thinking Gehrig's affliction was one he might be able to live with, but anyone who did further research (a group which included Eleanor but probably not Babe Ruth) were quickly disabused of this notion. Either way, Daniel knew at the time of his writing that Gehrig's retirement had not a damned thing to do with playing too much.
Gehrig and Ruth keeping up appearances, 1935.
Regardless, there were other reasons for Ruth and Gehrig falling out. They weren't well-matched personalities in any sense except being great athletes. Ruth was outgoing and uncensored, Gehrig reticent and retiring. "The big guy has a big, loose mouth," he once said of Ruth. "He pops off too damn much about a lot of things." Ruth spent lavishly and Gehrig was notoriously tight with a buck. Yankees politics also got between them -- Ruth thought manager Joe McCarthy was getting in the way of his own managerial bid and actively disliked him, while Gehrig was an avid supporter -- he had inscribed a picture to McCarthy, "May I always deserve your friendship."
There was also an odd incident with Gehrig's wife during a trip to Japan conducted by Connie Mack for a series of exhibition games. Though even 18-year-old Julia Ruth, also on the trip, made a point of showing up Eleanor ("Don't stop," she said to a companion when she saw Mrs. Gehrig on deck, "The Ruths don't speak to the Gehrigs"), Claire invited her counterpart to the Ruths' cabin. Eleanor wrote in 1976:
"I stepped into their little world: the resplendent Babe, sitting like a Buddha figure, crosslegged and surrounded by an empire of caviar and champagne. It was an extravagant picnic, especially since I'd never been able to get my fill of caviar, and suddenly I was looking up at mounds of it. So I was ‘missing' for two hours. The one place that Lou had never thought to check out was Babe Ruth's cabin."
The result, said Eleanor, "was a long siege of no-speaking" between husband and wife. The Babe, perhaps feeling responsible for causing a rift between the lovers, came to make peace: "Ruth burst in -- jovial, arms both stretched out in a let's-be-pals gesture," Eleanor wrote. "But my unforgiving man turned his back, extending the silent treatment to the party of the second part, and the Babe retreated. They never did become reconciled, and I just dropped the subject forever." During Eleanor's lifetime, this story was embellished to suggest that Ruth had seduced her that day, a claim that seems outlandish even for the enthusiastically priapic Babe.
Lou Gehrig and Eleanor Twichell around the time of their engagement in 1933.
Eleanor did add to the friction between Ruth and Gehrig on her own account she pushed Lou to think of himself as the star that he was, rather than second-banana to the fading Babe. That's not to say she was incorrect, but there was a longtime pecking order in which she was interfering. Once asked if he minded standing in Ruth's shadow, Gehrig had replied that it was a big shadow and there was plenty of room for him to spread out beneath it. Eleanor encouraged him to think more like the star he was. "I've got to start a campaign on this Dutchman," Eleanor told Gehrig's friend Fred Lieb. "I'm trying to build him up to the point where he knows he's good." As Ruth declined, that change had to cause resentment on the part of the older man.
The shipboard argument was pretty much it for Ruth and Gehrig until July 4, 1939. Rennie, above, had the order of events wrong. Ruth showed up for that day's reunion of the 1927 Yankees late, as he always was late for everything, but still had a chance to make a few remarks at the microphone on the subject of trying out fishing rods before Gehrig made his famous remarks. One early book has the embrace taking place right there. "And as the Babe came striding to the plate, he threw his arms around Lou and hugged him tight, and Lou was so happy he didn't know whether to laugh or cry."
Conversely, Jonathan Eig's more recent telling has it taking place after the speech, but puts an ambiguous spin on Gehrig's feelings: "Babe Ruth moved in, reached for a handshake, and then grabbed Gehrig in a hug. The photographers went crazy. Gehrig managed a small, crooked smile." "Managed" because of the incredibly difficult emotional speech he had just gone through, or because he still wasn't all that keen on Ruth? We'll never know.
Eleanor's version was more succinct and forgiving: "Babe Ruth, big and bear-like hugging away the feuds of the past summers." There may have been a little more, though. An un-bylined article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle from July 5 adds a detail that conflicts in a meaningful way with the version told in Leigh Montville's recent biography of Ruth, The Big Bam:
Would he show? When he finally appeared, he was almost as majestic as he had ever been. [Gehrig spoke.] At the end, he began to cry. Ruth was nudged to the microphone. He walked to his longtime associate, if not friend, his brother in long-ball history, grabbed him around the neck, and broke their five years of silence with a whispered joke that made them both smile.
But according to the Eagle, Ruth didn't make a joke. For once in his life, he said the right thing. Under the heading "RUTH IN TEARS," the Eagle reported
He had gone over, put one of those big arms around Gehrig's shoulders and patted Lou once or twice, trying to get him to stifle the emotion which had broken him up right out there on the ball field. "C'mon, kid," the Babe whispered through his tears. "C'mon, kid, buck up now. We're all with you."
That was what everyone had been trying to say to Gehrig for an hour during all that ceremony. The fans had been trying to so had his teammates -- those of the current Yanks and those of the '27 world champions -- and so had the baseball writers. But there was no one could -- or should -- have said it like the Bam.
One last account, this one possibly in Babe Ruth's own words. From The Babe Ruth Story, his as-told-to with Bob Considine. The book came out in 1948, as the Babe was dying, and Considine wasn't above working independently. He has Gehrig speaking last:
Lou spoke as I never thought I'd hear a man speak in a ball park. When he said, "I consider myself the luckiest man in the world" [sic], I couldn't stand it any longer. I went over to him and put my arm around him, and though I tried to smile and cheer him up, I could not keep from crying.
Something like this could never happen again, I told myself. And yet I was destined to stand at the same home plate -- only seven years later -- in much the same condition and under much the same circumstances.
It may seem odd to go to so much trouble over the sequence of events, as if the Ruth-Gehrig reunion needed its own version of the Warren Report, but the order seems important. An impulsive gesture from Ruth in the midst of a hastily-improvised speech somehow seems lesser than a calculated gesture of closure at the end. Dan M. Daniel, writing this time in the New York Telegram, put it as if the latter were the case:
It was left for the greatest showman of baseball history, Babe Ruth, to come forward with a must-needed tension-breaker. Before the biggest crowd of the baseball year, Ruth and Gehrig, who had quarreled before the Bambino left the Yankees, became reconciled. With his face wreathed in the old Ruthian smile, the Babe posted with his right arm around Lou's neck. The old king and the crown prince had become reconciled at last.
Can a reconciliation after a deep break really happen with just a handshake, a hug, or a kiss? Ruth and Gehrig weren't pals after that. It doesn't seem like they saw each other much during the 23 months that Gehrig had left to live, or if they did, the visits were neither publicized nor mentioned in any of the standard works on Gehrig, including Eleanor's book. When Ruth named his all-time all-star team nine years later, he listed Hal Chase at first base. For so many of us our tenderest feelings fade rapidly, while bitterness not only calcifies, but becomes stronger with the passing of the years.
Still, maybe that's enough of a reconciliation in the end. Lou was beyond help, but there were still those left behind, those who loved him, who needed comforting. The Ruths were second, after Yankees president Ed Barrow (who undoubtedly heard first), to arrive at the Gehrigs' house after Lou passed away, offering support to Eleanor, and that may indicate the state of the relationship at the time.
Eleanor Gehrig never remarried. After the Babe died in 1948, she and Claire Ruth spent the next 28 years, until Claire's own passing. appearing at Yankee Stadium as stand-ins for their husbands. It's not clear if they ever became friends. Eleanor died in 1984, at the age of 79. Then all was even and would remain that way forevermore. All now is reconciled, or perhaps more accurately, inert. The Babe's own parting from this world is remembered with the same pain and awe as Gehrig's, his not because of what he said, but because of a picture that did tell the whole story.
Babe Ruth's final farewell to Yankee Stadium, June 13, 1948.
The words will endure as long as there is baseball, if not beyond. They are so big as to have have crowded out the embrace and made the latter a mere detail in both their lives. Yet, the feud and its resolution 75 years ago in its own way looms just as large. It belongs not just to them but to that small group of us who are moved not just because one man looked at his own mortality and said he was the luckiest man on the face of the Earth, but by loving kindness, generosity, and the possibility that if those two giants could embrace each other in the end then we too might be forgiven by those we have wronged, and that we might have the wisdom to grant that same forgiveness to those who have wronged us if it is asked for.
Those are the things we can change, if only we have the wisdom. Babe Ruth had it, at least that once.
Sources: In addition to the newspapers mentioned above, books consulted included:
Eleanor Gehrig and Claire Ruth, 1955.
Bob Broeg, Superstars of Baseball Bob Cooke, ed. Wake Up the Echoes Robert Creamer, Babe: The Legend Comes to Life Eleanor Gehrig and Joseph Durso, My Luke and I Frank Graham, Lou Gehrig: A Quiet Hero Jerome Holtzman, No Cheering in the Press Box Alan H. Levy, Joe McCarthy: Architect of the Yankees Dynasty Leigh Montville, The Big Bam John Mosedale, The Greatest of All Shirley Povich, All Those Mornings. At the Post Ray Robinson, The Iron Horse Babe Ruth with Bob Considine, The Babe Ruth Story Marshall Smelser, The Life That Ruth Built Fay Vincent, The Only Game in Town. All photos via Getty Images.
Of all the players in baseball history, none possessed as much talent and humility as Lou Gehrig. His accomplishments on the field made him an authentic American hero, and his tragic early death made him a legend.
Gehrig’s later glory came from humble beginnings. He was born on June 19, 1903 in New York City. The son of German immigrants, Gehrig was the only one of four children to survive. His mother, Christina, worked tirelessly, cooking, cleaning houses, and taking in laundry to make ends meet. His father, Heinrich, often had trouble finding work and had poor health.
From Columbia to Yankee Stadium
Christina was adamant that Gehrig receive a good education so, in 1921, he went to Columbia on a football scholarship to pursue a degree in engineering. Before his first semester began, New York Giants manager John McGraw advised him to play summer professional baseball under an assumed name, Henry Lewis. “Everyone does it,” McGraw explained, even though the illegal ball playing could have jeopardized Gehrig’s collegiate sports career. Gehrig was discovered after playing a dozen games for Hartford in the Eastern League. As a result, he was banned from intercollegiate sports during his freshman year.
Gehrig returned to sports as a fullback at Columbia during the 1922 football season, and then pitched and played first base for the Columbia Nine in 1923. When baseball scout Paul Krichell saw the Columbia baseball team play, Gehrig’s hitting skills impressed him so much that he signed Gehrig to the Yankees in 1923 with a $1,500 bonus. Gehrig left Columbia and returned to the Hartford team, where he hit .304 that season. When he was called up to the majors in September, he hit .423 in 26 at-bats.
Yankee manager Miller Huggins petitioned McGraw to permit Gehrig to replace the ailing Wally Pipp on the Yanks’ roster for the World Series. McGraw, always looking for an edge, exercised his prerogative and refused. The Yankees won the World Series that year, anyway. After a full season at Hartford, where Gehrig hit .369, he became a Yankee for good in 1925. Once he replaced Wally Pipp at first base, Gehrig didn’t leave the playing field for over 13 years.
“Iron Horse” and the 2,130-game streak
Gehrig’s consecutive game streak of 2,130 games (a record that stood until Cal Ripken, Jr. broke it in 1995) did not come easily. He played well every day despite a broken thumb, a broken toe, and back spasms. Later in his career, Gehrig’s hands were X-rayed, and doctors were able to spot 17 different fractures that had “healed” while Gehrig continued to play. Despite having pain from lumbago one day, he was listed as the shortstop and leadoff hitter. He singled and was promptly replaced but kept the streak intact. His endurance and strength earned him the nickname “Iron Horse.”
After batting .295 in 1925, the next year Gehrig hit .313 and led the league with 20 triples. This was the first of 12 consecutive years he would top .300. The Yankees won the pennant and Gehrig hit .348 in the World Series, but the Yankees lost to Rogers Hornsby’s Cardinals in seven games.
Ruth and Gehrig began to dominate the baseball headlines in 1927 in a way two players had never done before. That year, Ruth hit 60 homers, breaking his old record of 59, and Gehrig clouted 47, more than anyone other than Ruth had ever hit. As late as August 10th, Gehrig had more homers than the Babe, but Ruth’s closing kick was spectacular. Together, they out-homered every team in baseball except one.
The Yankees chased away all competition, winning the flag by 19 games over the A’s and sweeping the Pirates in the World Series. Ruth was not eligible for the Most Valuable Player Award, because he had won it before, so it went to Gehrig. In 1928, the pair tied for the RBI lead with 142 and put on quite a show in the World Series. Despite being walked six times, Gehrig hit .545.
Ruth’s dominance as a power hitter was slipping, and Gehrig began to take his place. On June 3, 1932, Gehrig became the first American Leaguer to hit four home runs in a game. After Gehrig’s third homer to right field in a game against Philadelphia, an irritated Connie Mack removed pitcher George Earnshaw and demanded that Earnshaw stay with him to watch relief pitcher Roy Mahaffey pitch to Gehrig. Gehrig’s fourth homer was to left field and only a great catch by Al Simmons kept Gehrig from hitting his fifth homer of the day.
The Yankees missed the postseason three years in a row (1933-1935). During an off-season barnstorming trip to Japan, the civil relationship between the two slugging stars boiled over, apparently over a comment that Gehrig’s mother had made about how Ruth’s daughter dressed. Ruth got word to Gehrig that he never wanted to speak to him off the field again, and the two never traded words until “Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day” six years later.
Thriving in the Shadow of the Babe
Gehrig had spent his whole career in New York, the nation’s media capital. But it seemed that another teammate always got more headline attention. First it was Babe Ruth, then later Joe DiMaggio. When historian Fred Lieb asked Gehrig about playing in Ruth’s shadow, Gehrig’s answer was true to form: “It’s a pretty big shadow. It gives me lots of room to spread myself.”
And spread himself he did. His lifetime batting average was .340, the 15th all-time highest, and he amassed more than 400 total bases on five occasions. Only 13 men have achieved that level of power in a season. Ruth did it twice, and Chuck Klein did it three times. Gehrig is one of only seven players with more than 100 extra-base hits in one season, and only he and Klein accomplished that feat twice.
During his career, Gehrig averaged 147 RBIs a season. No other player was to reach the 147 mark in a single season until George Foster did it in 1977. And, as historian Bill Curran points out, Gehrig accomplished it “while batting immediately behind two of history’s greatest base-cleaners, Ruth and DiMaggio.” Gehrig’s 184 RBIs in 1931 remains the highest single season total in American League history.
Gehrig won the Triple Crown in 1934, with a .363 average, 49 homers and 165 RBI and was chosen Most Valuable Player again in 1936. Despite his towering size, he stole home 15 times in his career. He batted .361 in 34 World Series games with 10 homers, eight doubles and 35 RBIs. He also holds the record for career grand slams at 23. He hit 73 three-run homers and 166 two-run shots, giving him the highest average of RBI per homer of any player with more than 300 home runs.
The Yankees recaptured the title in 1936. For the next two years, DiMaggio and Gehrig would dominate the league the way Gehrig and Ruth had, and the Yankees began a four-season dynasty that included winning four World Series and losing only three games out of 19. In 1936, Gehrig led the league in home runs and runs scored. The next year, DiMaggio did the same.
Lou Gehrig’s Disease
In 1938, Gehrig fell below .300 for the first time since 1925 and it was clear that there was something wrong. He lacked his usual strength. Pitches he would have hit for home runs were only flyouts. Doctors diagnosed a gallbladder problem first, and they put him on a bland diet, which only made him weaker. Teammate Wes Ferrell noticed that on the golf course, instead of wearing golf cleats, Gehrig was wearing tennis shoes and sliding his feet along the ground. Ferrell was frightened. When asked if he would remove Gehrig from the lineup, manager Joe McCarthy said, “That’s Lou’s decision.”
Gehrig played the first eight games of the 1939 season, but he managed only four hits. On a ball hit back to pitcher Johnny Murphy, Gehrig had trouble getting to first in time for the throw. When he returned to the dugout, his teammates complimented him on the “good play.” Gehrig knew when his fellow Yankees had to congratulate him for stumbling into an average catch it was time to leave. He took himself out of the game. On May 2, 1939, as Yankee captain, he took the lineup card to the umpires, as usual. But his name was not on the roster. Babe Dahlgren was stationed at first. The game announcer intoned, “Ladies and gentlemen, Lou Gehrig’s consecutive streak of 2,130 games played has ended.”
Doctors at the Mayo Clinic diagnosed Gehrig with a very rare form of degenerative disease: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which is now called Lou Gehrig’s disease. There was no chance he would ever play baseball again.
“…the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
New York sportswriter Paul Gallico suggested the team have a recognition day to honor Gehrig on July 4, 1939. There were more than 62,000 fans in attendance as Gehrig stood on the field at Yankee Stadium with the 1927 and 1939 Yankees. He fought back tears of overwhelming emotion and began to speak his immortal words of thanks, calling himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” It was one of the most poignant and emotional moments in the history of American sports, and there was not a dry eye in Yankee Stadium. At the close of Gehrig’s speech, Babe Ruth walked up, put his arm around his former teammate and spoke in his ear the first words they had shared since 1934.
Gehrig was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame that December. Although his career in baseball was over and his health was on a steady decline, Gehrig began work in the community. Mayor Fiorelli LaGuardia asked him to join the Parole Board, where he could help troubled youths. Gehrig was sworn in for a 10-year term in June 1940. His health continued to fail, however, and he had to take a leave of absence. Eleanor, Gehrig’s wife of eight years, remained by his side as his health deteriorated.
On June 2, 1941, Lou Gehrig succumbed to ALS and the country mourned. Eleanor received over 1,500 notes and telegrams of condolence at their home in Riverdale, New York. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt even sent her flowers. Gehrig was cremated and his ashes were buried at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York.
Lou Gehrig is remembered as one of the most talented and phenomenal baseball players of all time. More than that, however, he is remembered for his kind heart and winning attitude. When actor Edward Hermann was hired to play Gehrig in a TV movie, at first he had trouble capturing the essence of the reserved, quiet Gehrig. “What made it so tough is I could find no ‘key’ to his character. There was no strangeness, nothing spectacular about him. As Eleanor Gehrig told me, he was just a square, honest guy.”
Sportswriter Jim Murray once described the tall, strong Gehrig as a “Gibraltar in cleats.” Gehrig’s character lay somewhere between the average and the mythic. He was a dedicated athlete, a caring son and husband, an honest man and an American hero.
Baseball Hall of Fame member Lou Gehrig, nicknamed "The Iron Horse" for his durability, was an American Major League Baseball first baseman. He played his entire 17-year baseball career for the New York Yankees (1923). Gehrig set several major league records. He holds the record for most career grand slams (23). Gehrig is chiefly remembered for his prowess as a hitter, his consecutive games-played record and its subsequent longevity, and the pathos of his farewell from baseball at age 36, when he was stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
He was born Henry Louis Gehrig in New York City on June 19, 1903 (NY County certificate #27387). His parents, Wilhelm Heinrich Gehrig and Christina Annie Foch (sometimes reported as Fach or Flack), were German immigrants who lived in the lower-middle-class section of Manhattan's Yorkville neighborhood in the early 1900s. Henry Louis, the second of four children, was the only one who survived infancy. He weighed an astounding 14 pounds at birth and grew quickly into a strong boy.
The Gehrig family was poor. Heinrich Gehrig was an art-metal mechanic who worked sporadically due to drinking and ill health. Christina Gehrig took jobs as a maid, launderer, cook, and baker. From a young age, Henry helped his mother deliver laundry. He developed a close, lifelong attachment to her. Gehrig's father took him to gymnasiums to work on building up his muscles. Henry Louis was a remarkable young athlete. At age 11, he swam across the Hudson River.
At his mother's insistence, Gehrig went to Manhattan's High School of Commerce. But he spent as much time working as studying. When he was 16, he got a summer job with the Otis Elevator Company in Yonkers, New York, and was the company team's left-handed pitcher. Soon after that, he earned his first money at baseball, $5 a game, pitching and catching for the semipro Minqua Baseball Club. Gehrig gained fame in 1920 when his Commerce High School team, representing New York, played in Wrigley Field against Chicago's best high school team. Gehrig hit a ninth-inning grand slam to ice a victory and garner headlines in New York.
Columbia University recruited Gehrig on a football scholarship. Before enrolling in 1921, Gehrig tried out for legendary New York Giants manager John McGraw, who reprimanded him for missing a ground ball at first base and sent him to the Class A Hartford team, where he played 12 games. Gehrig didn't know that the professional play violated collegiate rules. He was banned from Columbia sports for a year. Playing one season of baseball at scruffy South Field, he hit long home runs off the steps of the Low Library and the walls of the journalism building, while others landed on Broadway. He pitched, played first base and outfield, and hit .444. Paul Krichell, a New York Yankees scout, signed him to a contract.
Gehrig arrived at Yankee Stadium via subway, carrying his spikes and gloves in a newspaper. He made an immediate impact by clouting long homers during batting practice. But he was returned to Hartford and played there for most of 1923 and 1924, appearing in only 23 games with the Yankees in those two seasons.
Gehrig stuck with the Yankees in 1925. On June 1, he pinch-hit for shortstop Pee Wee Wanninger. On May 6, Wanninger had replaced Everett Scott in the lineup, ending Scott's record streak of 1,307 consecutive games played. On June 2, a batting-practice pitcher from Princeton hit first baseman, Wally Pipp, before the game. Pipp went to the hospital with a concussion and Gehrig replaced him in the lineup. Pipp never returned to his first-base job, and Gehrig went on to shatter Scott's mark by 803 games.
Gehrig batted fourth in the lineup, behind Ruth, and had a great career that was overshadowed by Ruth's fame and achievements. By the time Gehrig broke in, Ruth was already the nation's biggest sports star. Ruth was a flamboyant character with a voracious appetite for publicity, food, drink, and women. Gehrig, in contrast, was quiet and called little attention to himself. He was a team player, dedicated to winning and unimpressed by personal achievements. Ruth's frequent holdouts for higher salaries bothered Gehrig, to whom "the game was almost holy, a religion," according to sportswriter Stanley Frank.
Sportswriter Marshall Hunt described Gehrig as being "unspoiled, without the remotest hint of ego, vanity or conceit." With his Boy Scout aura, Gehrig inspired writers to describe him as a paragon of virtue in contrast to Ruth. In fact, Gehrig was not that pure. He loved practical jokes and slapstick and sometimes crushed straw boaters on people's heads. Once, in a wacky effort to "break a slump," he urinated over the terrace of a friend's West End apartment.
In the bulky uniforms of those days, the thick-thighed Gehrig looked unathletic and soon acquired the nickname "Biscuit Legs." His fielding around first base was clumsy at first, but he worked hard to improve it. Sportswriter Frank Graham dubbed him "The Quiet Hero." His consecutive game streak eventually earned him the nickname "Iron Horse."
Gehrig was a key member of the 1927 Yankees, considered by many to be the greatest team of all time. That year, Ruth hit 60 home runs, which stood as the record until 1961. Gehrig hit 47, added a league-leading 52 doubles and 18 triples and led baseball with 175 runs batted in. The two were the heart of a lineup so powerful it was nicknamed "Murderer's Row." They led the Yankees to three World Series appearances from 1926 through 1928. In the 1928 series, Gehrig hit four home runs in the Yanks' four-game sweep and hit .545.
The team failed to win the next three years, but not for lack of production from Gehrig and Ruth. From 1929 through 1931, the two sluggers combined for 263 homers. Gehrig led the league with 174 RBIs in 1930 and 184 RBIs in 1931, which set the American League single-season record.
The uncomplaining Gehrig never made more than a third of Ruth's salary. It seemed something was always eclipsing him. Even Gehrig's four-homer game at Shibe Park in Philadelphia in June 1932 was overshadowed by the retirement of legendary Giants manager McGraw that same day. Gehrig's two homers in a 1932 World Series game in Chicago were forgotten in the legend of Ruth's mythic "called shot" homer the same day.
Remarkably little attention was paid to Gehrig's consecutive-games streak as it progressed year after year. In 1933, Gehrig surpassed Scott's record. He continued to play despite broken fingers, back pain, and sore muscles. Nothing could keep him out of the lineup. On September 29, 1933, he married a Chicago woman named Eleanor Grace Twitchell in the morning, then was rushed by motorcade to Yankee Stadium for an afternoon game.
In 1934, Gehrig won the league's Triple Crown, a rare feat, with a .363 batting average, 49 homers and 165 RBIs. Even then, he was not named the league's Most Valuable Player Mickey Cochrane of the Tigers took that honor, with far inferior statistics. That year was Ruth's last with the Yankees. One day that season, Gehrig was hit during an exhibition game and suffered a concussion. But he played one inning the following day to keep his streak intact. A few weeks later, he couldn't straighten up, said he had a "cold in his back," and left one game after the first inning. Gehrig would suffer similar bizarre attacks over the next few seasons, seemingly harbingers of his fatal disease.
Gehrig played one season without Ruth before a new superstar, Joe DiMaggio, joined the Yankees. Again, the dependable Gehrig was left in the shadows. The Yankees returned to the World Series in 1936, 1937, and 1938. Gehrig turned the tide in 1936 with a key home run against ace pitcher Carl Hubbell of the New York Giants. He finished with a lifetime .361 Series average in 34 games and ranked in the Top Ten all-time in almost every Series hitting category.
By 1938, Gehrig was in a noticeable decline. His average of .295 was the lowest since 1925. Over the winter, he fell several times while ice skating. During spring training in 1939, his swings were weak sometimes he had trouble getting up from a sitting position. Yet when the season started, manager Joe McCarthy continued to play Gehrig, to keep the streak alive. A sportswriter observed that Gehrig looked "like a man trying to lift heavy trunks into a truck."
When the Yankees arrived in Detroit for a May 2 game, Gehrig was hitting .143. He took himself out of the lineup, telling McCarthy it was "for the good of the team." Gehrig took the lineup card to home plate with Babe Dahlgren's name at first base. The Detroit fans applauded for two minutes. Gehrig tipped his cap and disappeared into the dugout and the record books. He would never play another game. His streak of 2,130 games was a record that would stand for 56 years. He finished with 493 home runs, 535 doubles, 162 triples, a .340 batting average and 1,990 RBIs, third-highest among all major leaguers.
A month later, Gehrig entered the Mayo Clinic and was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a degenerative muscle disorder this disease has come to be known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Gehrig remained with the team, sitting on the bench and he never played baseball again. He left baseball with a career batting average of .340, with 493 home runs and 1,990 runs batted in, all during regular season play. In seven World Series (34 games), he batted .361, hit 10 home runs, and drove in 35 runs.
On July 4, 1939, the Yankees staged a Gehrig Appreciation Day at Yankee Stadium. Ruth and other members of Murderer's Row returned for the ceremony, along with Yankee officials and dignitaries. At first, Gehrig was too overwhelmed to speak, but the crowd chanted: "We want Gehrig!" He stepped to the microphone, blowing his nose and rubbing his eyes. Cap in hand, he spoke: "Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for 17 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? … "When you have a father and 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 had a bad break, but I have an awful lot to live for. Thank you."
In December 1939, the Baseball Writers Association waived their usual five-year waiting period and unanimously elected Gehrig to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Gehrig then took a job with the New York City Parole Commission. He rarely visited Yankee Stadium because it was too painful to see the game he missed so much. Gehrig died on June 2, 1941 in New York City, exactly 16 years after he had permanently replaced Pipp in the Yankees lineup.
The following year, movie producer Samuel Goldwyn released "Pride of the Yankees," a Gehrig biography with Gary Cooper in the lead role and Babe Ruth appearing as himself. It became one of the most popular baseball movies ever made.
On June 2, 1941, at 10:10 p.m., sixteen years to the day after he replaced Wally Pipp at first base and two years after his retirement from baseball, Lou Gehrig died at his home in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, New York.
In September 1933, Gehrig married Eleanor Twitchell, the daughter of Chicago Parks Commissioner Frank Twitchell. Eleanor Gehrig never remarried following her husband's death, dedicating the rest of her life to supporting ALS research. She died on March 6, 1984, on her 80th birthday. They had no children.
Henry Louis "Lou" or "Buster" Gehrig (June 19, 1903 – June 2, 1941) was an American baseball first baseman who played 17 seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB) for the New York Yankees (1923). Gehrig set several major league records, including the most career grand slams (23), which Alex Rodriguez tied in 2012, and most consecutive games played (2,130), since surpassed by Cal Ripken, Jr.. Gehrig is chiefly remembered for his prowess as a hitter and his durability, a trait which earned him his nickname "The Iron Horse", as well as the pathos of his farewell from baseball at age 36, when he was stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Gehrig was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939. In 1969 he was voted the greatest first baseman of all time by the Baseball Writers' Association, and was the leading vote-getter on the Major League Baseball All-Century Team, chosen by fans in 1999.
A native of New York City, he played for the Yankees until his career was cut short by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disorder now commonly known in the United States and Canada as Lou Gehrig's disease. Over a 15-season span from 1925 through 1939, he played in 2,130 consecutive games. This streak ended only when Gehrig became disabled by the fatal neuromuscular disease that claimed his life two years later. His streak, long considered one of baseball's few unbreakable records, stood for 56 years, until finally broken by Cal Ripken, Jr., of the Baltimore Orioles on September 6, 1995.
Gehrig accumulated 1,995 runs batted in (RBIs) in 17 seasons, with a career batting average of .340, on-base percentage of .447, and slugging percentage of .632. Three of the top six RBI seasons in baseball history belong to Gehrig. He was selected to each of the first seven All-Star games (though he did not play in the 1939 game, as he retired one week before it was held), and he won the American League's (AL) Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award in 1927 and 1936. He was also a Triple Crown winner in 1934, leading the AL in batting average, home runs, and RBIs.
Gehrig was born in the East Harlem section of Manhattan at 1994 Second Avenue, weighing almost 14 pounds (6.4 kg) at birth, the second child out of four to German immigrants. His father Heinrich was a sheet metal worker by trade, but frequently unemployed due to alcoholism, and his mother Christina was a maid, the main breadwinner and disciplinarian in the family. His two sisters died from whooping cough and measles at an early age another son also died in infancy. Young Gehrig helped his mother with her work, doing tasks such as folding laundry and picking up supplies from the local stores. In 1910, Gehrig lived with his parents at 2266 Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan. In 1920, the family resided at 2079 8th Avenue in Manhattan.
Gehrig first garnered national attention for his baseball ability while playing in a game at Cubs Park (now Wrigley Field) on June 26, 1920. Gehrig's New York School of Commerce team was playing a team from Chicago's Lane Tech High School, in front of a crowd of more than 10,000 spectators. With his team winning 8𠄶 in the top of the ninth inning, Gehrig hit a grand slam completely out of the major league park, an unheard-of feat for a 17-year old.
Lou Gehrig attended PS 132 in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, then went to Commerce High School, graduating in 1921. Gehrig then studied at Columbia University for two years, although he did not graduate. While attending Columbia, he was a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity. Initially, Gehrig could not play intercollegiate baseball for the Columbia Lions because he had played baseball for the minor-league Hartford Senators of the Eastern League in the summer before his freshman year. At the time, he was unaware that doing so jeopardized his eligibility to play any collegiate sport. However, Gehrig was ruled eligible to play on the Lions' football team and was a standout fullback. Later, he gained baseball eligibility and played on the Lions team.
On April 18, 1923, the same day that Yankee Stadium opened for the first time and Babe Ruth inaugurated the new stadium with a home run, Columbia pitcher Gehrig struck out seventeen Williams College batters to set a team record however, Columbia lost the game. Only a handful of collegians were at South Field that day, but more significant was the presence of Yankee scout Paul Krichell, who had been trailing Gehrig for some time. It was not Gehrig’s pitching that particularly impressed him rather, it was Gehrig’s powerful left-handed hitting. During the time Krichell had been observing the young Columbia ballplayer, Gehrig had hit some of the longest home runs ever seen on various Eastern campuses, including a 450-foot (137 m) home run on April 28 at Columbia's South Field, which landed at 116th Street and Broadway. Within two months, Gehrig had signed a Yankee contract. Gehrig returned to minor-league Hartford to play parts of two seasons, 1923 and 1924, batting .344 and hitting 61 home runs in 193 games (It was the only time he ever played any level of ball—sandlot, high school, collegiate or pro𠅏or a non-New York City-based team).
Gehrig joined the New York Yankees midway through the 1923 season and made his debut on June 15, 1923, as a pinch hitter. In his first two seasons, he saw limited playing time, mostly as a pinch hitter — he played in only 23 games and was not on the Yankees' 1923 World Series roster. In 1925, he batted .295, with 20 home runs and 68 runs batted in (RBIs).
The 23-year-old Yankee first baseman's breakout season came in 1926, when he batted .313 with 47 doubles, an American League-leading 20 triples, 16 home runs, and 112 RBIs. In the 1926 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Gehrig hit .348 with two doubles and 4 RBIs. The Cardinals won a seven-game series four games to three.
In 1927, Gehrig put up one of the greatest seasons by any batter in history, hitting .373, with 218 hits: 52 doubles, 18 triples, 47 home runs, a then-record 175 runs batted in (surpassing teammate Babe Ruth's 171 six years earlier), and a .765 slugging percentage. His 117 extra-base hits that season are second all-time to Babe Ruth’s 119 extra-base hits in 1921 and his 447 total bases are third all-time, after Babe Ruth's 457 total bases in 1921 and Rogers Hornsby's 450 in 1922. Gehrig's production helped the 1927 Yankees to a 110 record, the AL pennant, and a four-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1927 World Series. Although the AL recognized his season by naming him league MVP, it was overshadowed by Babe Ruth’s 60 home run season and the overall dominance of the 1927 Yankees, a team often cited as having the greatest lineup of all time — the famed Murderers' Row.
Despite playing in the shadow of the larger-than-life Ruth for two-thirds of his career, Gehrig was one of the highest run producers in baseball history: he had 509 RBIs during a three-season stretch (1930). Only two other players, Jimmie Foxx with 507 and Hank Greenberg with 503, have surpassed 500 RBIs in any three seasons their totals were non-consecutive. (Babe Ruth had 498.) Playing 14 complete seasons, Gehrig had 13 consecutive seasons with 100 or more RBIs (a major league record shared with Foxx until eclipsed in 2010 by Alex Rodriguez). Gehrig had six seasons where he batted .350 or better (with a high of .379 in 1930), plus a seventh season at .349. He had seven seasons with 150 or more RBIs, 11 seasons with over 100 walks, eight seasons with 200 or more hits, and five seasons with more than 40 home runs. Gehrig led the American League in runs scored four times, home runs three times, and RBIs five times. His 184 RBIs in 1931 remain the American League record as of 2010 and rank second all-time to Hack Wilson's 191 RBIs in 1930. On the single-season RBI list, Gehrig ranks second, fifth (175), and sixth (174), with four additional seasons over 150 RBI. He also holds the baseball record for most seasons with 400 total bases or more, accomplishing this feat five times in his career. He batted fourth in the lineup to Ruth's third in the order, making it impractical to give up an intentional walk to Ruth.
During the 10 seasons (1925) in which Gehrig and Ruth were both Yankees and played a majority of the games, Gehrig had more home runs than Ruth only once, in 1934, when he hit 49 compared to Ruth’s 22 (Ruth played 125 games that year). They tied at 46 in 1931. Ruth had 424 home runs compared to Gehrig’s 347. However, Gehrig outpaced Ruth in RBI, 1,436 to 1,316. Gehrig had a .343 batting average, compared to .338 for Ruth.
In 1932, Gehrig became the first player of the 20th century to hit four home runs in a game, accomplishing the feat on June 3 against the Philadelphia Athletics. He narrowly missed getting a fifth home run in the game when Athletics center fielder Al Simmons made a leaping catch of another fly ball at the center field fence. After the game, manager Joe McCarthy told him, "Well, Lou, nobody can take today away from you." On the same day, however, John McGraw announced his retirement after thirty years of managing the New York Giants. McGraw, not Gehrig, got the main headlines in the sports sections the next day. The following year, in September 1933, Gehrig married Eleanor Twitchell, the daughter of Chicago Parks Commissioner Frank Twitchell.
In a 1936 World Series cover story about Lou Gehrig and Carl Hubbell, Time proclaimed Gehrig "the game's No. 1 batsman", who "takes boyish pride in banging a baseball as far, and running around the bases as quickly, as possible".
On June 1, 1925, Gehrig entered the game as a pinch hitter, substituting for shortstop Paul "Pee Wee" Wanninger. The next day, June 2, Yankee manager Miller Huggins started Gehrig in place of regular first baseman Wally Pipp. Pipp was in a slump, as were the Yankees as a team, so Huggins made several lineup changes to boost their performance. Fourteen years later, Gehrig had played 2,130 consecutive games. In a few instances, Gehrig managed to keep the streak intact through pinch hitting appearances and fortuitous timing in others, the streak continued despite injuries. For example:
In addition, X-rays taken late in his life disclosed that Gehrig had sustained several fractures during his playing career, although he remained in the lineup despite those previously undisclosed injuries. On the other hand, the streak was helped when Yankees general manager Ed Barrow postponed a game as a rainout on a day when Gehrig was sick with the flu𠅎ven though it was not raining.
Gehrig's record of 2,130 consecutive games played stood until September 6, 1995, when Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr. broke it.
Although his performance in the second half of the 1938 season was slightly better than in the first half, Gehrig reported physical changes at the midway point. 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." Although his final 1938 statistics were above average (.295 batting average, 114 RBI, 170 hits, .523 slugging percentage, 689 plate appearances with only 75 strikeouts, and 29 home runs), they were significantly down from his 1937 season, in which he batted .351 and slugged .643. In the 1938 World Series, he had four hits in 14 at-bats, all singles.
When the Yankees began their 1939 spring training in St. Petersburg, Florida, it was clear that Gehrig no longer possessed his once-formidable power. Even Gehrig's base running was affected, and at one point he collapsed at Al Lang Field, then the Yankees' spring training park. By the end of spring training, Gehrig had not hit a home run. Throughout his career, Gehrig was considered an excellent baserunner, but as the 1939 season got under way, his coordination and speed had deteriorated significantly.
By the end of April, his statistics were the worst of his career, with one RBI and a .143 batting average. Fans and the press openly speculated on Gehrig's abrupt decline. James Kahn, a reporter who wrote often about Gehrig, said in one article:
I think there is something wrong with him. Physically wrong, I mean. I don't know what it is, but I am satisfied that it goes far beyond his ball-playing. I have seen ballplayers 'go' overnight, as Gehrig seems to have done. But they were simply washed up as ballplayers. It's something deeper than that in this case, though. I have watched him very closely and this is what I have seen: I have seen him time a ball perfectly, swing on it as hard as he can, meet it squarely — and drive a soft, looping fly over the infield. In other words, for some reason that I do not know, his old power isn't there. He is meeting the ball, time after time, and it isn't going anywhere.
He was indeed meeting the ball, with only one strikeout in 28 at-bats however, Joe McCarthy found himself resisting pressure from Yankee management to switch Gehrig to a part-time role. Things came to a head when Gehrig had to struggle to make a routine put-out at first base. The pitcher, Johnny Murphy, had to wait for Gehrig to drag himself over to the bag so he could field the throw. Murphy said, "Nice play, Lou."
On April 30, Gehrig went hitless against the Washington Senators. Gehrig had just played his 2,130th consecutive major league game.
On May 2, the next game after a day off, Gehrig approached McCarthy before the game in Detroit against the Tigers and said, "I'm benching myself, Joe," telling the Yankees' skipper that he was doing so "for the good of the team." McCarthy acquiesced, putting Ellsworth "Babe" Dahlgren in at first base, and also said that whenever Gehrig wanted to play again, the position was his. Gehrig himself took the lineup card out to the shocked umpires before the game, ending the fourteen-year streak. Before the game began, the Briggs Stadium announcer told the fans, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is the first time Lou Gehrig's name will not appear on the Yankee lineup in 2,130 consecutive games." The Detroit Tigers' fans gave Gehrig a standing ovation while he sat on the bench with tears in his eyes. A wire service photograph of Gehrig reclining against the dugout steps with a stoic expression appeared the next day in the nation's newspapers. Other than his retirement ceremony, it is one of the most-reproduced and best-remembered visual images of Gehrig. Gehrig stayed with the Yankees as team captain for the rest of the season, but never played in a major league game again.
As Lou Gehrig's debilitation became steadily worse (he stumbled over curbs, mishandled fielding plays, and fell while running the bases), his wife, Eleanor, called the famed Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Her call was transferred to Charles William Mayo, who had been following Gehrig's career and his mysterious loss of strength. Mayo told Eleanor to bring Gehrig as soon as possible.
Eleanor and Gehrig flew to Rochester from Chicago, where the Yankees were playing at the time, arriving at the Mayo Clinic on June 13, 1939. After six days of extensive testing at Mayo Clinic, the diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) was confirmed on June 19, Gehrig's 36th birthday. The prognosis was grim: rapidly increasing paralysis, difficulty in swallowing and speaking, and a life expectancy of less than three years, although there would be no impairment of mental functions. Eleanor Gehrig was told that the cause of ALS was unknown but it was painless, non-contagious and cruel — the motor function of the central nervous system is destroyed but the mind remains fully aware to the end.
At Eleanor's request, the Mayo doctors intentionally withheld his grim prognosis from Gehrig. He often wrote letters to Eleanor, and in one such note written shortly afterwards, said (in part):
The bad news is lateral sclerosis, in our language chronic infantile paralysis. There isn't any cure. there are very few of these cases. It is probably caused by some germ. Never heard of transmitting it to mates. There is a 50 chance of keeping me as I am. I may need a cane in 10 or 15 years. Playing is out of the question.
Following Gehrig's visit to the Mayo Clinic, he briefly rejoined the Yankees in Washington, D.C. As his train pulled into Union Station, he was greeted by a group of Boy Scouts, happily waving and wishing him luck. Gehrig waved back, but he leaned forward to his companion, a reporter, and said, "They're wishing me luck — and I'm dying."
"The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth"
On June 21, the New York Yankees announced Gehrig's retirement and proclaimed July 4, 1939, "Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day" at Yankee Stadium. Between games of the Independence Day doubleheader against the Washington Senators, the poignant ceremonies were held on the diamond. In its coverage the following day, The New York Times said it was "perhaps as colorful and dramatic a pageant as ever was enacted on a baseball field [as] 61,808 fans thundered a hail and farewell." Dignitaries extolled the dying slugger and the members of the 1927 Yankees World Championship team, known as "Murderer's Row", attended the ceremonies. New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia called Gehrig "the greatest prototype of good sportsmanship and citizenship" and Postmaster General James Farley concluded his speech by predicting, "For generations to come, boys who play baseball will point with pride to your record."
Yankees Manager Joe McCarthy, struggling to control his emotions, then spoke of Lou Gehrig, with whom there was a close, almost father and son-like bond. After describing Gehrig as "the finest example of a ballplayer, sportsman, and citizen that baseball has ever known", McCarthy could stand it no longer. Turning tearfully to Gehrig, the manager said, "Lou, what else can I say except that it was a sad day in the life of everybody who knew you when you came into my hotel room that day in Detroit and told me you were quitting as a ballplayer because you felt yourself a hindrance to the team. My God, man, you were never that."
The Yankees retired Gehrig's uniform number "4", making him the first player in Major League Baseball history to be accorded that honor. Gehrig was given many gifts, commemorative plaques, and trophies. Some came from VIPs others came from the stadium's groundskeepers and janitorial staff. Footage of the ceremonies shows Gehrig being handed various gifts, and immediately setting them down on the ground, because he no longer had the arm strength to hold them. The Yankees gave him a silver trophy with their signatures engraved on it. Inscribed on the front was a special poem written by The New York Times writer John Kieran. The trophy cost only about $5, but it became one of Gehrig's most prized possessions. It is currently on display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
After the presentations and remarks by Babe Ruth, Gehrig addressed the crowd:
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.
The crowd stood and applauded for almost two minutes. Gehrig was visibly shaken as he stepped away from the microphone, and wiped the tears away from his face with his handkerchief. Babe Ruth came over and hugged him as a band played "I Love You Truly" and the crowd chanted "We love you, Lou." 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."
In December 1939, Lou Gehrig was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in a special election by the Baseball Writers Association. At age 36, he was the second youngest player to be so honored (behind Sandy Koufax).
"Don't think I am depressed or pessimistic about my condition at present," Lou Gehrig wrote following his retirement from baseball. Struggling against his ever-worsening physical condition, he added, "I intend to hold on as long as possible and then if the inevitable comes, I will accept it philosophically and hope for the best. That's all we can do."
In October 1939, he accepted Mayor Fiorello La Guardia's appointment to a ten-year term as a New York City Parole Commissioner and was sworn into office on January 2, 1940. The Parole Commission commended the ex-ballplayer for his "firm belief in parole, properly administered", stating that Gehrig "indicated he accepted the parole post because it represented an opportunity for public service. He had rejected other job offers – including lucrative speaking and guest appearance opportunities – worth far more financially than the $5,700 a year commissionership." Gehrig visited New York City's correctional facilities, but insisted that the visits not be covered by news media. Gehrig, as always, quietly and efficiently performed his duties. He was often helped by his wife Eleanor, who would guide his hand when he had to sign official documents. About a month before his death, when Gehrig reached the point where his deteriorating physical condition made it impossible for him to continue in the job, he quietly resigned.
On June 2, 1941, at 10:10 p.m., sixteen years to the day after he replaced Wally Pipp at first base and two years after his retirement from baseball, Lou Gehrig died at his home in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, New York.
Upon hearing the news, Babe Ruth and his wife Claire went to the Gehrig house to console Eleanor. Mayor LaGuardia ordered flags in New York to be flown at half-staff, and Major League ballparks around the nation did likewise.
Following the funeral at Christ Episcopal Church of Riverdale, Gehrig's remains were cremated and interred on June 4 at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York. Lou Gehrig and Ed Barrow are both interred in the same section of Kensico Cemetery, which is next door to Gate of Heaven Cemetery, where the graves of Babe Ruth and Billy Martin are located.
The Gehrigs had no children. Eleanor, who never remarried, dedicated the remainder of her life to supporting ALS research. She died on March 6, 1984, on her 80th birthday.
The Yankees dedicated a monument to Gehrig in center field at Yankee Stadium on July 6, 1941, the shrine lauding him as, "A man, a gentleman and a great ballplayer whose amazing record of 2,130 consecutive games should stand for all time." Gehrig's monument joined the one placed there in 1932 to Miller Huggins, which would eventually be followed by Babe Ruth's in 1949.
Gehrig's birthplace in Manhattan, at 1994 Second Avenue (near E. 103rd Street), is memorialized with a plaque marking the site, as is another early residence on E. 94th Street (near Second Avenue). (As of 26/12/2011, the first mentioned plaque is not present due to ongoing construction. The second mentioned plaque is present, but ascribes to his birthplace, not early residence.) The Gehrigs' white house at 5204 Delafield Avenue in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, where Lou Gehrig died, still stands today on the east side of the Henry Hudson Parkway and is likewise marked by a plaque.
Records, awards, and accomplishments
Sixty years after his farewell to baseball, Gehrig received the most votes of any baseball player on the Major League Baseball All-Century Team, chosen by fan balloting in 1999.
In 1999, editors at Sporting News ranked Lou Gehrig sixth on their list of "Baseball's 100 Greatest Players".
Learn More About the Museum
The Museum in Cooperstown features more than 50,000 square feet of exhibits devoted to the National Pastime.
During his illustrious career, the “Iron Horse” had 13 consecutive seasons with more than 100 runs batted in and 100 runs scored, knocked in an American League record 185 runs in 1931, won the Triple Crown in 1934 and played in 2,130 consecutive games, a record that would stand until 1995 when Cal Ripken Jr. passed it.
According to MLB, June 2 was chosen as the date for Lou Gehrig Day as it’s when Gehrig became the Yankees starting first baseman in 1925 as well as the day he passed in 1941 from complications of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
But it was back on June 3, 1921, that the 17-year-old, playing under the name “Lou Lewis,” helped Hartford defeat Pittsfield. The young first baseman batted 0-for-3 with a sacrifice, an inauspicious start for the Class of 1939 Hall of Famer. After all, Gehrig had only graduated from New York City’s High School of Commerce in January 1921, then enrolled at Columbia University on a football scholarship a month later.
In the June 3, 1921 edition of The Hartford Courant, it was reported, with a misspelled surname, that “’Lefty’ Gahrig, hard-hitting semipro from Brooklyn, has been signed by Manager Arthur Irwin to play first base for the Senators.
In order to protect his eligibility to play at Columbia, Lou Gehrig began playing professionally under a pseudonym, Lou Lewis. (National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)
“Gahrig is a short but stocky youth and is well remembered because of the two long home runs clouts he made in his two trips to the plate during the Hartford-Columbia University game while the Senators were training for the present campaign. One of the wallops went into the center field stands while the other cleared the centerfield fence at Clarkin Field.
“He promised Irwin during the past winter that he would play under him if he decided to enter the professional ranks but hopes of getting him faded when he entered Columbia University. Apparently he has decided to quit college and play baseball for a living. Several big league clubs have been trying to sign him.”
Soon, though, “Lefty” Gahrig was being referred to as “Lewis.” In the June 5, 1921, edition of The Hartford Courant, the game story read, “In the second inning … Lewis, Hartford’s youthful first sacker, hit the first ball pitched for three bases to right field.”
Gehrig would go on to play a dozen games for Hartford as “Lewis,” batting .261 (12-for-46) with zero home runs, a double and two triples.
Reportedly, when word reached Columbia University’s baseball coach, the former big league pitcher Andy Coakley, he told Gehrig he was jeopardizing his collegiate athletic eligibility and to return to school. Coakley, meanwhile, convinced rival schools that Gehrig should only be suspended for one year from the Columbia baseball team as a penalty for playing pro ball with Hartford.
Ray Robinson, in his book, “Iron Horse: Lou Gehrig in his Time,” wrote, “Gehrig always insisted that he had no idea he would be barred from Columbia’s teams if he accepted the play-for-pay offer.”
Lou Gehrig made his professional debut for the Hartford Senators on June 3, 1921, playing under the pseudonym "Lou Lewis." (Hartford Courant)
Gehrig, who rarely discussed his turn as “Lewis” in 1921, addressed the controversy in the April 22, 1937 issue of the Sporting News.
“As a freshman in Columbia I played a little league ball during the summer vacation. John McGraw had me at the Polo Grounds but did not give me too much attention nor did he seem to be impressed with my possibilities. I have often thought because of later developments if he had given me a real opportunity to make good and taken pains with me the baseball situation in New York perhaps would have been a lot different in the years that were to come.
“McGraw sent me to Hartford in the Eastern League, which was managed by Arthur Irwin. I played under the name of Lewis. I was sore over the lack of attention from the Polo Grounds and sore over the situation in Hartford.”
Gehrig went into more detail in an April 1938 column in the New York World-Telegram by Joe Williams.
“Here’s how it was,” Gehrig told Williams. “I was going to Columbia. A fellow came up and asked me how I’d like to work out with the Giants. He was a semipro umpire. I’ve forgotten his name and that distresses me. The fellow played an important part in my life. I’d like, at least, to give him credit for starting me out when people ask me that question. I feel like a dope that I can’t remember his name.
“Anyway, I went over to the Polo Grounds and reported to Cozy Dolan, as per instructions. Dolan was one of the Giants’ coaches. I worked out with some other youngsters in the morning. Maybe for a week or so. One day Dolan told me to hang around. ‘I want John McGraw to take a look at you,’ he explained. McGraw, of course, was managing the Giants. I did my stuff before the old maestro. He asked me if I was interested in going to Hartford for the season. I explained I didn’t want to jeopardize my college standing. I still had two more years at Columbia.
The box score from Lou Gehrig’s second game played for Hartford in 1921 when he was known as “Lou Lewis”. (Hartford Courant)
Lou Gehrig Baseball
Lou Gehrig signed this ball while he was a patient at Mayo Clinic in 1939. When the New York Yankees legend came to Mayo Clinic in 1939, he befriended many people in Rochester. Gehrig came to Mayo for answers. He had been feeling progressively weaker and had just ended his record-setting streak of playing 2,130 consecutive games. Even with the many medical tests he was undergoing and the concerns he faced, Gehrig reached out to local youth, playing catch, practicing with a local youth team and demonstrating batting, fielding and throwing techniques to starry-eyed youngsters.
Among them was Bob Tierney, a talented player with a heart for the game. The &ldquoIron Horse&rdquo and the Rochester athlete struck up a friendship. Bob worked up the courage to ask Gehrig for his autograph, which he was happy to provide. They shook hands for the last time on June 16 &ndash Gehrig&rsquos 36th birthday, the same day he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis &ndash ALS, the condition with which his name became associated.
Since his diagnosis at Mayo, ALS has been known as &ldquoLou Gehrig&rsquos disease.&rdquo Bob Tierney kept the Gehrig baseball &ndash and, along the way, got a signature from Leo Durocher as well &ndash for 75 years. It is the only known baseball that Gehrig signed as a Mayo Clinic patient that stayed in the same hands for three-quarters of a century. In 2014, to mark the 75th anniversary of Gehrig&rsquos diagnosis and the Mayo Clinic Sesquicentennial, Bob Tierney sold the baseball to Rochester business leader Andy Chafoulias. With his daughter, Taylor, Chafoulias donated the baseball to Mayo Clinic. The baseball is displayed at Mayo Clinic Heritage Hall on our Rochester, Minnesota, campus as an example of generosity, community spirit and Mayo&rsquos ongoing research in ALS and related conditions.
Copyright © 2001-2021 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. All Rights Reserved.
May 2, 1939 Lucky Man
The Yankees were in Detroit on May 2 when Gehrig told manager Joe McCarthy “I’m benching myself, Joe”. It’s “for the good of the team”. The Iron Horse’s streak of 2,130 consecutive games, had come to an end.
The Lane Tech high school baseball team was at home on June 26, 1920. 10,000 spectators had assembled to watch the game at Cubs Park, now Wrigley Field. New York’s Commerce High was ahead 8–6 in the top of the 9th, when a left handed batter hit a grand slam out of the park. No 17 year-old had ever hit a baseball out of a major league park before, and I don’t believe it’s happened, since. It was the first time the country heard the name Lou Gehrig.
Gehrig was pitching for Columbia University against Williams College on April 18, 1923, the day that Babe Ruth hit the first home run out of the brand new Yankee Stadium. Though Columbia would lose the game, Gehrig struck out seventeen batters to set a team record.
The loss didn’t matter to Paul Krichell, the Yankee scout who’d been following Gehrig. Krichell didn’t care about the arm either, as much as he did that powerful left-handed bat. He had seen Gehrig hit some of the longest home runs ever seen on several eastern campuses, including a 450′ home run at Columbia’s South Field that cleared the stands and landed at 116th Street and Broadway.
NY Giants manager John McGraw persuaded a young Gehrig to play pro ball under a false name, Henry Lewis, despite the fact that it could jeopardize his collegiate sports eligibility. Gehrig played only a dozen games for the Hartford Senators before being found out, and suspended for a time from college ball. This period, and a couple of brief stints in the minor leagues in the and seasons, were the only times Gehrig didn’t play for a New York team.
Gehrig started as a pinch hitter with the NY Yankees on June 15, 1923. He came into his own in the ‘26 season. In 1927 he batted fourth on “Murderers’ Row”, the first six hitters in the Yankee’s batting order: Earle Combs, Mark Koenig, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel and Tony Lazzeri.
He had one of the greatest seasons of any batter in history that year, hitting .373, with 218 hits: 52 doubles, 18 triples, 47 home runs, a then-record 175 RBIs, and a .765 slugging percentage. Gehrig’s bat helped the 1927 Yankees to a 110–44 record, the American League pennant, and a four game World Series sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
He was the “Iron Horse”, playing in more consecutive games than any player in history. It was an “unbreakable” record, standing for 56 years, until surpassed in 1995 by Cal Ripken, Jr. Gehrig hit his 23rd and last major league grand slam in August 1938, a record that would stand until fellow Yankee Alex Rodriquez tied it in 2012.
Lou Gehrig collapsed in 1939 spring training, going into an abrupt decline early in the season. The Yankees were in Detroit on May 2 when Gehrig told manager Joe McCarthy “I’m benching myself, Joe”. It’s “for the good of the team”. McCarthy put Babe Dahlgren in at first and the Yankees won 22-2, but that was it. The Iron Horse’s streak of 2,130 consecutive games, had come to an end.
Sports reporter James Kahn wrote: “I think there is something wrong with him. Physically wrong, I mean. I don’t know what it is, but I am satisfied that it goes far beyond his ball-playing”.
Gehrig left the team in June, arriving at the Mayo Clinic on the 13th. The diagnosis of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) was confirmed six days later, on June 19. It was his 36th birthday. It was a cruel prognosis: rapidly increasing paralysis, difficulty in swallowing and speaking, and a life expectancy of fewer than three years.
Gehrig briefly rejoined the Yankees in Washington, D.C. He was greeted by a group of Boy Scouts at Union Station, happily waving and wishing him luck. Gehrig waved back, but he leaned forward to a reporter. “They’re wishing me luck”, he said, “and I’m dying.”
Gehrig appeared at Yankee Stadium on “Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day”, July 4, 1939. He was awarded trophies and other tokens of affection by the New York sports media, fellow players and groundskeepers. He would place each one on the ground, already too weak to hold them. Addressing his fans, Gehrig described himself as “The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth”.
Henry Louis Gehrig died on June 2, 1941, at the age 37.
I drove by Yankee Stadium back in 2013, the week after the Boston Marathon bombing. The sign out front said “United we Stand”. With it was a giant Red Sox logo. That night, thousands of Yankees fans interrupted a game with the Arizona Diamondbacks, to belt out Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” a staple of Red Sox home games since 1997.
I thought about Lou Gehrig. I’ve always been a Boston guy myself, I think I’m required by Massachusetts state law to hate the Yankees. But seriously. What a Class Act.