Lou Gehrig, or the Iron Horse and Yankee Captain, played with the Yankees from 1923 until 1939. During that time he played in 2,130 consecutive games, a record that stood for 56 years. He finished his career with 493 home runs, 1,995 RBIs, a .340 batting average, a .447 OBP, and a 1.080 OPS. He also holds the record for most career grand slams at 23.
Gehrig was named the league MVP in 1927 and 1936 and also won the triple crown in 1934, leading the league in home runs, RBI’s, and batting average. He was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939 and was picked as the first baseman for the MLB All-Century Team in 1999.
Gehrig was born and raised in New York City and even went to college at Columbia University, although he did not play baseball in his freshman year because of eligibility rules. At Columbia he was a standout pitcher, once striking out 17 batters in a single game, but the Yankees were more interested in him as a hitter. He finished school in 1923 and made his major league debut in that very season.
Gehrig would not become a standout regular until 1926 when he played in 155 games, led the league with 20 triples, smacked 16 home runs, and hit .313. In 1927 he was truly amazing hitting .373 with a 1.240 OPS while leading the league with 447 total bases (52 doubles, 18 triples, and 47 home runs). His 1927 numbers still rival the stats for any player’s single season accomplishments to this day, Babe Ruth included.
That ’27 team was nicknamed Murderer’s Row in a large part because of Gehrig. In fact, Ruth hit 60 home runs that year and Gehrig still took home the AL MVP award. That offense powered the Yankees to a 110-44 overall record that year and a sweep in the World Series.
Gehrig was a hero in the 1927 World Series, but he really stood out in the 1928 World Series when he hit .545, had a .706 OBP, a 1.727 slugging percentage along with four home runs and nine RBI’s. All in four games.
Gehrig lead the league in home runs in 1931, 1934, and 1936, but only outslugged teammate Ruth in the ’34 season, his last with the Yankees (they tied in ’31 and Ruth was retired in ’36).
Midway through the 1938 season Gehrig first reported feeling tired. It was the start of his amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, later named Lou Gehrig’s disease, that would eventually end his career and take his life.
At the start of the 1939 season there was something clearly wrong with Gehrig, but it wasn’t until May 2 that he came out of the lineup for the first time in 2,130 games. Gehrig had to bench himself because Yankees manager Joe McCarthy refused to take him out of the lineup. The Yankees were on the road that day and the Detroit Tigers fans acknowledged that Gehrig’s games played streak had ended by giving him a standing ovation. He never played again.
Gehrig gave his famous “Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth” speech on July 4th that year. It was on Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day at Yankee Stadium and took place in between a double header against the Washington Senators. On that day, Ruth and Gehrig put behind them a personal conflict that kept the pair from speaking with each other for years. There is a famous picture of Ruth embracing Gehrig. Gehrig didn’t hug Ruth back because his ALS had been so bad that he couldn’t lift his arms.
Gehrig died June 2, 1941 at the age of 37. Today he is remembered by the Yankees with a plaque in Monument Park and his no. 4 is retired. The Yankees also didn’t name another captain until Thurman Munson was given the honor in 1976, in memory of Gehrig.
Here are Gehrig’s stats: