First the bad news; Lou Gehrig’s career Grand Slam record of 23 was tied last week and likely will be broken within my lifetime. Now the good news; it was tied by another Yankee, Alex Rodriguez. I’ll be rooting for A-Rod to break Gehrig’s record, since it must be broken and since the alternatives are Manny Ramirez, who sits at third all-time with 21 career Grand Slams, and Carlos Lee (Houston Astros) who is tied with Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron (amongst others) for ninth all-time with 16. I’d like to keep it in the family.
My stance is not without its angst. Lou Gehrig is my favorite Yankee, and therefore my favorite athlete, of all time. He provides the sole corollary to Panuthos Doctrine 4 which states that “whereas one may venerate a mediocre player who played during one’s childhood and claim said player as their ‘favorite’, UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES may a fan claim as their favorite a player who died before they were born.” The corollary to PD4 states “…except if that player is Lou Gehrig.”
That stated, there are some eerie similarities between these two Bombers – not Lincoln-Kennedy Assassination Coincidences-eerie, though, more like card-trick eerie.
Both men are bi-pedal, carbon-based life forms who donned pinstripes (whoa!). Both Gehrig and Rodriguez are native New Yorkers and both lived in Washington Heights. Both were considered among the best-ever at their respective infield positions. Both were bestowed nicknames that reflected the spirit of their respective eras; Gehrig’s “Iron Horse” nickname epitomized the treasured values of the 1920s – power, hard work, stamina, and resilience – whereas the multi-tasking, inter-connected generation of the 21st century, lacked the time and creativity required to come up with anything better than “A-Rod”. Most importantly for this column, however, both men were roughly the same age when they hit their respective 23rd career Grand Slams. The Iron Horse was 35 and in his 16th major league season whereas A-Rod was 36 and in his 19th. Both men hit Grand Slam number 23 somewhere other than in the Bronx – Gehrig in Philadelphia in the first inning in 1938, and Rodriguez in Atlanta in the sixth last week.
There are important differences of course. A-Rod wore two different uniforms before donning pinstripes and got paid substantially more even when adjusting the relative value of their contracts. Gehrig’s largest paycheck was $39,000 in 1938. This equates to roughly $400,000 today (roughly the league minimum today). A-Rod to date has been paid more than the GDP of Burkina Faso. When ALS finally forced Gehrig out of baseball, he received an appointment on then-Mayor Fiorello Laguardia’s staff as a parole commissioner (this was the 1940s equivalent of a pension for a famous athlete). During his tenure in pinstripes, Col Jacob Rupert forked out approximately $360,250 for the Iron Horse’s services. If you break that down, that’s $15,663 per Grand Slam (cheap!). The Steinbrenners, meanwhile, have paid $16.8 million per Grand Slam for the 13 A-Rod has hit as a Yankee.
Money aside, their career numbers illustrate two Yankees who were nearly equal in terms of their importance to their teams. Below, I have compared their respective career statistics for Hits, Slash, Home Runs, Strikeouts and Wins Above Replacement ( WAR).
The big differences? A-Rod has more homeruns and a Gehrig strikeout was rarer than a solar eclipse. Here are some other stats to consider:
|Player||AL HR Leader||AL RBI Leader||All Star Teams||Triple Crown||AL MVP||World Series Championships|
If you are a fan of Lou Gehrig, the last number speaks volumes. Six rings, enough said.
Conversely, if you are an A-Rod detractor, you’ll note an odd correlation between the third and last numbers. They confirm that A-Rod is in it for A-Rod and that this is good for the Yankees only to the degree that the team’s needs parallel A-Rod’s vanity. His contract enables this narcissism as it rewards benchmarks like homerun records broken. Under his contract extension from 2007, he is slated to receive up to $30 million more for each homerun milestone after reaching HR number 663. Perhaps Brian Cashman was trying to harness A-Rod’s vanity with these incentives, or, perhaps, there actually were other teams out there in 2007 who could have afforded both A-Rod AND 24 other players. Either way, the contract definitely provides incentive for individual accomplishments and fuels anti-A-Rod sentiment.
But Lou Gehrig played on arguably one of the greatest teams in history (1927-1939) and alongside some of the greatest players not only in Yankee history, but in the history of baseball (Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio).
And A-Rod’s well-documented vanity notwithstanding, he came up big last week. The Yankees should have lost that last game against the Braves. They were trailing by 4 runs, going into the sixth inning, on the road. But A-Rod came up big and preserved a six- game win streak. This is no anomaly. The New York Times reported last week that A-Rod has had twelve Grand Slams that have either tied or won a game and 11 of his Grand Slams have come in the seventh inning or later. That’s pretty clutch. Grand Slams are the hitting equivalent of a pitcher pitching a shut-out.
As of the writing of this piece, there existed no single metric which would predict the frequency of Grand Slam production. I have thus developed the first such metric which I call MYBESTGUESS to determine when, where, and by whom Gehrig’s and A-Rod’s Grand Slam Record will be broken. It incorporates high-order statistical probabilities (I asked my six year old daughter to pick a number) and the use of that free calculator that comes with windows applications. Some would argue that such a prediction is best left for fools and charlatans. So here goes; A-Rod will break his and Gehrig’s shared record within one year of this writing and it will be a great day for Yankee Universe.