(From the Vault)
"I consider myself the luckiest man on the
face of the earth."
With Derek Jeter a lock to pass the all-time Yankee hit mark
set by Lou Gehrig and reams and reams of copy having been
devoted to the chase, what the great first baseman was like
and what he did in his career is worth recalling.
They called him "Larrupin Lou," "Iron Horse," "Biscuit
Pants," "Columbia Lou," "Buster." Whatever they called him
he was "The Pride of the Yankees."
Born Heinrich Ludwig Gehrig II on June 19, 1903 in New York
City to poor German immigrants, he was the only one of four
children to survive infancy.
Labeled "the Babe Ruth of the schoolyards" after hitting a
tremendous grand slam ninth inning home run over the right
field fence for his Commerce High School team in a special
"national championship" game at Wrigley Field in Chicago,
Gehrig went on to star at Columbia University.
"I did not go there to look at Gehrig," Yankee scout Paul
Krichell said." I did not even know what position he played,
but he played in the outfield against Rutgers and socked a
couple of balls a mile. I sat up and took notice. I saw a
tremendous youth, with powerful arms and terrific legs. I
said, here is a kid who can't miss."
Despite his mother's protestations, Gehrig signed with the
Yankees for a $1,500 bonus. After brief minor league stints
in 1923 and 1924; Gehrig came to stay with the Yankees in
1925 batting .295 in 126 games, his first full season. When
Lou Gehrig stepped into the batter's box as a pinch hitter
on June 1, 1925 for shortstop Pee Wee Wanninger, it began a
string of 15 seasons of Yankee box scores with the name
Gehrig always in the line-up.
In 1927, his second full season with the Yankees, he was
voted the Most Valuable Player in the American League. His
.363 average in 1934 gave him the batting championship.
There were 13 straight seasons of 100 RBIs, seven seasons of
more than 150 RBIs. His power came from his big shoulders,
broad back and powerful thighs.
A two time MVP, a three time home run king, a five time RBI
champ, Gehrig led the American League in batting average
just once - with a .363 average in 1934 when he became the
first Yankee to win the Triple Crown. Three times, however,
he batted higher than .363 contributing to his .340 career
Among his records are: 184 RBI in 1931, an American League
record, 23 career grand slams, a Major League record. On
June 3, 1932, he became the first modern day player to hit
four home runs in a game. In his 13 full seasons, Gehrig
averaged 147 runs batted in. He hammered 493 career home
runs - 73 were three-run homers, 166 were two-run homers.
Gehrig homered once every 16.2 at bats. His home run to hit
ratio was one to 5.51.
There are estimates that he earned $361,500 in salary from
the Yankees. Playing in seven World Series pushed the total
income above $400,000. Gehrig received $3,750 in his first
season, $6,500 in his second year. This advanced $1,000 in
1927. For the next five years he received $25,000 and then
he dropped to $23,000 for 1933 and 1934, after which he
received $31,000 in 1935 and 1936, $36,750 in 1937, $39,000
in 1938 and $35,000 for 1939, a season when he played only
eight games. Late in his career, Gehrig's hands were x-rayed
and doctors spotted 17 fractures that had "healed" while he
continued to play. He was worth every penny as he was a
major part of seven pennant winners and six world champions.
On May 2, 1939, Wally Pipp whose place Gehrig had taken
those long years ago, traveled from his home in Michigan to
watch a Tigers-Yankees game. What he saw was that Gehrig,
the highest paid player in all of baseball, had taken
himself out of the lineup and was at home plate, a presenter
of the lineup card to the umpires.
The great Gehrig would languish a while like a bowed oak,
still the captain, still the Pride of the Yankees, still the
bringer of the lineup card out to umpires before each game.
On June 19, 1939, in another bitter irony, the day of his
36th birthday, Lou Gehrig left the Mayo Clinic with a sealed
envelope. "Mr. Gehrig is suffering from amyotrophic lateral
sclerosis. This type of illness involves the motor pathways
and cells of the central nervous system and in lay terms is
known as a form of 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."
In December 1939, the Baseball Hall of Fame waived the
mandatory five year waiting period for Lou Gehrig. On June
2, 1941, exactly 16 years to the day that he replaced Wally
Pipp at first base, Gehrig passed away. On the Fourth of
July 1941, a monument was erected in centerfield at Yankee
HENRY LOUIS GEHRIG
June 19, 1903
June 2, 1941. A MAN, A GENTLEMAN, AND A GREAT BALLPLAYER
WISE AMAZING RECORD OF 2,130 CONSECUTIVE GAMES SHOULD STAND
FOR ALL TIME. THIS MEMORIAL IS A TRIBUTE FROM THE YANKEE
PLAYERS TO THEIR BELOVED CAPTAIN AND TEAMMATE.
# # #
You can reach
Harvey Frommer at:
About the Author:
Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books.
A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports
books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and
"Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE
STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL
AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to
acclaim in 2011. The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was
Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One.
His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times,
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Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz Frommer are the authors of
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