Celebrating 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 Stadium:
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
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 batting average.
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
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:
HENRY LOUIS GEHRIG
June 19, 1903 -June 2, 1941. A MAN, A GENTLEMAN, AND A GREAT BALLPLAYER
WHOSE 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.
# # #
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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.
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