of most consecutive games played by a Major League Baseball player now
belongs to Cal Ripken, Jr. But for over a half-century, Lou Gehrig
controlled it with a stranglehold.
recollection is hazy and hard to come by for you, itís perfectly
understandable. Baltimore's Ripken, Jr. may have broken Gehrig's record on
September 8, 1995, but the magic, the drama and the finality of that
fabled mark remains with the fabled Yankee.
began for Gehrig on June 1, 1925. It ended on May 2, 1939 - exactly 61
years ago today. In a scene out of baseball's somber ironies, Wally Pipp,
whose place Gehrig had taken 2,130 games before, came down from his home
in Grand Rapids, Michigan to watch the Yankee-Tiger game and to watch
Pipp saw the Yankee first baseman standing alone at home plate, giving out
the lineup card with his name left off it. At age 36, the man they called
"The Iron Horse," was engaging in his last hurrah as an active
incredible streak, Gehrig played when it mattered a great deal and when it
didn't matter at all. He played with pain and with pride. He drove himself
and his Yankee teammates season after season, a steadying, solid force.
twice beaned during the streak that extended over 14 seasons. On July 13,
1934, pain in his back from what was diagnosed as lumbago was so severe
that Gehrig had to be helped off the field in the first inning of a game
against Detroit. The streak stood at 1,426. It seemed there was no way he
would play the next day.
He did -
after a fashion. Listed first in the batting order, Gehrig singled to lead
off the game and was then removed for a pinch runner.
It was said
that "nothing short of a locomotive will stop Lou Gehrig; he will go
on forever". But near the final one-third of the 1938 season the
three-time American League MVP began to falter. As the season ended, no
one really knew what was wrong with him. But it was clear that his great
strength was waning. His zestful, energetic performance on the playing
field had become dulled, muted and lethargic.
spring training 1939, Gehrig grew weaker. His Yankee teammates and his
wife, Eleanor, told him to rest, to not drive himself. "Lou,"
his wife said, "the record is safe. No one will ever come along and
season began. Gehrig was once again positioned at first base for the New
York Yankees. He would take that famous big swing, but he would only pop
up. Still, he played on. Once he bent down to tie his shoelaces and fell
benched himself on May 2, 1939, it marked the first time in 15 years that
he was out of the Yankee lineup. "I haven't been a bit of good to the
team sine the season started," he said. His batting average was .143
- 200 points below his lifetime average.
Gehrig would tarry a while like a bowed oak. He was still the captain,
still the Pride of the Yankees. He brought the lineup card out to umpires
before each game and then from his corner seat in the dugout watched
others play baseball.
On June 19,
1939, on his 36th birthday, Lou Gehrig left the Mayo Clinic with a sealed
envelope. The results of his examinations and diagnosis were in it:
"Mr. Gehrig is suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis . . . the
nature of this trouble makes it such that Mr. Gehrig will be unable to
continue his active participation as a baseball player".
June 2, 1941, seventeen days short of his 38th birthday, Lou Gehrig would
finally succumb to the disease that now bears his name.