Heinrich Ludwig (Henry Louis) Gehrig, first baseman for the New York Yankees. The team captain ("The Pride of the Yankees"), and, early in his career, second banana to Babe Ruth, a bon vivant who was, personality-wise, a polar opposite to the straight-arrow Gehrig. Gehrig was nearly as great a ballplayer as the legendary Ruth; his most enduring record was the 2,130 consecutive games he played (1925-1939), before ALS ended his career. His fame brought needed attention to the disease.

Lou Gehrig's Farewell Address

"Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure I'm lucky. Who wouldn't consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure I'm lucky. When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift - that's something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies - that's something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter - that's something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body - it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed - that's the finest I know. So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for."

Trivia Note: Who was the first player ever to have his uniform number retired?...When Lou Gehrig left baseball in 1939 because of the illness which has since been named after him, his number 4 was retired by the New York Yankees and there started the tradition of retiring numbers.

The only point at which to begin a discussion on the life of Lou Gehrig is Wally Pipp. Legend has it that Pipp, the New York Yankees regular first baseman and a man with considerable pop in his bat relative to the era, requested of manager Miller Huggins a day off on June 2, 1925, on account of a headache. The next day, Gehrig got the start at first, and the moral of the story is that Pipp never played another game for the Yankee powerhouse, and Gehrig went on to start the next 2,130 games, a record that remained unchallenged for nearly 60 years. The "Iron Horse" took advantage of the opportunity Pipp left open for him, and went on to cement himself as an American icon, a hero of the blue-collar sort, and a man who could die only tragically after so passionately embracing every moment of every day of his life.

Gehrig, the son of German immigrants, was quiet and socially passive, loved his mother, his wife, and his job. The 6", 200lb "Gibraltar in cleats" got his first glimpse of the limelight in a highschool All-Star game at Wrigley Field in 1920, shortly after his 17th birthday; he launched a grand slam well out of the ballpark, leading to the press' dubbing of him as the "Babe Ruth of highschool baseball". Five years later, Gehrig would leave Columbia University early to join Ruth in the Yankees' Murderers' Row.

And for the next 14 years Gehrig murdered baseballs. He drove in over 150 runs seven times, batted over .340 eight times, and posted a career on-base percentage of .447 to complement his .340 lifetime batting average. In 1927, he batted .373 with 47 homers and 173 RBI's. In 1930 he batted .379 with 41 homers and 174 RBI's; he followed up this season with a still-standing AL record 184 RBI's the next season. His numbers are mind-blowing.

Though often considered to have been overshadowed by teammate Babe Ruth, Gehrig's full potential was only realized by having the burly Ruth on base in front of him so consistently; the dynamic duo tore up American League pitching at a rate that dwarfs all attempts at comparison. In fact, there may not be any two players anywhere on any two teams in any two eras whose numbers can be combined to challenge the feat of the New York Yankees' 3 and 4 hitters over the course of their hugely triumphant decade together. Gehrig won MVP awards in 1927 and 1936, captured the triple crown in 1934, became the first player ever to hit 4 homeruns in a game 1932; he played for 9 World Series teams, 8 of them winners.

During the 1939 season, Gehrig's numbers sharply declined. It became evident that he was losing his strength, and it was not long before he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a fatal muscular condition of which the cause, and the cure, are unknown.

7 homeruns shy of the hallowed 500 homerun club, Gehrig announced that he was too weary from the symptoms to continue playing baseball. On May 2, 1939 Lou Gehrig sat out for the first, only, final time.

It was Independance Day, two months later, that the Yankee franchise opted to christen Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day. Though it is common for a ballplayer to pad his career homerun total well into his 40th year, Gehrig never lived to turn 38; but he did become immortal on that fateful 4th of July when, in front of 61,808 standing fans, Lou Gehrig, wracked by a cruel and excruciating muscular disease, trembling with weakness and dying, declared himself "the luckiest man on the face of this earth."


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