Henry Louis Gehrig, who played first base for the New York Yankees from 1923 to 1939, was an American professional baseball player. He was born Heinrich Ludwig Gehrig on June 19, 1903. Gehrig was known for both his power as a hitter and his tenacity, earning him the moniker the Iron Horse. He was a member of six World Series champion teams, an American League Most Valuable Player twice, a Triple Crown winner once, and an All-Star seven times in a row.
Gehrig a Columbia University student and native of New York City signed a contract with the Yankees on April 29, 1923. He established several major league records during his career, such as the most career grand slams and the most consecutive games played, the latter of which stood for 56 years before being beaten by Cal Ripken Jr. in 1995.
Gehrig’s streak of consecutive games ended on May 2, 1939, when he unexpectedly removed himself from the starting lineup after his performance on the field was hindered by an unidentified illness that was later determined to be amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, an incurable neuromuscular condition now more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease in North America.
He was forced to retire at age 36 due to the illness, and two years later he passed away. His famous speech, “Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth,” delivered in 1939 at Yankee Stadium, served as the emotional high point of his baseball career farewell. Gehrig was named the best first baseman of all time by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in 1969, and in 1999, fans selected the MLB All-Century Team, with Gehrig receiving the most votes.
Lou Gehrig’s Early Years
On June 19, 1903, Henry Louis Gehrig was born in Manhattan’s Yorkville neighborhood of New York City. His parents, Heinrich and Christina Gehrig were recent German immigrants who had only recently settled in their new country when their son was born. Gehrig, the only one of the four Gehrig children to survive infancy, had a poor upbringing. While his mother, a strong woman determined to give her son a better life, worked nonstop cleaning homes and preparing meals for affluent New Yorkers, his father struggled to maintain sobriety and keep a job.
Christina, a loving mother, supported all her son’s athletic endeavors and worked hard to ensure that he received a good education. Gehrig established himself as a gifted athlete at a young age, dominating both baseball and football. Gehrig enrolled at Columbia University after finishing high school to study engineering and play fullback for the football team. He joined the school’s baseball team as well, pitching well for the team and earning the admiring fans’ moniker Columbia Lou. The young pitcher struck out 17 batters in a renowned game.
The New York Yankees, who signed Gehrig to his first professional contract in April 1923, the same year Yankee Stadium debuted, were drawn to Gehrig’s bat, though. With the $1,500 signing bonus, Gehrig and his family were able to move their parents to the suburbs and, more importantly, Gehrig could focus on playing baseball full-time.
The Major League Success of Lou
Gehrig made his New York Yankees debut in June 1923, just two months after signing the contract. By the following year, Gehrig had taken the place of the team’s senescent first baseman, Wally Pipp, in the starting lineup. The Yankees were also among baseball fans’ top teams to watch in New York.
The change turned out to be a significant issue. It started a streak during which Gehrig played in 2,130 straight games, setting a Major League Baseball record. In 1995, Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. finally surpassed Gehrig’s illustrious record. However, Gehrig also developed into an offensive force in a lineup that was already strong. He and Babe Ruth, a teammate, were an unbeatable power-hitting duo.
Being reserved and reserved, Gehrig found it difficult to get along with many of his colorful and attention-seeking Yankee teammates, especially Ruth. Yankee fans were grateful to have him in the lineup, but his dedication to his craft and capacity to play through excruciating pain earned him their respect and the moniker “The Iron Horse.”
He scored 100 runs and drove in at least that many in 13 straight seasons during his Hall of Fame career. He became the third player to hit four home runs in a single game in 1932. He won baseball’s coveted Triple Crown two years later by leading the league in home runs.
The Illness of Lou Gehrig and His Final Speech
The aging Gehrig had his first below-average season in 1938. His body began to fail him, and it appeared that his demanding career had finally caught up with him. But Gehrig worried that he might be facing more than just the decline of a long baseball career because he was having trouble with seemingly simple tasks like tying his shoelaces.
After having a terrible start to the 1939 baseball season, Gehrig visited the Mayo Clinic, where after a battery of tests, doctors informed him that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a terrible condition that renders nerve cells incapable of communicating with the body’s muscles.
Gehrig ended his ironman streak on May 2, 1939, by choosing to withdraw from the race. Soon after, Gehrig called it a career in baseball. On July 4 of that year, he went back to Yankee Stadium so that the team could dedicate a day to him. Gehrig bid his fans farewell with a brief, tearful speech to the packed ballpark while standing on the field where he’d created so many memories and donning his old uniform.
Lou Gehrig’s Death
Major League Baseball broke its own rules after Gehrig announced his retirement by inducting the former Yankee right away into Cooperstown, New York’s Hall of Fame. Additionally, Gehrig became the first baseball player to ever have his uniform retired when the Yankees did so.
But Gehrig’s health had significantly declined by 1941. He spent most of his time at home because he was too weak to leave the house or even sign his name. He passed away peacefully on June 2, 1941, at his New York City home.