No player in baseball history has combined the qualities of Gehrig: he was the greatest first baseman ever, one of the three or four best hitters the game had ever seen, an enduring part of the Yankees legend, and eventually a tragic figure of mythic proportion. Because he was a native New Yorker and a charismatic, humble figure, his popularity in the 1930s was unsurpassed.
Lou Gehrig was so durable and dependable that he was nicknamed "The Iron Horse" - he played in an amazing 2,130 consecutive games, a record which stood for over 54 years. The big first baseman teamed with Babe Ruth to form the greatest one-two punch in Baseball history. He had at least 100 RBI and 100 runs every full season of his career - 13 straight years - led the AL 5 times in RBI and 4 times in runs. He topped 150 RBI 7 times, a ML record, and is third all-time on the RBI list. His .632 slugging average also ranks third, and when he retired, only Ruth had hit more home runs. His 184 RBI in 1931 remains the modern AL mark.
In 1939, an obviously weakened Gehrig was hitting just .143 almost a month into the season. No one, not even manager Joe McCarthy, would suggest he sit down - Gehrig had to take the initiative himself, and on May 2, he took himself out of the lineup. He never played again, though in his capacity as team captain he continued to carry the lineup card out every day. He was later diagnosed as having a rare, almost unknown, and incurable disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, forever after known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
On July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig Day was held at Yankee Stadium. In the most famous ceremony in baseball history, Gehrig said: "Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth" and made an unforgettable statement. The waiting period for the new Hall of Fame was waived, and he was admitted the year it opened, in 1939.
for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today,
I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in
ballparks for seventeen years and I 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 have considered it an honor to have
known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed
Barrows? 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 groundskeeper and those boys in white coats remember you
with trophies, that's something. When you have a father and mother work all
their lives so that 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 might have had a bad break, but I have an awful lot to live for."
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