Open Mic: A Look Back at Lou Gehrig, the Ironhorse

Derek CoffeltSenior Analyst IJune 22, 2008

Henry Louis Gehrig was a man that every generation could look up to with pride and honor. He held some of the greatest records known to the sport of baseball yet still exuded the humbleness of a rookie.

His accomplishments are undeniable even in today's terms. A .340 career batting average, 493 home runs, 1,995 runs batted in, seven-time All-Star, six-time world champion, two-time AL most valuable player, and the youngest player to ever have their number retired.

Gehrig also had a lifetime .447 on-base percentage and a lifetime slugging percentage of .632. He also won the triple crown award in 1934.

I do not have to tell you how hard it is for a player to win a triple crown (see Big Brown vs. Josh Hamilton, present day).

The son of poor German immigrants, Lou Gehrig's parents did not think too highly of the sport of baseball, they considered it a schoolyard affair. Gehrig's talents first came onto the scene when he was only a 17-year old.

On Jun. 26, 1920, his New York School of Commerce was playing Chicago's Lane Tech High School at Cubs Park (present day Wrigley Field). With his team winning 8-6, Gehrig blasted a grand slam home run that completely left the ballpark.

A natural power hitter in his early teens, it seemed as if Lou was blessed with a raw ability to drive the ball. It seemed he himself was made out of iron. Only a few years later he would be noticed by major league scouts despite impressive numbers, as a pitcher.

On Apr. 18, 1923 during a Colombia game, Gehrig struck out 17 batters. However, New York Yankees scout Paul Krichell was in the stands. Despite the pitching feat, Krichell was more impressed with Gehrig's powerful hitting.

Having tracked him for months, he had witnessed Gehrig hit some of the longest home runs all over college campuses. One in particular on Apr. 28, 1923 landed an estimated 450 feet at Colombia's South Field.

Gehrig was signed to a major league contract for the Yankees only two months later.

Playing in the shadow of Babe Ruth for most of his career, Lou Gehrig was one of the greatest run producers of all time. Gehrig had 509 RBI's during a three-season stretch (1930-32). Only two other players, Jimmie Fox with 507 and Hank Greenberg with 503, have surpassed 500 RBI's in any three seasons.

Their totals were non-consecutive.

Lou Gehrig was such a natural hitter that he even out hit Babe Ruth during the 10 seasons in which they both played the majority of games.

Ruth had 424 home runs compared to Gehrig’s 347. Gehrig had more RBI's in seven years and they tied in 1928. Ruth had 1,316 RBI's compared to Gehrig’s 1,436. Gehrig had more hits in eight years and Gehrig had a higher slugging percentage in two years.

Gehrig also had a higher batting average in seven years and for that span, Gehrig had a .343 batting average, compared to .338 for Ruth.

Adding to his list of accomplishments, Gehrig held the consecutive games played streak at 2,130 for 56 years until it was broken by Cal Ripken Jr. in 1995. A true test of his endurance and commitment to the game of baseball.

The statistics don't lie. However, it was when Gehrig was faced with never playing baseball ever again and losing his life that his true character showed through.

About half way through the 1938 season Lou Gehrig began to feel as if he couldn't perform as he used to. By the end of the season, he felt extremely tired and did not know why. The condition got so bad that at during a 1939 spring training game Gehrig collapsed while running the bases.

Gehrig went so far as to bench himself before a May 2nd game against the Tigers. He notified the Yankee skipper Joe McCarthy that he was doing it "for the good of the team."

A truly humbled person stood inside the rugged and iron-like exterior of Lou Gehrig. Eventually Gehrig was diagnosed with lateral sclerosis or chronic infantile paralysis.

Despite the bad news Gehrig remained upbeat about his terminal diagnosis. On Jun. 21, 1939 the Yankees announced Gehrig's retirement and on "Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day" the Yankees and 61,808 fans expressed their gratitude for one of the greatest players to ever swing a bat.

Gehrig addressed the crowd with acknowledgements to have known his former teammates and managers. On a day that was proclaimed to be his, Gehrig still was humbled by the great people he had known.

He proclaimed himself, "the luckiest man on the face of the earth".

I never had the chance to see Lou Gehrig play. However, now old enough to know the history of baseball, I really do think I would have cherished seeing the iconic pinstripe #4 take the field.


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