The snow is melting, it’s getting warmer, and Opening Day is just around the corner. In just four days, New York Yankees baseball will be part of our daily routine once again. I’ve already covered some of the all-time Yankees greats in this countdown, but this one is above the rest. The number four in pinstripes belongs to no other than Lou Gehrig.
Gehrig doesn’t quite have the hardware that other legends in this countdown had, but that’s not at all indicative of how legendary his career was. Born and raised in New York City, Gehrig was noticed by the Yankees while attending Columbia University. On April 18th, 1923, in a game between Columbia and Williams College, Gehrig would strike out seventeen batters, a team record.
Everyone knows about Babe Ruth being a pitcher before mashing homers, but not many knew Gehrig had a history on the mound as well. In attendance for that game was Yankee scout Paul Krichell, who was impressed by Gehrig. While his performance on the mound was impressive, Krichell marveled at Gehrig’s unbelievable power at the plate. The 19-year-old Gehrig would sign a contract with the Yankees later that month.
It didn’t take long for Gehrig to reach the big league club. He made his New York Yankees debut on June 15th, 1923 as a pinch hitter. His shot at regular playing time didn’t come right away, as he spent parts of 1923 and 1923 in minor-league Hartford. His time spent there was the only time Gehrig had ever played baseball for a team based outside of New York City. Gehrig was truly the definition of home-grown talent, and there’s no question how he was, and still is a New York icon.
After an impressive 126 games in 1925, Gehrig played in his first of many full seasons in 1926. He took full advantage of his regular playing time, breaking out with a .313 average, 16 home runs, 112 RBI, and a league-leading 20 triples. He played in his first World Series that year, batting .348 in seven games against the Cardinals. Entering 1927, Gehrig had broken out as a star, but it wasn’t until that season started that he took his career to a whole new level.
Gehrig’s 1927 season is still considered one of the greatest seasons by any batter in history and with good reason. He collected 218 hits to the tune of a .373 average, 47 homers, and a record breaking 175 RBI. His 117 extra-base hits and 447 total bases that season rank second and third all-time, respectively. The 1927 New York Yankees is still considered one of the greatest teams of all-time. Gehrig’s MVP-winning campaign helped lead the Yankees to a four-game sweep of the Pirates in the World Series.
Perhaps the craziest stat on Gehrig’s baseball card is his RBI totals. He led the league five times, surpassed 150 seven times, and finished with 1995. This was all while batting in front of Babe Ruth. He was an All-Star in seven straight seasons from 1933 to 1939. In 1934, he won the Triple Crown, leading the league with 49 homers, 166 RBI, and a .363 batting average. That same year he was awarded his second career MVP award.
I could write a book on Lou Gehrig’s accomplishments, but it still wouldn’t describe just how great he was. Of course, his greatest accomplishment was perhaps playing in 2,130 straight games, a record that stood until 1995 when Cal Ripken Jr. surpassed it. What’s amazing yet heartbreaking is that Gehrig managed to stay in the lineup, even when his health started to decline.
Gehrig was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) on June 19th, 1939, his 36th birthday. Two days later the New York Yankees announced his retirement. A couple weeks later on July 4th, “Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day” was held at Yankee Stadium. It was then that Gehrig delivered his famous “Luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech to a sold-out crowd in the Bronx.
Lou Gehrig’s number four was retired that very day. At the end of 1939, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, the youngest ever to do so at the time. Gehrig passed away on June 2nd, 1941, but his number four in pinstripes will forever have a permanent place in Monument Park, and in the hearts of Yankee fans.