Biography for Lou Gehrig
Henry Louis Gehrig, first baseman for the New York Yankees from 1925 to 1939, rivaled his teammate Babe Ruth in home run hitting but for much of his career was overshadowed by Ruth's personality and popularity. Known as "the Iron Horse" for playing a record 2,130 consecutive games, Gehrig was finally sidelined in 1939 by a rare disease that would claim his life two years later; his poise and humility in accepting his fate made him one of baseball's most revered figures. Gehrig was born on June 19, 1903 in the ethnic working-class neighborhood of Yorkville in Manhattan and grew up in nearby Washington Heights. His parents were immigrants from Germany, and Gehrig grew up speaking both English and German. Gehrig played both baseball and football at Commerce High School and attracted the attention of Columbia University. Encouraged by New York Giants manager John McGraw, however, Gehrig played briefly for a professional minor league baseball team, which resulted in his ban from intercollegiate sports for the 1921-1922 school year. He played both sports the following year but then was persuaded by a Yankee scout, who had watched Gehrig hit a pair of home runs in one game, to leave Columbia for professional baseball. In late 1923, Gehrig was brought up from the minor leagues briefly, then returned to the minors for a year before joining the Yankees for good in 1925 as a reserve. On June 1 that year, starting first baseman Wally Pipp took the day off with a headache; Gehrig replaced him and performed so well that he not only took Pipp's job but also proceeded to play in every Yankee game for the next 13 years. Gehrig played 2,130 consecutive games despite numerous injuries, including a broken thumb, a broken toe, and back spasms. The record was long considered unbreakable until Cal Ripken Jr. passed it in 1995. Gehrig quickly began a sustained display of offensive power. He hit over .300 every season but his first and last, finishing with a lifetime average of .340, the 15th best of all time. He knocked in an average of 147 runs each year, amassing the third-highest total of all time, despite batting after Ruth and later Joe DiMaggio. In 1927, he and Ruth anchored the celebrated "murderer's row" Yankee lineup, with Gehrig hitting 47 home runs to Ruth's 60. In 1934, Gehrig achieved the rare Triple Crown—the runs batted in, batting, and home run titles—and won the league's most valuable player award in 1927 and 1936. Gehrig's slugging led the Yankees to seven pennants and six World Series titles in his 14 full seasons. Gehrig was in many ways underappreciated by fans, however. He was a quiet man, honest and humble, and he played in the shadow of the game's most exciting and popular player, Ruth. Asked about it, Gehrig replied, "It's a pretty big shadow. It gives me lots of room to spread myself." Ruth was a drinking, womanizing, and entertaining figure; Gehrig, frequently described as a "perfect gentleman," lived a sober life and did not have a girlfriend until he met and married his wife Eleanor in the early 1930s. Only after Ruth left the team in 1935 did Gehrig emerge as a favorite of New York fans. With the arrival of DiMaggio in 1936, Gehrig once again became part of a formidable lineup. In 1938, Gehrig's production fell off, and he seemed to be missing his customary strength. When the 1939 season opened, Gehrig was having trouble making routine plays. Eight games into the season, Gehrig finally benched himself, ending his streak, and never played again. Doctors diagnosed him as having amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a rare degenerative neuromuscular disease, known today as Lou Gehrig's disease. On July 4, 1939, Yankee Stadium was the scene of Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day, when 62,000 fans listened to Gehrig speak humbly of his "bad break" and say that he considered himself "the luckiest man on the face of the earth." Gehrig's uniform number was retired; he was the first player ever so honored. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame the same year, the usual five-year waiting period having been waived for the dying man. Gehrig served briefly on a city youth sports commission until he could no longer walk. He died on June 2, 1941 at he age of 37.