Lou Gehrig rose from humble beginnings to become an iconic first baseman and one of the greatest baseball players of all time. He famously made 2,130 consecutive appearances for New York’s Yankees, hitting with power and consistency for years. His record stood for nearly five decades until Cal Ripken Jr. of the Baltimore Orioles matched him in 1995. This durability and consistency in sports distinguish Lou Gehrig from many baseball players, hence his nickname “The Iron Horse”.
This profile will highlight Gehrig’s life history, career achievements, illness, and unfortunately, his untimely death.
The Life History of Lou Gehrig
Lou Gehrig was born Heinrich Ludwig Gehrig on June 19, 1903, to Christina and Heinrich, German immigrants who had just moved to New York. Gehrig was sadly his family’s only surviving child by the time he came of age, as the other three children died prematurely. Being a son of peasants in New York can be challenging and disheartening, but Gehrig never lost his life purpose. While Heinrich had deteriorating health that kept him away from work, his mother Christina did any casual jobs to make ends meet.
From Student to the “The Iron Horse”
Lou Gehrig won a full-paid football scholarship in 1921 to fulfill his dreams of pursuing engineering. While at Columbia University as a freshman, Gehrig found himself drawn to professional baseball, and played the alias of Henry Lewis. Despite knowing the legal repercussions of faking his identity, Gehrig went ahead to play for Hartford in the Eastern League. Once discovered, this resulted in a complete ban from intercollegiate sports.
Gehrig revived his passion for baseball, and the Yankees’ Paul Krichell discovered his talent and signed him in 1923. Since then, Gehrig never looked back, hitting an incredible .423 in 26 at-bats in his September.
Gehrig’s Career Achievements
Lou Gehrig was determined to make his mother proud. Two months into his Yankee contract, he was selected to replace Wally Pipp, an aging first baseman. This change set in motion a record that would only be eclipsed almost 70 years later, 1995. The world will also remember that Gehrig knocked in or scored 150 or more runs in each of his seasons, also breaking the American League record of 184 runs in a season in 1931. The one-two punch of Gehrig and Babe Ruth is known as the greatest of all time.
Gehrig’s snowballing career came to its peak in 1934 after bagging the Triple Crown. That season, he posted a batting average of .363, socked 49 homers, and finished with 165 RBIs. He steered the Yankees into a four-season winning streak, winning four straight World Series as the captain of the squad.
His Illness and Retirement
Lou Gehrig started feeling unwell in 1938, and a year later, he developed amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). ALS inhibits the nerve cells from relaying information to the body muscles, resulting in general body weakness. Apparently, Gehrig was unable to tie his shoelaces at a certain point. The diagnosis put an end to Gehrig’s career, as he voluntarily stepped away from the lineup in the same year, on May 2, ending his consecutive games streak.
Gehrig officially retired on July 4, in an emotional speech to hundreds of fans who had congregated at Yankee stadium. He termed his exit as a bad break and even foresaw what awaited him in the coming years. On that day, Gehrig paid a somber tribute to his teammates, wife, and parents. He later became the first-ever baseball player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
Two years later, Gehrig’s health worsened, and he passed away in 1941 while asleep in New York.