On This Day


On This Day: Lou Gehrig Dies of ALS

June 02, 2009 06:30 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On June 2, 1941, Baseball Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig died at age 37 of a degenerative disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which would come to be known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

An Illustrious Career

Exactly 16 years to the day after the New York Yankees first called on him to replace an ailing Wally Pipp at first base, beginning a historic run of play in the Major Leagues, Lou Gehrig passed away in his New York home.

Born Heinrich Ludwig Gehrig II in 1903, Gehrig spent his life defining endurance and hard work in sport, working his way up from a poor family that shunned sports to become one of baseball’s most beloved and missed players, according to Yankees.com.

Scouted from the fields of Colombia University, Gehrig spent the better part of two years making the trip back and forth between the majors and minors before finally getting the call.

The story surrounding Gehrig’s first start in his streak has become legend. The story usually told is that Gehrig replaced Wally Pipp that day because Pipp had a headache, and never regained his starting job. However, further investigation suggests the legend may not tell the whole story, reports Snopes.

Diligently playing in the shadow of kings like Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio, Gehrig established himself as the dependable and powerful batsman, breaking a slew of records, including a still-unbroken high mark for career grand slams.

However, it was his record for consistent play that earned him the most honor and recognition, not to mention his nickname: the Iron Horse. From the day Gehrig first took to position at first base until the day he asked to be benched for the sake of the team, Gehrig played 2,130 consecutive games.

Gehrig’s consecutive game record held until 1995 when Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. surpassed it. Ripken would go on to play a total of 2,632 consecutive games before taking a day off toward the end of his career, reports Sports Illustrated.

On May 2, 1939, Gehrig interrupted his own consecutive game streak by asking manager Joe McCarthy to remove him from the line-up after a stark loss of strength and power had left him unable to keep up with the rigors of the game. Gehrig would stay on as a manager for a short time longer, but would never play again, states The Baseball Library.

Later Developments: Honors and recognition

Gehrig’s performance on and off the field earned him the title “Pride of the Yankees” for his record-setting play, not to mention the fact that he was a native New Yorker, says Yankees.com.

Honored with an unprecedented public show of support, including an early induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, Gehrig said goodbye to his fans, two years before passing, with a short, eloquent speech in Yankee Stadium, which can be seen on American Rhetoric.

“Fans, 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,” Gehrig said.

Reference: Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS)

Gehrig’s condition was a rare affliction known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and later became known as Lou Gehrig’s disease after its most famous victim. Painless but ultimately debilitating, the disease attacks nerve cells in the brain and spine, resulting in a sudden loss of strength, and eventually leading to paralysis, reports the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association.

When he passed, sportswriters across America honored Gehrig for his abilities and for his personality. Flags waved at half-mast everywhere in New York and at ballparks across the country. Time magazine offered a short, sincere In Memoriam for the player who had once graced its cover.

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