Thursday, June 2, 2011
70 Years ago today Lou Gehrig Died
Lou Gehrig: the iron horse, one of the great yankees Baseball Player and the first Yankee to be in the Hall of Fame (1939), remembering you on this day after 70 years, may you rest in peace!
Henry Louis "Lou" Gehrig (June 19, 1903 – June 2, 1941), nicknamed "The Iron Horse" for his durability, was an American Major League Baseball first baseman. He played his entire 17-year baseball career for the New York Yankees (1923–1939). Gehrig set several major league records. He holds the record for most career grand slams (23).
Gehrig is chiefly remembered for his prowess as a hitter, his consecutive games-played record and its subsequent longevity, and the pathos of his farewell from baseball at age 36, when he was stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Gehrig was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939. In 1969 he was voted the greatest first baseman of all time by the Baseball Writers' Association, and was the leading vote-getter on the Major League Baseball All-Century Team, chosen by fans in 1999.
A native of New York City, he played for the New York Yankees until his career was cut short by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), now commonly known in the United States and Canada as Lou Gehrig's disease.
Over a 15-season span from 1925 through 1939, he played in 2,130 consecutive games, the streak ending only when Gehrig became disabled by the fatal neuromuscular disease that claimed his life two years later. His streak, long considered one of baseball's few unbreakable records, stood for 56 years, until finally broken by Cal Ripken, Jr., of the Baltimore Orioles on September 6, 1995.
Gehrig accumulated 1,995 runs batted in (RBI) in 17 seasons, with a career batting average of .340, on-base percentage of .447, and slugging percentage of .632. Three of the top six RBI seasons in baseball history belong to Gehrig. He was selected to each of the first seven All-Star games (though he did not play in the 1939 game, as he retired one week before it was held), and he won the American League's Most Valuable Player award in 1927 and 1936. He was also a Triple Crown winner in 1934, leading the American League in batting average, home runs, and RBIs.
"Don't think I am depressed or pessimistic about my condition at present," Lou Gehrig wrote following his retirement from baseball. Struggling against his ever-worsening physical condition, he added, "I intend to hold on as long as possible and then if the inevitable comes, I will accept it philosophically and hope for the best. That's all we can do."
In October 1939, he accepted Mayor LaGuardia's appointment to a ten-year term as a New York City Parole Commissioner and was sworn into office on January 2, 1940.
The Parole Commission commended the ex-ballplayer for his "firm belief in parole, properly administered", stating that Gehrig "indicated he accepted the parole post because it represented an opportunity for public service. He had rejected other job offers – including lucrative speaking and guest appearance opportunities – worth far more financially than the $5,700 a year commissionership." Gehrig visited New York City's correctional facilities, but insisted that the visits not be covered by news media.
Gehrig, as always, quietly and efficiently performed his duties. He was often helped by his wife Eleanor, who would guide his hand when he had to sign official documents. About a month before his death, when Gehrig reached the point where his deteriorating physical condition made it impossible for him to continue in the job, he quietly resigned.
On June 2, 1941, at 10:10 p.m., sixteen years to the day after he replaced Wally Pipp at first base and two years after his retirement from baseball, Lou Gehrig died at his home in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, New York.
Upon hearing the news, Babe Ruth and his wife Claire went to the Gehrig house to console Eleanor. Mayor LaGuardia ordered flags in New York to be flown at half-staff, and Major League ballparks around the nation did likewise.
Following the funeral at Christ Episcopal Church of Riverdale, Gehrig's remains were cremated and interred on June 4 at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York. Lou Gehrig and Ed Barrow are both interred in the same section of Kensico Cemetery, which is next door to Gate of Heaven Cemetery, where the graves of Babe Ruth and Billy Martin are located.
Eleanor Gehrig never remarried following her husband's death, dedicating the rest of her life to supporting ALS research. She died on March 6, 1984, on her 80th birthday. They had no children.
The Yankees dedicated a monument to Gehrig in center field at Yankee Stadium on July 6, 1941, the shrine lauding him as, "A man, a gentleman and a great ballplayer whose amazing record of 2,130 consecutive games should stand for all time." Gehrig's monument joined the one placed there in 1932 to Miller Huggins, which would eventually be followed by Babe Ruth's in 1949.
Gehrig's birthplace in Manhattan, at 1994 Second Avenue (near E. 103rd Street), is memorialized with a plaque marking the site, as is another early residence on E. 94th Street (near Second Avenue). The Gehrigs' white house at 5204 Delafield Avenue in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, where Lou Gehrig died, still stands today on the east side of the Henry Hudson Parkway and is likewise marked by a plaque.