#7 Lou Gehrig
As this series returns from far too long of a vacation, I have to start with this statement: If you have not seen The Pride of the Yankees, you are not a baseball fan. Please leave this site immediately and do not return until you have fulfilled this critical obligation.
"Lou was the most valuable player the Yankees ever had because he was the prime source of their greatest asset - an implicit confidence in themselves and every man on the club."
Atypical for this series, which has generally proceeded in a fairly linear fashion, for this great of the game, what he did on the field, as half of the greatest hitting duo the game has ever seen, as a man whose power was as prodigious as it was profuse, as the embodiment of durability and hard work that was unmatched for over half a century and as the seventh greatest player to ever swing the lumber, none of that mattered as much as the simple, inspiring reminder to always look on the bright side.
When this mountain of a man – who could do greater things with his body than most of us could even hope to dream was stricken with a horrible illness in the prime of his life, who played the game with the joy of a small child suddenly saw not only his talents but his basic ability to function on the ball field disappear almost and who was taken far too quickly from his young, beloved bride – was told that he was dying from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), his reaction was not one of despair, but instead he described himself as “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
On June 1, 1925, a young Lou Gehrig pinch hit for Pee Wee Wanninger, making on his 35th appearance in his third go around with the Yankees. The next day he took over as the starter at first for struggling veteran Wally Pipp. Two thousand, one hundred and twenty eight games later he took the day off, calling it a career because, eight games into his 17th seasons, health had robbed Gehrig of his strength, stamina and coordination – his ability to play the game at even the most basic level.
After going hitless against the Senators in the last game of April, dropping his OPS to .416 (an OPS+ of 10), Gehrig told his manager, “I’m bench myself, Joe … for the good of the team”. Before the next game at Detroit’s Tiger Stadium, the announcer began, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is the first time Lou Gehrig's name will not appear on the Yankee lineup in 2,130 consecutive games," and the crowd erupted into a massive standing ovation for the visiting great.
Joe McCarthy celebrated his great player, remembering that day and calling him “the finest example of a ballplayer, sportsman, and citizen that baseball has ever known – Lou, what else can I say except that it was a sad day in the life of everybody who knew you when you came into my hotel room that day in Detroit and told me you were quitting as a ballplayer because you felt yourself a hindrance to the team. My God, man, you were never that."
Over his long but too short career, Gehrig led the Yankees to six World Series titles, batted .340, with 493 home runs, 1,888 runs and 1,995 RBIs and an OPS of 1.080, the third best ever (behind only Ruth and Williams). He won two MVPs and a Triple Crown in 1935, when he finished an inexplicable fifth in the voting. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in a special vote the following winter, making him the youngest player inducted.
As I cut this article short, I leave you with the words Gehrig spoke on Lou Gehrig spoke on Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day, July 4th, 1939, a day when VIPs, teammates and members of the Yankee family showered him with gifts, praise and adoration and the loving crowd brought the great man to tears:
"Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.
"Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I'm lucky.
"When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift — that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies — that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter — that's something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body — it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed — that's the finest I know.
"So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for. Thank you."
Of course, a recommend is always appreciated.