This Day In Sports: Gehrig forced to end his ‘Iron Man’ streak

May 2, 1939, 85 years ago today: Lou Gehrig pulls himself out of the New York Yankees lineup for the first time since 1925—2,130 consecutive games earlier. Manager Joe McCarthy inserted Babe Dahlgren at first base while Gehrig, as Yankees captain, took the lineup card out to home plate and delivered it to a stunned set of umpires at Briggs Stadium in Detroit. The public address announcer shared the news with the crowd, and Tigers fans gave Gehrig a standing ovation while tears welled in his eyes in the dugout. Ironically, Wally Pipp, the player Gehrig had replaced in 1925, was in attendance that day.

Gehrig would never play another game and would soon lose his battle with ALS, now known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He wasn’t diagnosed until the following month, but symptoms of ALS started showing up midway through the 1938 season, when he began to tire easily. Gehrig hit the last of his 493 career home runs on September 27, 1938. By spring training, his playing skills had noticeably deteriorated. After going 0-for-4 against the Washington Senators on April 30, his season average stood at .143, and that would be it.

Gehrig’s durability had earned him the nickname “The Iron Horse,” and that was in 1931 when his streak still had almost eight years to go. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame later in 1939, and he was the first player to have his number (No. 4) retired by a Major League team. Gehrig’s consecutive games record would stand for over 56 years, with Cal Ripken Jr. of the Baltimore Orioles finally breaking it in 1995. Ripken’s final total was 2,632 games, spanning 1982-98. And that’s a standard that will never be broken.

In one of the most dramatically-charged moments in sports history, a weakened and emotional Gehrig said thank you on his Appreciation Day at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939. With a packed house looking on and his 1927 and 1939 teammates around him, the “Iron Horse,” dying from ALS, speaks to the ages: “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.” Gehrig died less than two years later at the age of 37.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *