At the age of seventeen, Chattanooga Lookouts pitcher Jackie Mitchell struck out both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in an exhibition game on April 2, 1931. After taking a ball, Ruth swung and missed at the next two pitches, and then Mitchell’s fourth pitch to Ruth was a called third strike. Gehrig then swung through the first three pitches to strike out.
Mitchell was one of the first female pitchers in professional baseball history. Shortly after the exhibition game, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis voided her contract and forbid the signing of women.
Seventeen-year-old Japanese pitcher, Eiji Sawamura, took the mound against a team of touring All-Star players from Major League Baseball on November 20, 1934. He came into the game in the fourth inning and pitched nine innings, striking out nine batters and giving up only one run. At one point, he successively struck out Charlie Gehringer, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Jimmie Foxx. The only run came on a home run by Gehrig as the American team won, 1-0.
American team manager Connie Mack was so impressed by the young man’s performance that he tried to sign him to a contract. Sawamura declined, however, as anti-American sentiment was strong in Japan at that time.
They didn’t get along. Gehrig thought Ruth was a big-mouth and Ruth thought Gehrig was cheap. They were both right.
Here’s another great infographic depicting record holders for the most career singles, doubles, triples, home runs, and grand slams — as of 2009. The one out-of-date piece of information on here is in the grand slam category, as Alex Rodriguez passed Gehrig’s record in 2013 with his 24th career grand slam.
Two weeks after his retirement from baseball, the New York Yankees’ Lou Gehrig spoke during a tribute at Yankee Stadium in New York, between games of a doubleheader against the Washington Senators on July 4, 1939. Gehrig’s retirement came after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), now popularly referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s disease.”
The degenerative nerve disorder would ultimately take Gehrig’s life less than two years later.
Born on June 19, 1903 in New York City, Gehrig was the only surviving son of German immigrants Christina and Heinrich. In 1921, he began school at Columbia on a football scholarship to obtain a degree in engineering. He was banned from intercollegiate sports during his freshman year, after being discovered playing summer professional baseball under an assumed name. In 1922, however, he played fullback for the Columbia football team, then pitched and played first base for the Columbia Nine in 1923. His performance as a baseball player impressed Yankees scout Paul Krichell, and Gehrig signed with the Yankees in 1923. After a full season playing for the Hartford team, Lou Gehrig joined the Yankees for good in 1925.
Once Gehrig replaced Wally Pipp at first base, he did not miss a start for more than 13 years. He played in 2,130 consecutive games, a record that stood until Cal Ripken, Jr. broke it in 1995. Gehrig played through broken bones, back spasms, hits in the head by pitches (helmets were not being used during his time), and multiple hand fractures that were later discovered to have “healed” while he continued to play. Gehrig’s endurance and strength earned him the nickname “Iron Horse.”
Then, in 1938, Gehrig’s batting average fell below .300 for the first time since 1925. At the end of the season, Gehrig confessed, “I tired mid-season. I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t get going again.” At first, doctors diagnosed a gall bladder problem and put him on a bland diet. But the diet only made him weaker. During the Yankees 1939 spring training in St. Petersburg, Florida, it was evident that Gehrig’s base running and power were affected. At one point, he even collapsed on Al Lang Field. He did not hit a single home run throughout spring training, and once the 1939 season began, he collected only four hits in the first eight games.
On May 2, 1939, Lou Gehrig pulled himself from the lineup. As captain, he took the lineup card to the umpires, as usual, but Ellsworth “Babe” Dahlgren was listed at first base. The Briggs Stadium announcer informed fans, “Ladies and gentlemen, Lou Gehrig’s consecutive streak of 2,130 games played has ended.”
After six days of testing at Mayo Clinic, doctors confirmed a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). On June 21, the New York Yankees announced Gehrig’s retirement from baseball. After some push from the public for a recognition day in Gehrig’s honor, the Yankees proclaimed July 4, 1939 “Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day” at Yankee Stadium. More than 62,000 fans attended, and Gehrig’s number 4 was retired during the ceremony. When the time came for Gehrig to speak, he delivered a speech that, to this day, continues to stir the hearts of baseball fans all over.
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 this 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 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.
– Lou Gehrig
Lou Gehrig was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on December 7, 1939 in a special elected held by the Baseball Writers Association.
Though written in homage to the great Lou Gehrig, I felt this piece seemed appropriate, given the events of late. Published in October 1955 in Poetry Magazine, this poem engenders a sense of nostalgia and sentimentality.
He was all back,
his stance was clumsy,
ran like a horse,
smiled with a dimple,
but Time cut him,
as easy as that,
bowled him right over,
muscle and all, for
a crick in his honest back–
the wellwrought stallion,
cleats on his shoes,
and a hometown shoulder,
full of country bumps.
We read about Herakles,
and the hairy Samson,
and fake Olympic games:
the whole world boos;
but here’s Big Lou
whom Death bowled over
as the sun rose,
a lazy foul ball,
and a whole generation
of the running boys
pull up, cry loud,
at what Death caught.
Surrounded by a whirlwind of hype and expectation, New York Yankees rookie Joe DiMaggio made his Major League debut on May 3, 1936, at the age of twenty-one. Joining the ranks of Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Red Ruffing, and Lefty Gomez, DiMaggio led the Yankees to a 14-5 victory over the St. Louis Browns. In the game, DiMaggio collected three hits, including a triple, and scored three runs.