The Iron Horse: Lou Gehrig

It remains one of the greatest feats in baseball history, in all of sports history, really. Twenty-one hundred and thirty consecutive games played, a record that stood for 56 years until Cal Ripken Jr. finally surpassed it. The streak earned Lou Gehrig his nickname, “The Iron Horse.” The day after that 2,130th game, Gehrig approached then-New York Yankees manager, Joe McCarthy, to take himself out of the lineup. That request marked the beginning of the end for a baseball legend, by then battling perhaps the most debilitating disease known to man—Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a disease that would later come to be known as  “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”

An article on Gehrig in the ESPN archives calls his legacy one of irony. His nickname, The Iron Horse, implies he was a man of indestructible stature. Yet, at age 35, he contracted an incurable disease that rendered him weak, frail and eventually dead at 37.

Aside from being one of baseball’s greatest hitters of all time, Gehrig was also known for being the number four—or “clean-up”—hitter behind the legendary Babe Ruth. The duo endures as one the greatest in all of sports history. Every year on June 2, the day of Gehrig’s passing,  Major League Baseball celebrates “Lou Gehrig Day” to commemorate the slugger’s legacy, writes Bill Francis for the Baseball Hall of Fame’s website, adding, “His accomplishments and what he stands for as an icon of American sports culture have long been a pillar of the Hall of Fame’s guest experience.”

What Gehrig means to sport and American culture spans far beyond the game of baseball. He remains a symbol of what a commitment to greatness and excellence means for athletes. And, he endures in American history as one of the great examples of courage.

A human machine from an early age, Gehrig weighed a remarkable 14 pounds at the time of his birth on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. He was born to German immigrants, Christina Foch and Heinrich Gehrig on June 19, 1903. Two of his sisters died from measles and whooping cough. A  brother died as an infant. One might consider Gehrig a miracle baby. Perhaps the only bigger miracle than him surviving his childhood was the magnitude of what he would live to accomplish.

Before ascending to greatness in the Major Leagues, Gehrig gained attention for his play in a special high school championship game in Chicago. He then attended Columbia College where he would play baseball and football, according to Columbia’s 250th anniversary website. On April 30, 1923, Gehrig cut his college career short and signed with the Yankees as a free agent. He claimed it was because he needed the money. Keep in mind, this is before the MLB held an annual entry draft, which didn’t start until the 1960s.

Gehrig in his Columbia baseball uniform. (Photo courtesy of wikipedia).

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