Today marks the 80th anniversary of the death of Yankee Hall of Famer and arguably one of the best players of all time, Lou Gehrig. Today also marks the first annual Lou Gehrig Day in Major League Baseball. Any teams with a home game today will display a “4- ALS” in their stadium and coaches and players will wear “Lou Gehrig Day” patches and 4-ALS red wristbands to raise awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, the neurological disease Lou Gehrig died from and continues to be an issue in the world today.
Any team with an off day today will observe Lou Gehrig Day tomorrow.
On the Field Impact
Before his world-famous speech, Lou Gehrig was one of the best players to ever play the game. Gehrig was a 7-time All-Star, 2x MVP, a Triple Crown winner, 6-time World Series Champion and has been in Monument Park for 79 years. He set the record for most consecutive games played with 2,130, this record was created over a 14 year span without him missing a game. His workhorse attitude to never miss a game earned him the nickname the “Iron Horse”. The record would last for 79 years until Cal Ripken Jr. broke it 56 years later.
For context of how much of an impact player Gehrig was, he had only four seasons with an OPS under 1.000 and two seasons under .900. He finished his career with a 1.079 OPS. Only 8 players with over 1,000 plate appearences have an OPS over 1000. Lou Gehrig is one of them, ranking third all-time behind only Ted Williams and Babe Ruth and in front of Barry Bonds.
In his worst season, Gehrig was still a 133 wRC+ hitter. At his best, he was at 198 wRC+. He was known for always driving in runs. Lou ranks 2nd all-time for most RBIs in a single season with 185 as well as 18th all-time in WAR with 114.1 Also, he was not a big strikeout victim despite always hitting for power, he held a career 8.2 K%.
Keep in mind, those stats were only for the regular season. When the postseason came around, Gehrig would reach new highs. In 34 career postseason games, Gehrig slashed .361/.477/.731 good for a 1.208 career playoff OPS and a career 194 wRC+. In the 1928 World Series, Gehrig batted .545 with 4 home runs and 9 RBIs. Also, he did not strike out at all in the playoffs that season
Before Gehrig’s diagnosis, he was not playing nearly as well as he did in previous seasons and pulled himself from the Yankees lineup because he felt he was hurting the team’s chance to win. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with ALS and his career ended.
Lou Gehrig may have played in a much different era than today’s game, but his impact on the game, former players, and current players cannot be overstated. He put up video game-like numbers his whole career. When his career was unfortunately cut short, he gave a world famous speech at Yankee Stadium and in those moments he still considered himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth” even though he knew he was dying. He showed he did not take a moment for granted during his speech. He thanked not only his wife and family but also his managers, teammates, and even the grounds crew and other lower level employees of the Yankees at the time.
Lou Gehrig ended his famous speech with the quote: “I may have been given a bad break, but I have an awful lot to live for.”
This quote has become an inspiration to those diagnosed with ALS to not give up and continue fighting.
Today is Lou Gehrig Day, the same day he passed away in 1941.