By Steve Good
“Of all the players in baseball history, none possessed as much talent and humility as Lou Gehrig. His accomplishments on the field made him an authentic American hero, and his tragic early death made him a legend.” – www.lougehrig.com
We Phi Delts have a lot to be proud of being associated with Brother Lou Gehrig. Despite your interest in professional baseball, we can all be proud of and learn from Gehrig’s character. When one hears the name Lou Gehrig, most think of a few things: The New York Yankees, a great baseball career cut short by an awful disease (ALS), his famous “luckiest man” speech or his consecutive games streak of 2,130 games. One may have also heard about a few Gehrig characteristics: Hard working, introverted, humble, simple and selfless.
My goal in this post is to tell you about a few other things that you may not have known about the “Iron Horse.” Some of these things speak to his career, some to his character and some are just plain cool. Enjoy.
Gehrig was the only one of four children to survive past infancy in the Gehrig family
Born Heinrich Ludwig Gehrig (later Americanized) at a whopping 14 pounds, Lou was the only one of four children to survive past infancy. His mother Christina quoted, “”He’s the only big egg I have in my basket.”
Lou was a fullback on the football team at Columbia and majored in Engineering
Gehrig actually went to Columbia on a football scholarship. There he played both football and baseball and dreamed of surveying and building in the West.
Gehrig’s mother was the cook/housekeeper for the New York Delta (Columbia) Chapter of Phi Delta Theta and his dad was the occasional handyman
Despite being recruited by 24 universities for his athletic aptitude, Lou’s mother made it very simple for him to choose Columbia University – she had been working in the Phi Delt (New York Delta) house as cook/housekeeper since Gehrig’s high school beginnings, and his father was the occasional handyman. Lou would help his mother with many of the chores around the house.
The Yankees practically tried giving Gehrig away to the Red Sox, but they were turned down
In early 1925, the Yankees offered to trade Gehrig to the Boston Red Sox for first baseman Phil Todt to repay Boston for the blockbuster Babe Ruth trade a few years earlier. The Red Sox turned the Yankees down.
In 1927, teammates Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth out-homered every team in baseball except one
Ruth and Gehrig began to dominate the baseball headlines in 1927 in a way two players had never done before. That year Ruth hit 60 homers and Gehrig hit 47, more than anyone other than Ruth had ever hit. Together they out-homered every team in baseball except one. To put this achievement into perspective, the top two homerun hitters in 2011 hit a combined total of 84 homeruns, a level every Major League Baseball team surpassed. Gehrig didn’t get nearly as much attention as Babe Ruth during the year, but in true Gehrig fashion stated, “Babe Ruth has a pretty big shadow, it gives me lots of room to spread myself.”
During Gehrig’s 2,130-game playing streak, he suffered 17 fractures in his hands
Lou set a record by playing in a consecutive streak of 2,130 professional baseball games throughout his career, despite 17 fractures in his hands, being beaned several times, having severe back pain and suffering various other illnesses and minor injuries. Gehrig’s record stood until Cal Ripken, Jr. broke it in 1995.
Gehrig was the first athlete to have his number retired
Upon his retirement from baseball in 1939, the New York Yankees retired his No. 4 jersey. This was the first time a professional sports team retired a jersey. Today, the practice of retiring jerseys numbers is carried out in most sports. Next time you see a jersey in the rafters, you can turn to your neighbor and ask this trivia bit.
Lou averaged 1 RBI per game during his career
No commentary needed. This is an unbelievable stat.
After his baseball career and as his health was declining, Gehrig worked to help troubled youths
Although his career in baseball was over and his health was on a steady decline, Gehrig began work in the community. Mayor Fiorelli LaGuardia asked him to join the Parole Board, where he could help troubled youths. One of those youths that Gehrig helped was Rocky Graziano, who ended up in the Boxing Hall of Fame.
A World War II ship was named after Gehrig
In 1943, during World War II, a Liberty ship was named after legendary baseball player Lou Gehrig. The Merchant Marine troop transport ship carried 480 men and 120 vehicles. One year later it was involved in Operation Neptune. On Gehrig’s birthday the ship landed in Normandy, 13 days after D-Day.
So there you have it, 10 little known facts about Brother Lou Gehrig. I considered writing more of a tribute, but I was swayed a different way by a quote from Bill Dickey, teammate of Gehrig’s.
“He doesn’t need tribute from anyone. His life and the way he lived were tribute enough. He just went out and did his job every day.”