Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Remembering Lou Gehrig: The Quiet, Forgotten Leader of “Murderer’s Row”

The 1927 Yankees are often considered the best baseball team ever assembled.

Their lineup’s potency was unparalleled, earning them the intimidating nickname of “Murderer’s Row.”

Throughout the glory years of this immortal roster, New York possessed a one-two punch of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

Yankees Manager Miller Huggins could write Gehrig’s name into the scorecard months in advance. He knew nothing would ever prevent Gehrig from lacing up his cleats.

During Gehrig’s remarkable 2130 consecutive games played streak, he is said to have broken every finger on both hands, while also suffering countless other debilitating injuries. His toughness and dedication quickly earned him “The Iron Horse” as a moniker.

Ruth often joins Ted Williams, Willie Mays, and Joe DiMaggio as the first players to roll off the tongues of those debating the “best player of all-time.” Gehrig, meanwhile, has forever been underrated and underappreciated with regard to his greatness; somehow disappearing behind the shadows of baseball’s immortals.

Ruth is rightfully credited with being the greatest hitter in Yankees history, as well as potentially the best in the entire existence of America’s Pastime. He deserves every accolade, as 714 home runs and a career .342 AVG are untouchable when reflecting on the era in which he played.

Gehrig, however, was even more responsible for the team’s eternal admiration. By hitting cleanup in Murderer’s Row, he provided unequaled protection in order to maximize Ruth’s performance.

As a result, Ruth received many more fastballs than pitchers would have dared to throw had there been any other hitter standing in the on-deck circle. He hit 60 home runs in 1927, the highest total on his Hall of Fame career.

What makes Gehrig’s achievements more noteworthy is the fact that he was protected by Bob Meusel, a man who hit just 8 home runs in 1927. He never hit more than 12 homers in Gehrig’s Yankee tenure.

Gehrig stepped into the batter’s box with the bases empty an additional 60 times due to Ruth’s blasts, and had a gap hitter as protection in back of him. Even so, he still produced 47 HR, a .373 AVG, .474 OBP, and a team high 175 RBI.

As powerful and feared a hitter as Ruth was, it was actually Gehrig who performed slightly better in the World Series.

Ruth hit .326 with 33 RBI in 41 games, while Gehrig generated .361 with 35 RBI in just 34 games. During their time as teammates, Ruth hit .409 with 22 RBI, whereas Gehrig batted .422 with 25 RBI.

Both epitomized the word “clutch,” but Gehrig’s superior numbers should be celebrated and magnified by hitting behind Ruth.

After Ruth’s final .300 AVG and 100 RBI season in 1933, he became a mere shell of the hero he once represented. He struggled mightily in 1934, before eventually leaving the franchise shortly thereafter.

Gehrig’s production remained unchanged, even while shouldering the burden of the Yankees lineup for the first time without Ruth. From 1934-1937, he averaged 41+ home runs and 149 RBI, while also hitting .350 over that span.

The Yankees added a promising rookie to the lineup in 1936 named Joe DiMaggio, who was again placed in front of Gehrig in the batting order.

Additionally, “The Iron Horse” had a 20 home run hitter batting behind him for the first time in his entire career; Yankees catcher Bill Dickey.

The culmination of Dickey and DiMaggio helped to balance New York’s lineup and protect Gehrig. It led to three consecutive World Series Championships from 1936 to 1938.

The Iron Horse would have continued to collect jewelry had it not been for his sudden and disheartening retirement in 1939. He was ultimately forced to leave the game he loved after developing a rare disease which would later bear his name.

Gehrig was the product of a blue collar New York City upbringing, earning the right to make his mark on the sport’s most impressive franchise. He left baseball the way he entered it after replacing the injured Wally Pipp; feeling grateful and blessed for the years he spent living every kid’s dream.

The emotional and heartfelt speech Gehrig delivered is still regarded as one of the best in sports history. He was summoned to speak with no preparation or prior knowledge, and delivered a teary-eyed message straight from his heart to the microphone.

Gehrig is one of the most talented players to ever don a baseball uniform. More importantly, he is the classiest and bravest man to step foot onto the hallowed ground of Yankee Stadium.

Not only was Gehrig someone to look up to and admire, but he is also a true source of inspiration to anyone who knows his story or battles his disease to this day.

I tip my hat to you, Lou Gehrig, and sincerely hope that you are still hitting cleanup in God’s lineup.


  1. Gehrig did more than just shoulder the burden with Ruth struggling in 1934, he won the triple crown - the first Yankee ever to do so - with 49 HRs, 165 RBIs and a .363 average. He somehow managed to finish 5th in the MVP voting that year despite finishing significantly higher than the winner of the award (Mickey Cochrane) in every single offensive category and striking out only 31 times, becoming one of the few players to finish a season with more HRs than strikeouts while posting the lowest strikeout total ever for a player who hit more than 40 HRs. He led the league in On Base % four years in a row from 1934 through 1937 while also leading the league in Slugging % in 1934 and 1936 - finishing 3rd in '35 and 4th in '37. In his career he ranks 5th in OBP, 3rd in SLG, 10th in Runs, and 5th in RBIs. He was the greatest 1st baseman of all time and his speech was baseball's version of the Gettysburgh address. Despite all of these accomplishments, he was a true gentleman. Thanks for keeping his memory alive with this post.

  2. Isn't it amazing that he somehow is never falling off the tonuges of writers and historians who determine the "best of all time"? He was even underappreciated and forgotten during his own era, being robbed of the MVP in that manner. It is good to see someone else making sure he is never overshadowed again, and thanks for the solid insight into the topic. Talk to you soon.

  3. Nice tribute. I can't watch that speech without choking up even after all these years.

  4. Thanks a lot Jane, and I completely agree. I still tear up when watching that, and cannot believe a man could be so strong and classy during such a tragic event.


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