Today, 94 years ago, Lou Gehrig started what would become a record-setting streak of consecutive games played. The star first baseman of the Bronx Bombers entered the game vs the Washington Senators as a pinch hitter (his only pinch-hit appearance in his career) for shortstop Pee Wee Wanninger.
In the game, a 5-3 loss vs the Senators, Gehrig flied out to left field. The next day, Gehrig would step in at first base for Wally Pipp, who reportedly called sick. This day off will lead to the proverb “Taking a Wally Pipp.” Gehrig left a good impression as he went 3 for 5, making Pipp lose his starting role and eventually his pinstripes.
Ironically, on the same day in 1939, Yankees coach Joey Schulte revealed a secret about the slugger. According to Schulte, Gehrig had an upcoming examination at the Mayo Clinic. First, the ailing first baseman denied this but a few days later he admitted.
During his seventeen-year career, Gehrig would set several records next to his streak of 2,130 consecutive games: Most career grand slams (later broken by Alex Rodriguez), American League record of 184 RBI, MLB record of most home runs hit by a first baseman (later to be broken by Mark McGwire) and the first player to have his uniform number retired.
Eventually, after fourteen years and 2,130 games, Gehrig took himself out of the Yankee lineup on May 2nd. In the previous season, 1938, Gehrig’s batting average dropped below .300 for the first time in his career, a sign that his health was failing him. He only played the first eight games of the 1939 season before he took himself out of the lineup. In a game in and vs Detroit, he handed over the lineup to home plate umpire Steve Basil. As the announcer of Briggs Stadium informed the fans that Gehrig wasn’t in the Yankees lineup for the first time in fourteen years, they gave him a standing ovation, which he took with tears in his eyes.
On May 30, 1939, Gehrig would play his final game. About two months later, on July 4, the Yankees would honor Gehrig with a special day. On this day, Gehrig made his famous “Today, I consider myself, the luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech. Barely two years later, Gehrig would die because of Amyotrofe Lateral Sclerosis or ALS, the disease that bothered him in the final two years of his career and that was named after him.
In 1939, Gehrig was voted into the Hall of Fame.
Eventually, exactly sixteen years after the start of his streak, Gehrig passed away.