Today is Major League Baseball’s inaugural Lou Gehrig Day, a day to not only celebrate the career and life of Yankee great Lou Gehrig, but to spread awareness about the disease that ultimately took down “The Iron Horse” at the young age of 37. According to The ALS Association, “ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord,” gradually paralyzing and killing people because the brain is unable to communicate with the muscles of the body that help one walk, talk, eat, swallow, and breathe.
As it was when baseball’s consecutive-games-played king was diagnosed with the disease in 1939, ALS remains an indiscriminate terminal disease today. However, the fight to understand, combat, and eventually cure ALS rages on. You can find donation links for organizations aiming to fight ALS compiled by MLB here.
It is a day of awareness, but it is also a day of celebration for the two-time MVP. Over his 17-year career, Gehrig knew his role to his team wasn’t to be a headline guy, but to do everything he could to win games, saying that, “I know that as long as I was following Ruth to the plate I could have stood on my head and no one would have known the difference.” Helping lead his team to six World Series Championships, Gehrig knew how to stay calm under pressure, saying that, “The ballplayer who loses his head, who can’t keep his cool, is worse than no ballplayer at all.”
In honor of his well-decorated Hall of Fame career, we will take a look at Lou Gehrig’s top ten moments based on the Win Probability Added to his team.
- Walk-off Home Run Against the Indians
Tied 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth inning, Gehrig stepped up to the plate after Babe Ruth flied out to right field for the first out of the inning. Gehrig sent a ball in the same direction as Ruth, however, his ball soared out past the right field fence at Yankee Stadium, sending the faithful Yankee fans home happy on the last day of spring, June 20, 1934
- Double To Tie Against the Senators
On July 11, 1937, down 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth at Yankee Stadium, Lou Gehrig stepped up to the plate with two outs, following a Frankie Crosetti strikeout and Joe DiMaggio flyout to center field. After teammate Red Wolfe doubled and found himself on second base, Gehrig grooved a pitch from Jimmie DeShong into the outfield, scoring Rolfe and tying the game. The game ended in a tie after the next at bat ended in a flyball out.
- Ground Ball Double Play to End the Game Against the Athletics
With runners on first base and third base and only one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Athletics’ Bob Johnson hit a ground ball to second base to set up a double play, ending the game in Gehrig’s mitt for the final out of the afternoon, preserving a 9-8 win for the Yankees in Philadelphia on April 27, 1935.
- Ground Ball Double Play to End the Game Against the Senators
Much like the previous play, Gehrig ended the game with his defense, being the last component of a 5-4-3 double play to preserve a 6-5 Yankee road win on an early spring game on April 16, 1936.
- Home Run To Take the Lead In the 13th Inning Against the Browns
Back to some offense, Lou Gehrig stepped into the batter’s box in a tied 3-3 game in the 13th inning against the St. Louis Browns during a long August 23, 1935 game. With two outs in the inning and with men on first and second, Gehrig unloaded on a Russ Van Atta pitch, sending it into the afternoon sky, and giving the Yankees a comfortable 6-3 lead going into the bottom of the inning that they would preserve for the victory.
- Home Run To Tie the Game Against Bob Feller and the Indians
Down 3-5 in the bottom of the ninth inning, reigning MVP Gehrig came to the plate facing future Hall of Famer Bob Feller with two outs and a man on third base. Well, in a case of Hall of Famer vs. Hall of Famer, Gehrig got the better of Feller that day, launching a home run ball past the right-field fence to tie the game 5-5. The Yankees would end up winning the August 6, 1937 game 6-5 after a walk-off double by Joe DiMaggio in the 10th inning.
- Home Run To Tie the Game Against the Athletics
Spoiler alert, the Yankees actually lost this July 10, 1931 game in 14 innings after a Jimmie Foxx triple to center field gave the Athletics a two-run cushion before going into the bottom of the 14th inning. However, without Gehrig’s heroics, the Yankees wouldn’t have gotten to extras anyway. So, after a Babe Ruth two-out single in the bottom of the ninth, Gehrig sent a George Earnshaw baseball into the bleachers, tying the game 6-6, and giving the Yankees life going into extra innings and the fans their money’s worth for admission.
- Ground Ball Double Play to End the Game Against the Browns
Taking place on May 10, 1927, square into the great “Murderers’ Row” season for the Yankees, it’s kind of surprising to see a defensive play rank this high up on this list. Nevertheless, a 5-4-3 game-ending double play allowed the Yankees to finish off an 8-7 victory over the St. Louis Browns.
- Two-Run Single To Take the Lead Against the Same Browns Team!
But wait! I’m not done with that May 10, 1927, game. Since this is the peak “Murderer’s Row” season and offense reigned supreme, eventual 1927 MVP Gehrig just so happened to take an at bat the half-inning before, in the top of the ninth inning. After a Mark Koenig sacrifice fly scored Cedric Durst from third base, Gehrig hit a single off of Milt Gaston, scoring two and giving the Yankees the lead that Gehrig would finalize half an inning later.
- Home Run To Take the Lead Against the White Sox
Finally, on an August 30, 1932, game against the Chicago White Sox, Lou Gehrig hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning off of Paul Gregory to give the Yankees a 6-5 lead that they would hold onto for the victory.
In a career defined by his endurance of 2,130 consecutive games played, a streak that wouldn’t be broken until 1995 by Cal Ripken Jr., Gehrig made the most of his 17 years in the majors, winning six World Series Championships, two MVP awards, a Triple Crown, selected as an All-Star seven times, and completing the plays above in addition to many more.
As he told a loving crowd at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939, concerning the end of his career, “For the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans…So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.”