Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Gibraltar In Cleats

On April 30, 1939, on a Sunday Afternoon in the "House That Ruth Built," Lou Gehrig played his final game against the Washington Senators in front of 23,712 fans - he went 0 for 4 in a 3-2 loss.  His powerful bat once feared by pitchers, "had reached an alarming state of anemia."  As the "pillar of the great Yankees' franchise" came to the plate on his last at bat, it was unbeknownst to him that he was about to embrace the toughest at bat of his entire life.  A predicament that would render him a mere mortal with two years to live.  

By spring training of 1939, something was amiss as Gehrig was a mere shadow of his former self.  His body deceived him unceremoniously and the once model of consistency - now resembled the indignity of failure with no respite in sight. The reason, a degenerative neurological disease: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. The Yankees were off to a 5-3 record and in those eight games, Gehrig had managed a dismal four hits in 28 at bats with a single RBI.  Although, he made contact at the plate as he only struck out once, the brute strength that he once brilliantly displayed, was now gone.  Baseballs that were usually crushed and on their way into orbit - ironically - seemed to die in the infield.  

On May 2, 1939, as the Yankees were on the road to play Detroit,  Lou Gehrig took the initiative and approached manager Joe McCarthy and said, "he would be taking himself out of the lineup, for the good of the team."  He further intoned: "Maybe a rest will do me some good, Maybe it won't, Who knows? Who can tell? I'm just hoping."  He would never play again and ended his consecutive games played streak at 2,130.  "He had said he thought 2,500 was an attainable goal."  Ty Tyson, the Tiger announcer, "informed the crowd of 11,379 of Gehrig's voluntary withdrawal from the lineup.  The voice from the PA system urged to give the great man a 'big hand', and the crowd resounded with a deafening cheer."  A merriment that was lacking on Apri 29,1939, the date of his final base hit; a single of left-hander Ken Chase of the Washington Senators.  No one could have imagined it would be his last hit - the 2,721 of his career.  "There was no announcement, no acknowledgement, no tip of the cap, and no curtain call."

The Iron Horse "had been the symbol of durability for the Yankee dynasties of the late 1920s and 1930s," amassing 493 home runs, 13 consecutive 100-RBI season, a .340 career average, six World Series championships and an "Unthinkable Streak" of 2,130 consecutive games played.  Magnificent production, "batting behind two of the games greatest base-cleaners: Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio."  

The Yankees announced Gehrig's official retirement on June 21, and would honor him between games of a doubleheader on July 4, 1939, against the Washington senators.  "A huge crowd of 61,808 fans would pack Yankee Stadium to pay tribute to their beloved hero."

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Geo Ginrosge