06/18/2003 5:11 PM ET
Gehrig's amazing streak
Baseball's first iron man played in 2,130 straight games
Lou Gehrig may have spent much of his Major League career sharing the spotlight with Babe Ruth and then Joe DiMaggio, but neither of his fellow Yankee superstars could even approach the Iron Horse in the department of durability.
By Tim Ott / MLB.com
No other player of his generation could, either.
In fact, it would take over 50 years and countless advancements in medicine and training before baseball could churn out another player with the talent and will to surpass the mighty Gehrig's once-unfathomable record of 2,130 consecutive games played.
The streak began on an inauspicious note -- a pinch-hit appearance against the Washington Senators on June 1, 1925 -- but it received an informal kickstart thanks to the most famous headache in baseball history.
When incumbent first baseman Wally Pipp begged out of the following day's game so he could rest his aching noggin, manager Miller Huggins inserted 22-year-old Gehrig into the starting lineup. The neophyte slugger rapped out three hits that day, and the rest, as they say, is history. It would be another 14 years before a pinstriped player could claim the first base position as his own.
At first, the idea of removing Gehrig from the everyday lineup was preposterous because he was the only player in the game that could match the Bambino for overall production. But as an aging Ruth began to miss more games each season, Gehrig's everyday presence as the Yankee cornerstone became all the more apparent. He was still putting up Triple Crown-worthy numbers, but now the streak was taking on a life of its own.
Consecutive game number 1,000 was reached on August 18, 1931, in a 5-4 loss to the Tigers. Less than a year later, Gehrig surpassed Joe Sewell's record of 1,103 successive appearances with one team.
Up next was Everett Scott's all-time mark of 1,307 straight games. A former shortstop for the Yankees, Scott's streak had ironically come to an end in May of 1925, about a month before his young teammate finally hit his way into the everyday lineup. Scott's mark tumbled on August 17, 1933. Still, even with the record safely under his belt, Gehrig had no plans for a break.
Larrupin' Lou kept the streak alive through situations that would have felled most normal ballplayers. In an exhibition game at the end of June in 1934, Gehrig suffered a concussion when he was beaned by an errant pitch. Not only was he in the lineup the next day against the Senators, he also was alert enough to crush three triples before heavy rains wiped the game out altogether.
Two weeks later, Gehrig was afflicted with a painful case of lumbago, a form of rheumatism that barely allowed him the ability to walk. Gehrig had manager Joe McCarthy pencil him into the leadoff spot against Detroit that day, and somehow managed to drag himself to first after poking a single to right field. With his streak intact at 1,427 games, Gehrig went to the bench and allowed himself to be replaced by a pinch-runner. A day later the lumbago had subsided, and the Iron Horse was back to his usual hard-hitting ways.
And there were broken bones too. He played every game for more than 13 years despite a broken thumb, a broken toe, and back spasms. Later in his career Gehrig's hands were X-rayed, and doctors were able to spot 17 different fractures that had "healed" while Gehrig continued to play.
Then there was the time when a simple matter of his own wedding wasn't enough to keep him out of the lineup. On September 29, 1933, Gehrig married his fiancee Eleanor in the New York suburb of New Rochelle. A few of hours later, he was playing all nine innings of an 8-5 home loss to the Senators. Whether it was great pain or the unequalled bliss of marriage to his long-time sweetheart, it seemed like no force of nature would ever be enough to stop Lou Gehrig from manning first base for the Yankees.
In the end, of course, it took a deadly disease that would one day bear his own name to pull the Pride of the Yankees out of the everyday lineup. After struggling to a 4-for-28 (.143) start in the first eight games of the 1939 season, a tired and frustrated Gehrig finally caved in and asked his manager to bench him.
The official end came on June 2, when a stiffened Gehrig's sole duty in a road game against the Detroit Tigers was to hand a lineup card to the home plate umpire. As he trudged to the plate, the small crowd of 11,379 in the stands rose and gave the Yankee captain a thunderous two-minute ovation. They knew that an era was over, that the magnificent streak of 2,130 consecutive games could now be etched in stone. Perhaps they also sensed that Lou Gehrig would never again play another game.
Today, we still connect the number 2,130 with the legacy of Gehrig, much as we connect 714 with Ruth, or 56 with DiMaggio, or .406 with Ted Williams. And even though his record passed to another iron man, Cal Ripken Jr., Gehrig's legacy lives on. The memory of the Iron Horse will always be one of a man who exuded the utmost strength, courage, consistency and durability.
Tim Ott is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.