Henry Louis Gehrig was born in New York City on June 19, 1903. Lou was the only child in his family to live more than two years. When he was five, his family moved to a house close to the Highlanders’ and Giants’ baseball parks. Lou began playing pickup baseball games in his neighborhood and soon became one of the best sandlot players in the city. He was a Giants fan, and he went to games at the Polo Grounds whenever he could save up the 25 cents needed for a left-field bleacher seat.
In 1917, the City of Chicago sponsored a game between the New York City high school champions, Lou’s Commerce High School team, and Chicago’s champions, Lane Tech High School. The game was played at Cubs Park, which became Wrigley Field six years later. In the ninth inning, Lou came to bat and hit a grand slam home run over the right-field wall. The next day, an article in the Chicago Tribune’s sports section read: “Gehrig’s blow would have made any big leaguer proud, yet it was walloped by a boy who hasn’t yet started to shave.” While he was in high school, Lou had to do part-time jobs to help his family. He worked in butcher shops and grocery stores and helped his mother on cleaning jobs. In 1921, Lou went to Columbia University on a football scholarship where he studied for a degree in engineering. In 1923, he played baseball as well as football for Columbia. A Yankee baseball scout was so impressed with Lou’s hitting that he signed him to the Yankees in 1923.
Lou Gehrig played in 2,130 consecutive games for the Yankees. Only Cal Ripken has a longer game streak (2,632). Lou played every day despite a broken thumb, a broken toe, and back pain. Later X-rays showed 17 different fractures that had “healed” while Lou continued to play. He got the nickname the “Iron Horse” because of his endurance and batting strength. Lou hit four home runs in one game and had 23 grand slam home runs in his career. He was an All-Star seven times and had 493 home runs, 2,721 hits, and 1,995 RBIs. In 1934, Lou Gehrig won the American League’s Triple Crown (Male Athlete of the Year, American League MVP, and the Player of the Year). He was voted the AL Most Valuable Player (MVP) twice.
On July 4, 1939, Lou retired from baseball and made his famous “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech. He had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). This is a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. Since that day, ALS is commonly called Lou Gehrig’s disease. The Yankees retired the number 4 in his honor. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939.