The “Iron Horse.” A baseball great. A man of consistency and perseverance. Lou Gehrig and his legacy echo not only in the Hall of Fame but also in the daily strivings of people across the world. Lou Gehrig was as many would say, “durable,” and even after losing his life to a debilitating illness, his reputation has held strong over the years in his absence.
Born in Manhattan in 1903 to German immigrants, Lou was the only one of four children to survive infancy. He knew he had the hopes and dreams of his parents upon him from an early age, and with a mother determined to see her son succeed, Gehrig enjoyed and excelled at all things athletic. From hitting a grand slam home run at Wrigley Field as a teenager in the high school baseball national championships to following the remarkable Babe Ruth to the plate during his time at the Yankees, Lou Gehrig was a standout.
A man as seemingly unbreakable as his record—2,130 consecutive games—Lou Gehrig was a quiet but strong force among baseball fans and around the country. Gehrig won the hearts of fans and teammates as he proved to be an incredible and committed athlete, climbing the charts and setting records. He played hard and well, often shining even within the massive shadow of the behemoth Babe Ruth. He played because playing was what he did; through injuries, illness, and extreme pain, he was consistent. He loved the game. He was a steady constant amongst a gregarious group of players that made up the indomitable New York Yankees. And though we may remember his baseball accomplishments, his wins and hits and games do not truly define the man. After all, baseball has had many world-class hitters and several all-around great players. But it was Lou Gehrig’s durability of mind, body, and spirit that have elevated his name to a place of inspiration. The disease that ultimately took his life and later adopted his name in no way defines the man so devoted and determined to achieve sustained excellence.
“Fans, for the past two weeks, you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.”
In May of 1938, Gehrig’s astonishing consistency led him to hit the 2000-game mark in his career. But not long after attaining this milestone, Gehrig began to notice a difference in his game. His batting average fell, his coordination seemed off, and he felt unlike the hailed “Iron Horse” he had been dubbed. He played through his struggles that season, and ever-devoted, he worked hard to compensate for the changes he experienced. But when he came back for the 1939 season, he soon realized his poor play would hurt his team, and after 2,130 consecutive games, Gehrig, despite pleas from his teammates to play, voluntarily benched himself. Within months, the words “Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,” or ALS, would pull the breath out of the stands as doctors would find the mysterious disease was the only thing that could physically take the Iron Horse from the field.
Lou Gehrig Speech
On July 4, 1939, to a Yankee Stadium filled to the brim, bases to bleachers, with tearful admirers, fans, loved ones, and teammates, Lou Gehrig bid farewell to the game he so consistently pursued.
Though Gehrig would retire from baseball, he would not remain idle. He spent a year of his last two on earth fulfilling his civic duty by working as a parole commissioner for New York City. He worked, even on crutches, until his body would no longer allow it.
Lou Gehrig will always be known for his consistency, his strength, and his hard work that brought him from a childhood of poverty to a lucrative career that provided for his family. But his true legacy lies in his perseverance and dedication in all aspects of life and his courage in the face of a terrible illness. His name and his legacy have continued to stand for enduring strength long after his own strength was taken from him.
His was an investment in a life of uncompromising commitment.