Over the course of 104 professional baseball seasons played at Michigan and Trumbull, numerous historic moments occurred including nine World Series, three All-Star games, and heroics by the likes of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams.
Yet one of the saddest and most famous moments occurred 70 years ago this past Saturday.
On May 2, 1939, Lou Gehrig took himself out of the Yankee lineup, thus ending his 2,130 consecutive games record. It would be another 56 years before the Iron Horse’s record was broken by Cal Ripken Jr.
In the spring of 1939, Gehrig was noticeably weaker and unable to field or hit like fans were used to seeing. Upset with his own play, Gehrig had decided to bench himself while Babe Dahlgren took his place at first base.
Gehrig took the lineup card out to home plate at the request of manager Joe McCarthy. As he did, over the intercom system Tiger announcer Ty Tyson told the 11,000 fans in attendance, “How about a hand for Lou Gehrig who played 2,130 games in a row before he benched himself today.”
According to Gehrig biographer Jonathan Eig, author of “The Luckiest Man,” Detroit fans reportedly began to cheer and clap as Gehrig walked back into the Yankee dugout where teammates saw him weeping while getting a drink at the drinking fountain.
One of the most famous shots of Gehrig was taken that day as he sat on the Yankee dugout steps at Briggs Stadium. It’s amazing to think that you can still drive by what is left of Tiger Stadium, and see that very dugout.
A month later, Gehrig was diagnosed with having “Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis,” a progressive and fatal neurodegenerative disease now referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” Gehrig would never play again.
On July 4th, following his retirement, the Yankees held Lou Gehrig Day at Yankee Stadium where he made his famous “Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth” speech. Two years later, the Yankee slugger was dead at age 37.
In honor of Gehrig’s memory, Major League Baseball has teamed with four major non-profit organizations to find a cure for ALS. The campaign, called “4 ALS Awareness” will culminate with Gehrig’s famous speech being read at all Major League ballparks where games are playing this coming July 4th during the seventh inning stretch.