The Luckiest Man
NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK •
JULY 4, 1939 – A tired, frail, shadow of his former self told 61,808 people in Yankee stadium on the Fourth of July in 1939, “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” Always humble, Lou Gehrig was known as ‘The Iron Horse,’ but he was getting weaker by the day and would be gone in less than two years.
Sporting News Archive
The suddenness of Gehrig’s decline was alarming. He went from playing every single game for 14 years to never playing again. When Gehrig took himself out of the lineup on May 2nd 1939 he never got back in.
Gehrig had 29 home runs, 114 runs batted in and 115 runs scored in his last full season – 1938, not his best year, but still quite good. The only stat that appeared to show decline was batting average. He hit .295. He hadn’t hit under .300 in twelve seasons and hit .351 in 1937, .354 the year before that. Clearly, Gehrig had lost a step, but he was 35 years old, so not unexpected. Gehrig’s decline was clear in spring training 1939. His power had faded. He was hitting just .143 with no extra base hits when he took himself out of the lineup after eight games of the regular season. He was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis a few weeks later. The sickness would become known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
When Babe Ruth set the single season home run record in 1927 with 60 home runs, Gehrig hit 47, more than anyone, other than Ruth, had ever hit up to that time.