Friday, May 02, 2008

69 Years Ago, Gehrig Sat The Biggest One Out

I can't imagine Lou Gehrig's consecutive-game streak ending, in 2008, the way it ended 69 years ago today, in Detroit. Funny how simple and bottom line everything was before television and the Internet clogged our thinking.

It was on May 2, 1939, when Gehrig walked into Yankees manager Joe McCarthy's office and told him that it would be best for the team if Lou wasn't in the lineup. McCarthy consented, and just like that, Gehrig's streak of 2,130 straight games played was over with. The fans didn't even realize the gravity of the situation until the Briggs Stadium P.A. announcer told them what was going on. I'm sure you've probably seen the photo below, of Gehrig gazing out onto the field in Detroit from the Yankees dugout that fateful May 2nd, realizing that his career was soon to be done. Doubtful that he knew his life was doomed, too.

Gehrig, shortly after pulling himself out of the lineup in Detroit on 5/2/39

Gehrig's slide began the year before, in 1938, when his numbers -- though pretty darn good -- weren't very Gehrig-like: 29 HR, 114 RBI, .295 BA. Perhaps it was the batting average that was the tip-off; the .295 was easily Gehrig's worst (by over 30 points) in ten years. He turned 35 in '38, and managed just four singles in the World Series. By the end of spring training in 1939, something was definitely amiss; not only had his timing left him at the plate, but he was laboring to make even the most routine plays in the field. At the time of his self-ziggy in Detroit, Gehrig was 4-for-28 (.143) and done. He never played another game. And he was dead two years and one month later. He was 17 days shy of his 38th birthday.

Not to be a downer here -- with the Tigers finally breaking out of their slump, seemingly -- but the Tigers' series in New York reminded me of Gehrig, and how his epic streak ended in Motown on this day. It was reported that after Gehrig notified McCarthy, he changed out of his uniform midway thru the game and walked down Michigan Avenue to a local pub, where he ordered coffee and chatted with the (no doubt amazed) bartender and patrons. Can you imagine such a scene nowadays? Recall the fanfare (justifiable) surrounding Cal Ripken Jr.'s breaking of Gehrig's record? Now imagine if Ripken had pulled himself out of the lineup, citing some sort of physical maladay. And that was before the Internet really took hold.

May 2, 1939. A sad day in baseball history, but not as sad as June 2, 1941 -- the date of Gehrig's death.


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