January 30, 2011
The sport of baseball has produced some legendary, iconic players since its inception in the late 1800s. However, there is one particular legend that stands out from the rest: Lou Gehrig. Lou Gehrig was one of baseball’s greats, had a record setting career and a life claimed by a disease bearing his name. When Lou benched himself in 1939, nobody, including himself, imagined he would be dead in just two short years.
Lou Gehrig was born June 19, 1903 to Heinrich and Christina Gehrig, German immigrants. They made their home in Yorkville, in the Upper East Side of New York City and eventually moved to upper Manhattan when Lou was four. Shortly after settling in their new home, Lou received his first baseball glove, a catcher’s mitt, for Christmas at the age of five. At the park across the street from the Gehrig home, Lou would play baseball with the older children in the neighborhood. Even though Lou was only six, he was comparable in size to the other children as he was big and strong; a very husky fellow but very shy. Like the older children, Lou would arise at five each morning and play baseball in the park until it was time to go to school. In this park is where it began for Lou Gehrig (Hubler, 1941).
By the time Lou entered Commerce High School he was a big, burly young man weighing nearly two hundred pounds with extremely broad shoulders. In the park, he could hit a baseball further than anyone around. However, Lou did not participate in baseball as a school sport; he considered himself an ordinary neighborhood sandlot player. At some point during Lou’s high school career, classmates told his teacher about how far he could hit a baseball. After hearing this information, the teacher demanded Lou show up at one of the scheduled high school baseball games. Lou did show up, heard all of the cheering, turned around, and went directly home. Lou was so terrified that he literally ran away from his first high school baseball game. The next day his teacher demanded that Lou show up for the next game and threatening a failing grade if he did not show up. Lou Gehrig was forever grateful for the teacher’s threat that day (Macht, 1993).
Lou’s parents wanted him to attend college even though he wanted to work and earn money for the family. Fortunately, Christina worked for a fraternity house at Columbia University managed by the university’s athletic director. Because of this working relationship and a tremendous amount of studying, Columbia offered Lou an athletic scholarship and he accepted. Before the baseball season started, someone had advised Lou to go to Connecticut to play for Eastern League, a professional team, to gain more experience and he would be paid to play. While playing for the Eastern League, the Columbia University baseball coach discovered that Lou was playing professionally and therefore breaching his contract with Columbia. Lou was not allowed to play his entire freshman year as a consequence of breaching his contract (Macht, 1993).
By Lou’s sophomore year at Columbia, his fielding was erratic but his hitting improved with much practice. He was dangerous and extremely wild as a pitcher and terrible in the outfield. Finally the manager placed Lou at first base where he needed only to catch direct throws or scoop up ground balls. His hitting continued to evolve and he was hitting the ball more than 420 feet. During this time at Columbia, professional league teams were taking notice of Lou and making offers. It was not until his mother fell ill that he accepted a $1500 bonus to join the New York Yankees and dropped out of Columbia University after two years (Hubler, 1941).
The new Yankee immediately became frustrated with his newfound job. He practiced with the team, watched the other players, worked out in the bullpen and everything in between. However, he...