A headache that altered the course of Yankees history

In a June 1934 exhibition game, Lou Gehrig of the Yankees was forced off the field by a fastball from pitcher Ray White.

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On June 2, 1925, Yankees’ two-time AL home run leader Wally Pipp wanted a break from the game following a headache. Manager Miller Huggins asked a young talent, Lou Gehrig, to fill the first baseman’s position. At just 21 years old, Lou Gehrig had already been part of the Yankees since 1923 as a pinch hitter and he swiftly assumed the role at first base. Then very few had ever imagined that this headache could rewrite the course of the Yankees history for that year and the next 14 seasons.

Remarkably, on that fateful day, his performance at the plate was nothing short of extraordinary, prompting Huggins to make a permanent change and keep Lou Gehrig on the team. In the process, Wally Pipp, previously recognized as one of their finest power hitters, was inadvertently overshadowed. Lou Gehrig’s career with the Yankees took off, and he went on to play an awesome 2,130 consecutive games until his retirement in 1939, a decision necessitated by a devastating medical condition.

Thus, the Yankees got their first official legend because of a headache.

The dream debut of Lou Gehrig

In that Tuesday afternoon game, Lou Gehrig made a significant impact by getting three hits and scoring a run, batting in the sixth position. The Yankees emerged victorious with an 8-5 win over the Washington Senators at Yankee Stadium. While Lou Gehrig’s official streak of 2,130 consecutive games began the day before with a pinch-hitting appearance, it was Pipp’s headache that provided Lou Gehrig with the opportunity to establish himself as the Yankees’ starting first baseman.

According to an article in the New York World-Telegram, Stanley Frank wrote that Lou Gehrig was considered the Yankees’ most valuable player. Frank noted that Lou Gehrig’s contribution went beyond his performance on the field, as he instilled a sense of implicit confidence in himself and every team member. Furthermore, Frank observed that Lou Gehrig’s pride as a professional baseball player positively influenced all those who had the opportunity to play alongside him.

The following day, Lou Gehrig did not manage to get any hits in his three at-bats against the Senators. Surprisingly, in the next two games, Pipp replaced Gehrig at first base toward the end of the matches. However, during the game against the Browns on June 5, Lou Gehrig hit his first home run of the season, marking the beginning of his legendary status in baseball.

Lou Gehrig
Lou Gehrig.com

The Yankees’ iron horse

When amyotrophic lateral sclerosis eventually compelled Lou Gehrig to exit the Yankees lineup in 1939, he had accumulated an impressive record of achievements. He recorded a total of 2,721 hits, 493 home runs, 1,995 runs batted in (RBI), received two American League Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards, and contributed to six World Series championships.

During his career, Lou Gehrig showcased exceptional performance in World Series games. In a total of 34 games, he achieved an impressive batting average of .361 and contributed 10 home runs along with 35 runs batted in (RBI).

On the other hand, Pipp’s journey took a different path. Following the 1925 season, the Yankees sold him to the Cincinnati Reds. Pipp then assumed the role of the Reds’ everyday first baseman in 1926 and demonstrated his abilities by driving in 99 runs for the team. However, by 1929, Pipp’s career in the major leagues had come to an end.

During a day dedicated to honoring him at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig expressed that he may have faced unfavorable circumstances but still found many reasons to appreciate his life but he was the most fortunate person on this planet.

“His greatest record doesn’t show in the book,” John Kieran wrote in The New York Times on May 3, 1939, “It was the absolute reliability of Henry Louis Gehrig. He could be counted upon. He was there every day at the ballpark bending his back and ready to break his neck to win for his side. He was there day after day and year after year. He never sulked or whined or went into a pet or a huff. He was the answer to a manager’s dream.”

On June 2, 1941, exactly 16 years after he had taken over Pipp’s position, Lou Gehrig passed away after a courageous battle with ALS that lasted for over two years.

How do you rate Lou Gehrig among the all-time baseball greats? Leave your comment appreciating this great player’s career below.

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