Most Valuable Player

unknown photographer
Lou Gehrig Scores Head First in the Fourth Inning
Library of Congress
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From 1923 to 1939, Lou Gehrig was first baseman for the New York Yankees, playing in a record-setting record setting 2,130 consecutive games. In 1938 his performance deteriorated, ultimately forcing Gehrig, as captain, to voluntarily withdraw from the team line-up on May 2, 1939. That June, Gehrig was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). With a grim prognosis, he retired two days later. On July 4, his team honored him with a ceremony at Yankee Stadium, attended by tens of thousands of fans and former teammates, including Babe Ruth. Gehrig continued to be involved in the New York community for the remainder of his life, dying at age 37 in June 1941.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is today known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. A first baseman who played for the Yankees from 1923 to 1939, Gehrig helped his team win six World Series and shattered countless records, but his performance began slipping in 1938. Doctors initially thought he was having gall bladder problems. However, as his health continued to deteriorate, Gehrig travelled to Minnesota to visit the esteemed Mayo Clinic. There Gehrig was officially diagnosed, on June 19, 1939, his 36th birthday, with ALS. ALS is a rare, degenerative neuromuscular disease. The cause was unknown and the prognosis was not good: there was no known cure, and Gehrig was given a life expectancy of only three years. He officially retired from baseball two days later, on June 21, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame that December, at the time the youngest player to receive the honor. On June 2, 1941, Lou Gehrig passed away. He was mourned across the country: President Roosevelt sent flowers and flags in New York City were flown at half mast.

A portrait of Lou Gehrig.As a baseball player, Gehrig is remembered for his 2,130 consecutive games played for the Yankees. Gehrig began his athletic career with a football scholarship to Columbia in 1921, but was then signed by the Yankees in 1923. Though he spent some time playing for Hartford, he began playing for the Yankees for good in 1925. He had an impressive career with numerous honors, but was at times overshadowed, first by teammate Babe Ruth and later by Joe DiMaggio. A committed athlete, Gehrig played through countless injuries, including many broken bones in his hands, earning himself the nickname “The Iron Horse.” Gehrig’s many impressive statistics include 493 home runs over the course of his career and a batting average of .340. Gehrig became captain for the Yankees in 1935, and on May 2, 1939, voluntarily took himself out of the line-up, due to his failing physical health, ending his 2,130 game streak. After his diagnosis of ALS in June, on the Fourth of July that year, a special ceremony was held at Yankee Stadium honoring Gehrig, with 62,000 fans in attendance, along with current and former teammates. Gehrig gave a moving and memorable speech, declaring himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” The Yankees retired his number four jersey, the first time a player had been awarded such an honor. After his death in 1941, Gehrig’s steadfast wife, Eleanor, devoted her life to supporting ALS research. In 2010, a study published in the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology suggested a possible connection between the development of ALS and the concussions and brain trauma sustained by Gehrig and other athletes (helmets were not introduced for baseball players until the 1940s).


McKee, Ann C., et al.  “TDP-43 Proteinopathy and Moto Neuron Disease in Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.”  J Neuropathol Exp Neurol Vol. 69, No. 9 (September 2010):  918-929