Year Inducted: 1939 (BBWAA, special election)
It was a day never before seen on a baseball field. Between the games of a double header against the Washington Senators, the Yankees decided to honor one of their living greats while they still could. The quiet link between the Babe Ruth years and the Joe DiMaggio years could no longer play baseball due to an incurable disease. Lauded with fan appreciation and gifts befitting a king, the quiet leader of the club stepped forward to address the public, and issued what many believe to be baseball’s equivalent of the Gettysburg Address. A man who knew he would face his end painfully and abruptly, took full courage and said in front of a sold out Yankee Stadium that he thought he was the luckiest man on the face of the earth because he got to play baseball. That was Lou Gehrig in a nutshell, quiet yet dignified and whether he would admit it or not, often times larger than the game itself.
Gehrig manned first base for the Yankees for 17 years, and from nearly the first game he appeared in dominated the league in a fashion similar to his larger than life teammate Babe Ruth. Gehrig hit an astounding .340/.447/.632 with a wRC+ of 173. The Iron Horse competed often with the Babe when it came to the home run and RBI titles for the AL, as well as a bit of personal animosity between them that faded fairly quickly. Gehrig led the AL in homers three times in his career, totaling 493 in his career to go along with 534 doubles and 163 triples. Larrupin’ Lou was probably the best RBI man in baseball history. The year that Babe Ruth hit 60 homers, it was Gehrig who drove in more runs (an awe-inspiring 173). He would drive in that many two additional times, including a high of 185 in 1931. Gehrig first became an everyday player in 1925, a year that saw him drive in only 68 runs. Beginning in 1926, Gehrig drove in 100 or more RBI for the remainder of his career until his aborted 1939 campaign. Gehrig would total 1995 runs driven in for his career, an impressive amount considering he only had 14 full seasons worth of at-bats. However, like a lot of big players, Gehrig was not a great baserunner. He only stole 102 bases in his career, was worth -27 runs on the bases, but did score nearly 1900 runs. Despite this, however, he was one of the top offensive players of all-time.
The start of Gehrig’s career is something that has always been clouded in myth. The player that he supplanted in the Yankee lineup, Wally Pipp, told at least two different tales on how he was removed from the lineup. One was that Pipp, in the Yankee clubhouse, was complaining about a headache and looking for an aspirin. Miller Huggins, the Yankee manager, told him to take the day off and decided to play Gehrig instead. The other, more famous, story was that Pipp was hit in the head during batting practice and in the hospital for two weeks while Gehrig was crushing the ball. Neither story is true. The truth is that the Yankee lineup was struggling in mid-May of 1925, so Huggins decided to shake things up including benching his usual first baseman. Gehrig took the role and ran with it, so to speak, so Pipp was waived in the offseason.
Due to Gehrig’s disease, many fans and writers wanted him to be able to see his election into the Hall of Fame, which many assumed would be a foregone conclusion anyways. So in December of 1939, the BBWAA held a special ballot to determine if Lou Gehrig would be inducted into the Hall of Fame. While the total results were never published, the committee did vote to induct Gehrig immediately into the Hall of Fame, choosing to honor the greatness of the man who was quietly one of the greatest ever.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 12/18/16:
The last two center fielders are up. It’s between The Say Hey Kid and the Georgia Peach for the 4/5 slots. Who gets which?