Gehrig was a fantastic athlete, a very large and strong man, especially for the 1920s. He starred as both a football and baseball player at Columbia University (then known as Columbia College) from 1921 to 1923. He received offers for a professional baseball contract from at least eight major league teams. The Philadelphia Phillies probably offered him the most money, but Gehrig wished to stay in college. Then a family emergency changed his plans.
“At the end of my sophomore year my father was taken ill and we had to have money,” Gehrig said in an interview toward the end of his life. “I had been playing on the college ball team and I had had eight offers to join professional clubs. So when there was no money coming in there was nothing for me to do but sign up. There’s no getting away from it, a fellow has to eat.”
Gehrig was a polished player very capable of competing at the big league level when he joined the Yankees in June of 1923. In college he not only played first base but he also pitched, and in one game during his final collegiate season he struck out 17 batters. But “Larrupin’ Lou” made his name with his bat. After a couple years serving an apprenticeship with the Yankees, he famously stepped in on June 2, 1925 as a replacement for regular Yankee first baseman Wally Pipp. Gehrig wouldn’t miss a game until 1939, racking up a record 2,130 game streak that stood until Cal Ripken Jr. bested it.
There is some statistical evidence that the games played streak wore on Gehrig throughout his career. Yes, he posted incredible numbers, but by far his worst month for offensive production was September. Gehrig hit .308 during that month for his career with a slugging percentage of .566. In comparison he hit well over .340 in most of his other months. However, he did have a few seasons where he finished red-hot. In 1932 he hit .388 in September, and in ’33 he hit 10 homers and had an astronomical 1.228 OPS in that month. So, it might be the way the numbers fell.
Some other numbers from Gehrig’s career:
- He hit .350 or higher against the Browns, Red Sox, Tigers, and White Sox.
- The pitching staff of the Washington Senators held Gehrig in check the best. He hit .320 with just 48 homers against the Nats in more than 300 career games.
- Lou was one of the worst basestealers – based on success rate – in MLB history. He swiped 102 bases but was gunned down 100 times. Why he was ever running in that lineup is a mystery, but back then baseball managers still valued the stolen base as a weapon. Hell, in the ten years that he and The Babe were hitting back-to-back, Ruth tried to steal in front of Gehrig about 100 times, getting thrown out half the time.