View Full Version : The Iron Horse's Last Game, April 30, 1939

04-29-00, 07:45 AM
The Iron Horse's Last Game
Yankee Stadium / April 30, 1939
By James G. Robinson

"You have to [take the blame]. What are you going to do -- admit to yourself that the pitchers have you on the point of surrender? You can't do that ... If you are not hitting, the fault is yours." -- Lou Gehrig, on slumps

Lou Gehrig was not hitting in the spring of 1939, but the fault was most definitely not his. Nor could the American League's pitching corps claim responsibility for the Iron Horse's decline. In the twilight of his career, Gehrig had fallen prey to amytrophic lateral sclerosis -- as a result, a task as simple as donning the Yankee pinstripes had become as hard for Gehrig to handle as a Bob Feller fastball.

TO ALL ATTENDING THE Yankees' spring training camp in St. Petersburg, it was clear that something was seriously wrong with their thirty-five-year-old first baseman; most blamed it on old age. "On eyewitness testimony alone," wrote Joe Williams of the New York Telegram in mid-March, "the verdict must be that of a battle-scarred veteran falling apart." At one point, Gehrig was thrown nineteen fastballs in a row -- and still hit nothing but air. On the basepaths, teammate Tommy Henrich remembered, "it looked like he was trying to run uphill." More disturbing were Gehrig's troubles off the field; sudden falls were becoming common, even when trying to tie his shoelaces.

Refusing to let even a mysterious illness stand in his way, Gehrig remained determined to stay in the Yankee lineup. The proud slugger had not missed a game since Wally Pipp took his fateful day off in 1925. But one telling at-bat on Opening Day signaled the end of Gehrig's illustrious career. In the fifth inning, Lefty Grove -- the legendary Red Sox hurler who had once called the Iron Horse the toughest man he'd ever faced -- intentionally walked Joe DiMaggio to face his humbled nemesis. Gehrig weakly grounded into a double play.

Gehrig held out hope through long hours of extra practice that he could beat the as-yet undiagnosed malady, but he could not. His finely-tuned body was failing him; his muscles were simply refusing to listen to his brain's commands. A week into the season, Gehrig had driven in just one run and his batting average was well below .200. Each of his four hits were singles.

The eighth game of the season proved to be his last. Three Senators pitchers held Gehrig hitless in four at-bats; even the most routine plays tested the limits of his once-graceful body. When Gehrig dropped an easy toss to first in the early innings, only the generosity of the official scorer saved him from his third error of the young season.

Washington's last out in the top of the ninth was an easy grounder to pitcher Johnny Murphy, who flipped the ball to first base. Slowly, Gehrig hobbled to the bag but made the catch. "Nice play," called Murphy, in a tone more sympathetic than malicious. But Gehrig recognized the cruel irony. His play was hurting the team and insulting his pride, and it was time to call it quits.

THAT OUT ENDED GEHRIG'S REMARKABLE 2,130-game playing streak, a mournful coda to a towering career. At Gehrig's request, manager Joe McCarthy's lineup card for the Yankees' next game at Tiger Stadium featured Babe Dahlgren at first base. The Iron Horse carried the bad news to the umpires. "I can't hit and I can't field," a teary Gehrig explained later. As the Yankees demolished the Tigers 22-2, Dahlgren asked Gehrig if he wanted to return. "They don't need me out there at all," Gehrig replied. He never played again.

Out of respect to his fallen star, McCarthy asked Gehrig to deliver the lineup before each game, escorted on the short walk by a Yankee employee. Two months later, Gehrig was honored by the Yankees and delivered perhaps the most famous speech in baseball history. "Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth," he told the crowd. "I might have had a bad break, but I have an awful lot to live for." Just two years later -- less than a month shy of his thirty-eighth birthday and exactly sixteen years after he took Pipp's place at first base -- the Iron Horse passed away.







26 in '00

04-29-00, 08:12 AM
bxny, What are you trying to make me cry 1st thing in the morning? Damn good story & great photos.
In his prime today as a free agent what do think Lou would get with those stats?

04-29-00, 01:36 PM
His legend lives on and on...it is a heart-wrenching story but thank you for sharing it.

04-29-00, 05:45 PM
Ok, you made me cry too! Only because I admired the guy so much. Thanks. I thank God every day for giving me pinstripe blood!

04-29-00, 08:10 PM
Thanks bxny. Some great pix I'd never seen before. Above all he was a "mensch".

04-29-00, 08:44 PM
Thanx for a great story bxny:) Ya know, I have this facination with Lou Gehrig and I really can't explain it.
I have recently started buying stuff with him on it, like stamps, pictures, pins etc. I wish I could have seen him play and I just can't believe that this disease could devastate such a prominant athlete.....thanx again. And those 23 grandslams just add to my facination with him. WOW, 23......

04-29-00, 08:58 PM
I didn't read any of it. I know it all by heart, and it breaks my heart. That young guy in the Columbia University baseball uniform was at Columbia at the same time my grandfather worked at Columbia University. When being a Yankee fan was etched on the hearts of everybody born into this family. Can you imagine......My grandfather, seeing a Field of Dreams in Morningside Heights, and then taking the trolley back to Washington Heights and talking about this new kid Gehrig. I hear the Yanks are gonna sign him.

oh god my heart will burst.

04-29-00, 09:55 PM
I happened to find this story while surfing one of those "Today in History" baseball sites. Most of us know the details of how Lou took over first base for Wally Pipp, but this is the first time I'd read about his last game in such detail so I thought I'd share it with everyone. Lou Gehrig was definitely a man of integrity and honor. I'm glad the story is appreciated, you're all welcome.

Nothing like Yankee history! (even the mushy stuff ;))

26 in '00

05-02-00, 12:41 AM
Thanks for the Gehrig story - here's a site with Gehrig's career numbers: http://www.nmia.com/~browns/gehrig2.htm

05-02-00, 09:37 AM
Interesting, but according to the offical major league baseball site Lou's last game was played on May 2nd. Great pics and story though. What a tragedy to baseball's premier first baseman and a fine gentleman.

Long live Lou Gehrig's memory!

05-02-00, 09:59 PM
Hey bronxy, I just wanted to mention that I'm saving this post in my Favorites, and can't thank you enough for posting it. It was lovely.

I wish my grandfather were here to enjoy the Yankees new dynasty, and I wish I could thank him properly for the love of the Yankees that he instilled in me. And I wish he could've met you guys, he LOVED talking Yankee baseball. So, thanks bxny, from John McCarthy, 516 West 180th Street (Washington Heights), NYC.

05-02-00, 11:57 PM
Actually, Lou's last game was on April 30. May 2 was the day he didn't play.

I, too, have always had this fascination with Gehrig... (wouldn't you know, I'm going to be attending Columbia this fall, of all places!) I've read a million stories on him and seen so many websites. The reason: not sure, most likely because I can relate to him so much... he was the hero who could "do no wrong," (so it seemed) and didn't wish to be a hero; he wasn't flashy, and fame didn't go to his head. He was shy and stoic, and a born leader. I guess we all have a little Lou Gehrig in all of us. It is probably this fascination that made me a baseball fan to begin with, I think. Great post bxny!:) Hey, is there anyone on this forum who's old enough to have actually seen him play? Sure wish I had been alive then...

05-03-00, 10:31 AM
penguin, my mom saw him play. She's 74 now and a diehard Yank fan, and we're on the phone during the game every day. Anyway, she told me that as a kid she used to love watching him run around the bases, that there was just something graceful and majestic about his long-legged strides around the bases. She said that the player today who comes closest to looking like Gehrig when he runs is Bernie Williams.

05-03-00, 04:31 PM
Maureen...my father saw him play, too...and it is uncanny how your mother said there was something "majestic" about him...I have also used that word to describe him...he was so very, very special...he will always be my favorite...I highly recommend you read (if you haven't already)..."My Luke and I" by his wife...a must read for all his fans.

05-03-00, 07:52 PM
My god Meggie, I had forgotten about that book. Isn't that what they based the movie on?

Gehrig is my all time favorite too. Always has and always will be. He was just a beautiful athlete.

I'll definitely pick up a copy of that book, thanks for triggering my memory of it. I can't wait to get a copy of it now.

P.S. I do want to meet you one of these days, jeez, we're 10 minutes from each other.