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Was Lou Gehrig the Toughest Baseball Player Ever?

Published: June 19, 2017

This article and other features about baseball can be found in the Post’s Special Collector’s Edition, Baseball: The Glory Years. This edition can be ordered here.   

As always, the yankees were the team to beat for the pennant, and, for once, they were being beaten. The Tigers held a lead of two and a half games. There was a strange uneasiness on the Yankee bench before the first game on July 12, something more than the strain of overhauling the Tigers. The cause leaked out presently.

Gehrig would not play this day. Gehrig, who had not missed a game in 10 seasons, had been forced out of the lineup by a severe attack of lumbago. The depressed Yankees warmed up listlessly. Suddenly they came to life. Gehrig, disregarding doctor’s orders, hobbled stiffly on the field in uniform.

It was obvious that Gehrig was racked with pain when he went up to hit against Tommy Bridges in the first inning. But ailing or well, Gehrig still was the most dangerous hitter in baseball. Bridges walked him. In the fourth inning Gehrig stumbled to the plate, slashed a solid single, then dragged himself to the clubhouse.

On July 13 a taxi drove up to the players’ gate at Briggs Stadium a few minutes before game time. The milling, murmurous crowd saw Gehrig, in full uniform, crawl out of the cab. Doc Painter, the Yankee trainer, had helped Gehrig dress at the hotel and literally wheeled him to the ball park.

For perhaps the first time in major-league history, a left-hander was in the lineup at shortstop. Gehrig was to lead off, keep his record intact, then retire. And Gehrig launched the Yankees to eventual victory by hitting vic Sorrell for a single.

The climax came the next day. Gehrig, his back strapped with yards of adhesive, swore he would play the entire game against Schoolboy Rowe, who was in the middle of a 16-game winning streak.

Rowe was the greatest pitcher in the league that year, but Gehrig was the greatest competitor. He faced Rowe four times, and got four hits. Hampered by the adhesive which restricted him from taking a full cut, Gehrig merely pushed his bat at the ball. And three of his hits were ringing doubles off the left-field wall.

During those three days Gehrig, measured by ordinary standards, should have been in bed. Gehrig, “baseball’s Gibraltar,” went to bat seven times, and got six hits and a walk when his team needed him most urgently.

— “Baseball’s Gibraltar” by Stanley Frank, April 17, 1943

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