On May 2, 1939, loudspeakers at Yankee Stadium stunned the crowd with the announcement that New York first baseman Lou Gehrig would not be in the day’s lineup. Gehrig, a fan favorite, had compiled a lifetime batting average of .340. He had slugged 493 home runs during his career, including 23 grand slams, and averaged a staggering 147 RBIs per season. But his most amazing stat was his streak of 2,130 consecutive games played. For thirteen years, he had played through good times and bad—including seventeen fractures and numerous other injuries—without missing a game. The son of working-class German immigrants showed up day after day to give his best in his steady, quiet way. His endurance earned him the nickname “the Iron Horse.”
But Gehrig had not played well lately. He could tell something was wrong with his body. He had trouble hitting the ball. In the field, he even had trouble getting to first base in time to take a throw. So he ended his streak. “I’m benching myself,” he told his manager. “For the good of the team.”
Medical exams brought a bleak diagnosis: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease of the nervous system. The chances of long-term survival were slim. Gehrig took the blow with courage and grace, telling friends he was hoping for the best.
On July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig stood on the field in a packed Yankee Stadium to say goodbye. Surrounded by friends, family, teammates, and fans, the first baseman stepped up to the microphones. “For the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got,” he said. “Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.”
Gehrig died two years later from the disease that now bears his name. Sports fans still remember him as the Iron Horse.
— The above comes from Bill Bennett’s American Patriot’s Daily Almanac.