The Day the Crowd Fell Silent
80 years later, Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” speech still strikes a poignant chord
There is a story from 1925 that is legendary in baseball lore, becoming as much fact as it is fiction. Wally Pipp, the veteran first baseman for the New York Yankees, arrived at the ballpark on June 2nd with a splitting headache. Pipp’s manager told him to take the day off, letting Pipp’s backup start the game instead.
That backup was a young man named Lou Gehrig.
Just 21 years old, Gehrig would go on to start the next 2,130 consecutive games for the Yankees. It was a record that would last until 1995, forever solidifying Gehrig’s place in sports fame and earning him the nickname of the Iron Horse.
There is only one player who is more renowned in Yankees history than Lou Gehrig, and that is Babe Ruth. Babe’s exploits, both on and off the field, were widely publicized by the press, and the slugger was well known for his womanizing and heavy drinking. But as much as Ruth was admired for his brash manners and roughhouse style of play, Gehrig was adored for his gentlemanly nature and kindness to fans.
In descriptions of Lou Gehrig, it is often written that he was quiet, dignified, and a strong leader. He did not seek to bring attention to himself, even if it meant that his feats would be overshadowed by those of Babe Ruth.
There’s another legend about Lou Gehrig, one that is based in fact but has been glamorized by Hollwood. In 1926, a hospitalized boy named Johnny Sylvester requested that Babe Ruth hit a home run for him. Ruth obliged in the next game, and the story was widely publicized by the national media.
But, as the story goes, Gehrig quietly made a similar promise, telling the young boy that he would hit two home runs. Like Babe, Gehrig delivered on his promise. Unlike Babe, Gehrig’s promise was not publicized by the press.
The story, which was depicted by actor Gary Cooper in the Hollywood sensation Pride of the Yankees, has never been verified. It is likely more legend than fact, but the truth remains the same — Gehrig would never rise to the legendary level of Babe Ruth, simply because that was not his goal. He didn’t seek idolization, nor did he seek to be known as anything other than a good man.