August 17

This Day in History

Sports

Aug 17, 1933:

Lou Gehrig goes the distance

On August 17, 1933, New York Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig plays in his 1,308th consecutive game, breaking former Yankee Everett Scott’s record for consecutive games played. Gehrig would go on to play in 2,130 games in a row, setting a record that would stand for over half a century.

Henry Louis Gehrig was born June 19, 1903, in New York City, the only child of German immigrants to survive childhood illness. His doting parents stressed education over sports, and he attended Columbia University on a football scholarship and studied engineering. After his freshman year, Gehrig played for New York Giants Manager John McGraw in a summer league under the name Henry Lewis; he lost a year of eligibility at Columbia when his ruse was discovered. Gehrig was then signed by a Yankees scout while playing first base at Columbia, much to the consternation of Giants fans who believed their skipper had let the talented slugger get away. Gehrig joined the Yankees in 1923, but didn’t see any action until 1925. According to legend, Gehrig stepped in at first base when star Wally Pipp benched himself with a headache. Gehrig didn’t miss a game for the next 13 years, and Pipp never made it back on to the field. To this day, to be "Wally Pipped" is to be replaced for good.

Gehrig set his endurance record against the Browns in St. Louis more than eight seasons after the streak began on June 1, 1925. He was honored after the first inning, when Browns and Yankees players surrounded him at home plate and he was presented with a silver trophy by American League President William Harridge. The Yankees went on to lose the game in 10 innings, 7-6, in spite of home runs from Babe Ruth and Bill Dickey.

For his career, Gehrig’s offensive output was as extraordinary as his consecutive games streak. The left-handed slugger led the American League in RBIs five times and drove in at least 100 runs 13 years in a row. He led the AL in home runs three times, runs four times and in hitting once. On June 3, 1932, Gehrig became the first player to homer four times in a single game. In the Yankees first golden era, Gehrig batted cleanup, right after Babe Ruth, the bigger star of the two. It was Gehrig, however, who was named American League MVP in 1927, on a Yankee team considered the greatest team in history. He won the award again in 1936, another championship year for the Yankees. In all, Gehrig helped the Yankees to six World Series titles.

In 1938 Gehrig’s batting average dropped below .300 for the first time in his career and he began to experience chronic illness. As his strength continued to dwindle and doctors struggled to diagnose him, Gehrig took himself out of many games. He was eventually diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a rare degenerative disease now often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He retired and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939 and died just two years later.

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