Henry Louis Gehrig, born Ludwig Heinrich Gehrig (June 19, 1903 – June 2, 1941), was an American first baseman in Major League Baseball who played his entire career for the New York Yankees and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939. His career was prematurely ended by a degenerative terminal illness which has come to be widely known under his name.
He was born on Manhattan island in New York City, the son of German immigrants. He attended Columbia University, where he was a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. However, he could not play intercollegiate baseball due to his having played baseball for a summer professional league during his freshman year.
Gehrig was a powerful hitter, a fine fielder, and a loyal teammate. If he was not quite the player his teammate Babe Ruth was, he was a feared complement in the lineup, and a more reliable presence to the team.
Gehrig played from 1923 to 1939. In his career he hit 493 home runs and played in 2,130 consecutive games, an endurance record that stood until 1995 when Cal Ripken, Jr. broke it.
Gehrig's streak began when he pinch-hit for Pee-Wee Wanninger on June 1, 1925. The next day, regular first baseman Wally Pipp was benched, so Gehrig started at first base; he would remain there until 1939.
Gehrig won the American League's Most Valuable Player Award twice. The first time, in 1927, was controversial: it was the year Ruth hit 60 home runs, but Ruth was not eligible for the award under the rules of the time, having won it previously (in 1923). Gehrig did, however, lead the AL with 175 runs batted in. Gehrig won the award again in 1936, with one of his finest offensive seasons.
On May 2, 1939, Gehrig played his 2,130th consecutive game — a record that stood for 56 years before Ripken broke it. He retired from the sport later that year after learning he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative disease so rare that it first became widely known due to him, and is today widely known as "Lou Gehrig's disease".
His retirement speech at Yankee Stadium on July 4 of that year (for "Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day") is one of the most famous in sports history. Gehrig refused the crowd's sympathy, and declared that he considered himself "the luckiest man on the face of the earth." Babe Ruth, with whom Gehrig had not spoken for six years due to long-standing personality conflicts, hugged him, and Gehrig became the first baseball player to have his jersey number (#4) retired by a team.
Gehrig died in Riverdale, New York. He was the first in a long line of powerful Yankee sluggers who died prematurely. Ruth himself died young of cancer, as did Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. Another Yankee great, pitcher Catfish Hunter, died of the same disease that claimed Gehrig.
Gehrig is interred in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York.
The Pride of the Yankees, a 1942 film about Gehrig's life, featured Gary Cooper.