Who Was Lou Gehrig?



Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. But who was Lou Gehrig?

Henry Louis Gehrig was born in New York on June 19, 1903, at a time when very few people were aware of ALS, the progressive and neurodegenerative disease. Gehrig grew up to become a great American athlete, having played first base for 17 years with the New York Yankees. But it was his death at the age of 37 from ALS that made the man a worldwide, household name.

Lou Gehrig’s parents were German immigrants who traveled to New York to find the American dream. Christina Gehrig worked as a housemaid and Heinrich Gehrig, in poor health, jumped from job to job. Their had four children, but only Lou Gehrig survived. An outstanding athlete in football and baseball, Lou Gehrig landed a football scholarship Columbia University where he studied engineering.

Meanwhile, Gehrig’s pitching skills also stood out, gaining him the nickname “Columbia Lou” among his peers. In 1923, he found success when he was recruited to play for the New York Yankees, where, playing alongside Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio, he was dubbed “Iron Horse.” Numerous foot, hand and back injuries did not deter him.

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“Iron Horse” had an impressive career:  He had a lifetime batting average of .340 and is one of only seven major league players with more than 100 extra-base hits in a season. In 1934, Gehrig won the much sought-after “Triple Crown,” leading the league in RBIs, home runs, and batting average.  His triumphs on the field helped lead the Yankees to win six World Series championships.

Everything changed for Lou Gehrig in 1938. His athletic capacities began to decline and eventually he found it difficult to tie his shoelaces. A year later, doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., diagnosed Lou Gehrig with ALS. The same year, the athlete retired becoming a symbol for the disease.

On July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig’s team gathered in Yankee stadium with his friends and fans to honor him. That day, Lou Gehrig gave an inspiring speech that is considered the most famous speech in American sports history.

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for 17 years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you,” he said. “Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky.”

Gehrig considered himself blessed.

“When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body — it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed — that’s the finest I know. So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.”

Less than two years later, on June 2, 1941, Lou Gehrig died in his sleep, in his New York home, at the age of 37.

MORE: Seven tips for starting an exercise program with ALS

ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.


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  1. Carol Mongiello says:

    And that is axactly why Lou Gehrig’s name should remain synonymous with als. All our champions. Odd that the als association wants to take away his name associated with als. I believe it was stated in a newsletter,because younger people would not remember him. Do younger people remember Einstein? I went to a als walk this fall In Philadelphia. They gave out red wrist bands with The ALS Association Fighting Lou Gehrig’s Disease embossed on the band. Frankie’s mom, Carol.

  2. Dawn Marie Wirick Luke says:

    Why was the wristband embossed with frNkies mom Carol. I’m wondering if also isn’t dropsy. There was a lot of uneducated families in the Cumberland gap. Lou geriegs body was pretty beat up too. And three of his siblings died.vvlack or proper nutrition and lack of forethought and distraction can do a lot of damage. Maybe some of it can’t be repaired.

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