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  • Writer's picturePaul Semendinger

COUNTING DOWN: The Best Yankee At Each Uniform Number (#4)

By Paul Semendinger

***

There is only one player who ever wore uniform number four for the Yankees.


Henry Louis Gehrig.


I think, as with so many other players, while Lou Gehrig is a legendary figure, his greatness isn't quite understood today.


Lou Gehrig wasn't just great. He was legendary great.


Lou Gehrig led the American League in the following categories when he played:

  • Games: 1927, 1930, 1932, 1934, 1936, 1937, 1938 (sometimes due to rainouts and such, the Yankees didn't actually play 154 games a year)

  • Runs: 1931, 1933, 1935, 1936

  • Hits: 1931

  • Doubles: 1927, 1928

  • Triples: 1926

  • Home Runs: 1931, 1934, 1936

  • RBIs: 1927, 1928, 1930, 1931, 1934

  • Walks: 1935, 1936, 1937

  • Avg: 1934

  • OBP: 1928, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937

  • SLG: 1934, 1936

  • Total Bases: 1927, 1930, 1931, 1934

Lou Gehrig earned MVP votes in 1925, 1926, 1927 (winner!), 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936 (winner!), 1937, and 1938.


From 1936 through 1938, Gehrig's age 34, 35, and 36 seasons, he averaged .334/38/141. Those averages are brought down because in 1938, he batted only .295/29/114. Those averages are brought down because, undoubtably, in 1938 (if not before) when he was beginning to suffer from ALS, the disease that would take his life and one day bear his name.


Lou Gehrig was great, but he would have been greater still if he wasn't slowly dying of a disease that would steal his strength and coordination and his body in the last full season (seasons?) of his career.


In 1938, in that last full year of his career, his OPS+ was 132. When one breaks this all down, and understands the context of the numbers, Lou Gehrig's career stands as even more amazing that it seems today.


Lou Gehrig had an OPS+ of 190 or better seven times in his career. In four seasons, it was over 200. (Hank Aaron never had a season with an OPS+ of 200. Willie Mays never had a season with an OPS+ of 200. Joe DiMaggio never had a season with an OPS+ of 200. Ken Griffey, Jr. never did. Stan Musial had one such season. Honus Wagner had one season. On and on...)


Gehrig ended his career with 493 home runs. The number seems unimpressive today. At the time, only one player had ever hit that many... Babe Ruth.


Gehrig did this while never missing a game. He played in 2,130 consecutive games.


He was still great, he was still at the top of his game, he was one of the strongest athletes to ever play the game, and then it all went away, almost in an instant.


In 1938, he was earning MVP votes.

In 1939, his career was over.

In 1941, he was dead.


But as he was dying, as he felt his body betraying him, Lou Gehrig, took a job with the city of New York helping youngsters, and when he was honored and his number was retired, he called himself the "Luckiest man on the face of the Earth." He said that he might have been given a bad break, but that he had a lot to, live for.


That was Lou Gehrig - a great player and a dignified and great person.


***

Most of the background research for this project came from Baseball-Reference.com and the SABR BioProject.

***

PREVIOUS ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES: (All the links should work. If not, please let us know.)


4 Comments


Robert Malchman
Robert Malchman
May 04, 2023

I wonder if any other live-ball era first basemen led the league in triples. (Not going down that rabbit-hole to look.)


Ty Cobb had three seasons of 200+ OPS. You know who beats Gehrig? Ted Williams. SEVEN times.

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yankeesblog
May 04, 2023
Replying to

Gehrig was a nicer guy

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yankeesblog
May 04, 2023

Yeah, no brainer here even if someone else had worn the uniform number. Overshadowed by Ruth but clearly one of the greatest ever.

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