For my money, Jonathan Eig’s biographical account of Lou Gehrig’s life is the best sports biography ever written. Gehrig was a shy man, a mama’s boy, no doubt. But he was a brilliant baseball player, and undoubtedly the greatest first baseman who ever lived. Granted the man played during an era of offense only equaled by the steroid era, Gehrig was magnificent. He posts a career slash line of .340/.447/.632. The dude, for his CAREER, has a 1.079 OPS!!! Guys would kill to have that kind of slash line for a season or two, never mind a career. The bastard never really got his due, an unfortunate victim of bad timing. He was overshadowed by the Bambino for his first ten years, and, after one year in the spotlight, a great dago ballplayer named DiMaggio stole the spotlight from the Iron Horse. Then, years after he established a record thought unbeatable, his 2,130 consecutive games played, the unbreakable record is broken by a player whose caliber wasn’t even sniffing Gehrig’s, Cal Ripken Jr., who, in my mind, is the single most overrated player to ever field a glove. The lasting memory of Gehrig seems to be the disease which has since come to bear his name, ALS, and that is the biggest tragedy of it all, as Henry Louis Gehrig was one of the greatest baseball players ever, and his name should be uttered in the same reverential tones as the two men who overshadowed him, Ruth and, certainly, DiMaggio. (That sentence hurts to write for a fellow Sicilian.)
It is really unfortunate that Gehrig doesn’t get his just due. I know he existed during an epoch where hitting was the norm, where gaudy offensive numbers littered the landscape. Just chew on these statistics, and I have for years. In 1927, Babe Ruth’s biggest year, his year of sixty home runs, Lou Gehrig, batting behind the man, drove in 175 runs. The man hit 60 homers and drove in 164 of his own, so, basically, the Bambino is clearing the bases in front of the Iron Horse. Gehrig drives in eleven more runs than Ruth. That is spectacular, amazing, and unfathomable in today’s game. I understand that the game had evolved (devolved?) to get guys on base and drive them in with a three run homer, but to bat behind the home run champ, who drives in 164, and drive in MORE runs? Absolutely ludicrous. Did Jeff Kent drive in that many more runs batting behing Barry Bonds in the early 2000’s? How about guys batting behind Ted Williams? Mickey Mantle? Henry Aaron? Willie Mays? The stats of the era may be skewed, but I think we can all agree that Gehrig’s RBI totals behind Ruth was ridiculous. And what’s worse? Gehrig did it THREE MORE TIMES, although in the twilight years of the Sultan of Swat, including a mind numbing and American League record 184 RBI’s in 1931. RBI’s have been sacrificed at the altar of saber-metrics in recent years, but I still maintain that Runs Batted In are a valuable statistic. Runs scored are considered eminently valuable in Sabr communities, but what of the players who actually gain the clutch hits and drive those pesky baserunners in? Why does the saber-metric community discount that?
Anyway, I hope i have peaked your interest in Gehrig, because Jonathan Eig’s 2006 biography on the man is probably my favorite baseball bio ever written. Gehrig was an odd dude, and his wife, while ahead of her time, was, well….read the book. Suffice to day the feud that started between Ruth and Gehrig was directly because of Gehrig’s “flapper” wife. Flapper meaning loose. Meaning “She was double teamed by the Babe and his wife on a cruise.”
Lou Gehrig was the greatest first baseman in the history of the game. The only one close to him is “Double X.”