Lou Gehrig is one of the best hitters to ever play the sport of baseball. The Iron Horse is most know for his streak of playing in 2,130 consecutive games, a feat thought unbreakable until Cal Ripken Jr. surpassed it in 1995. Gehrig was in the prime of his career when his production and health started to decline due to ALS, more commonly known now as Lou Gehrig’s disease. But just how good was Henry Louis Gehrig? Gehrig is often overlooked because of his larger than life teammate, Babe Ruth, setting all sorts of records. But, if Gehrig stayed healthy and continued to produce at the rate he was when he retired, he would have completely re-written the record books across Major League Baseball himself.
Lou Gehrig was first noticed when his high school team traveled to Chicago to play a local team at Wrigley Field. The then 17-year-old Gehrig hit a towering grand slam that not only cleared the right field fence, but also went over the bleachers and completely out of the stadium. This attracted him national attention, including that of a Paul Krichell, a scout for the New York Yankees. Gehrig went on to Columbia University, and after two years there, Krichell signed the young slugger to a professional contract in April of 1923. Gehrig made his MLB debut in June of the same year.
Gehrig only played in 23 games between 1923 and 1924, and was given an opportunity to play every day in 1925. On June 1st, 1925, Gehrig began his famous consecutive games streak. He had his breakout season in 1926, and the rest is history. Over the 17 years Gehrig spent in Major League baseball, he won six World Series titles, one Triple Crown in 1934, two AL MVP awards. He was the first athlete every to be on the cover a Wheaties box, elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939, and was the first player to have his uniform number retired. The accolades and awards go on and on.
Imagine being an opposing pitcher and having to face Babe Ruth and Gehrig back to back? That’s a terrifying thought. Gehrig is often credited for Ruth’s offensive success, forcing pitchers to pitch to Ruth instead of walking him, because of the sheer offensive threat he presented. Despite Ruth’s absurd numbers, Gehrig quietly put up impressive stats of his own year in and year out. Lou Gehrig finished his career with 493 home runs, 1995 RBI’s (fifth best all time), a .340 batting average (12th best), .447 OBP (fourth best), .632 Slugging (third best) 1.080 OPS (third best), and the list goes on.
Gehrig’s production began to decline half way through the 1938 season, and he only appeared in eight games in 1939 before removing himself from the line up for the good of the team. At the time of his retirement, Gehrig was 36 and, had he remained healthy, still had some of the best years of his career ahead of him. Gehrig would have been able to play until he was about 41, which was normal during that era, another six years in the Major Leagues, including a healthy 1939. According to Baseball Reference, Gehrig’s 162 game average has him averaging 37 home runs and 149 RBI’s a year. While during Gehrig’s time they only played 156 game seasons, and due to the fact that math is hard and I am not too good at it, I am just going to add up what Gehrig’s numbers are with the 162 average, which realistically is only adding 20-30 games for the sake of statistics.
If Gehrig had continued with his average and played those seven years, he would have finished his career with 752 home runs, which would have stood until Hank Aaron eventually broke it. Additionally, Gehrig would have driven in a ridiculous 3,038 runs. That’s about 800 more than anyone else has ever driven in. Some players haven’t even driven in 800 runs in their careers.
Now some people can make the claim that Ted Williams would have had better numbers if he hadn’t served in the military for three years. According to his 162 game average, he would have hit 632 home runs, and driven in 2,229 runs, both totals are drastically lower than what Gehrig’s would have been. The only thing Williams would have had over Gehrig? A .004 better batting average, .002 better slugging, .034 BPS and a .035 better OBP. Just goes to show how dominant Gehrig was during his time in the Major Leagues. Oh, and both of these men would have played in 22 Major League seasons, and retired at age 41. Now for them to live up to their averages as their bodies declined would have been an incredible feat, but would not have been likely. In a game of “what its” nothing is guaranteed and you just have to assume.
Lou Gehrig is one of the best hitters to ever live, and is one of my favorite players to ever play the game of baseball. He was humble ballplayer who, despite being overshadowed by Babe Ruth, was still one of the best players on the Yankee teams of the late ‘20’s and early ‘30’s. Gehrig’s career and life were cut short but a terrible disease, and to see what he could have done if healthy would have been remarkable. Henry Louis Gehrig was one of the best hitters to ever play this great game, and if he stayed healthy could have written the record books all by himself.