Eighty-eight years ago on June 1, 1925, Ludwick Heinrich Gehrig pinch hit for Pee-Wee Wanninger and was put out by the Washington Senators. He would go on to play 2,129 more games in a row to finish his iron man streak at 2,130 games (not including World Series Games). Thus was started a record that would stand until Cal Ripkin, Jr. broke it. Many of us have seen the movie, Pride of the Yankees, and to this day the Gary Cooper biopic has remained one of my favorite baseball movies of all time. And while the movie is fantastic, there were a few creative licences taken with how the streak started.
First, many think the streak started as Lou Gehrig's career started. But Gehrig had actually played twenty-three games in 1923 and 1924 and had played in eleven previous games in the early part of the Yankees' 1925 season before Wally Pipp could not play on June 2, 1925. So the picture of this forlorn figure in the dugout pining away on the bench was a bit embellished. And Gehrig did go three for five in his first start for Pipp on June 2, with a double. But unlike the movie, Gehrig did not exactly take the world by storm from there. By June 12, Gehrig was only batting .227 with a .273 on-base percentage.
He did take off from there though and by July 3 had built his averaged to a season high of .328 before finishing his first full season at .295/.365/.531. His OPS+ that season only hinted at what was to come at 127. Here is a trivia question for you: Who led the Yankees in homers and runs batted in during the 1925 season? That was Bob Meusel with 38 and 138.
Poor Wally Pipp, who became synonymous forever for guys who lose their job, had started the season as the every day Yankees' first baseman. But though Gehrig is considered the reason Pipp lost his job because Pipp could not play on June 2, the truth was that Pipp was not playing well and was only batting .244 at the time. Pipp only missed a game and was merely a pinch hitter the rest of that season for the Yankees. Pipp would be sold to the Reds after the season and finished out his last three seasons there.
As for Lou Gehrig, the rest is history. He played every game for the Yankees from 1926 through the 1938 season before having to give it all up in 1939 with his famous illness. He led the league in triples once, doubles twice, homers three times, RBIs five times and total bases four times. He won two MVP awards and set a record for grand slams with 23, a mark that would not be matched until Alex Rodriguez tied him.
While Lou Gehrig is known for the disease and for his streak, his consecutive games played would be meaningless without the fact that he was one of the best players who ever played the game. In fact, the statistic that impresses me the most was that in 150 World Series plate appearances, he accumulated a 1.208 OPS. Yeah, he did some post season damage alright. But it is the streak we remember and which gave him his nickname. And that streak started on this date back in 1925.