20 amazing Lou Gehrig facts

June 1st, 2023

Friday marks the third annual Lou Gehrig Day as Major League Baseball celebrates the legacy of the great Yankees slugger and aims to raise awareness and funds to fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) -- the disease that ended Gehrig’s life all too soon.

Gehrig, who joins Roberto Clemente and Jackie Robinson in having days on the MLB calendar reserved in their namesakes, might be known most to today’s casual fan for his consecutive games played streak that ALS eventually brought to an end. But Gehrig was also, of course, an inner-circle Hall of Fame player, and his career statistics grow more incredible the more one looks at them -- even more than eight decades after his final big league game.

Here are 20 amazing facts and statistics that show why Gehrig is among the best players to ever take the field.

The Iron Horse’s streak

• Lou Gehrig Day is on June 2, in part because that is the day that Gehrig replaced Yankees starter Wally Pipp (suffering from his famous headache) in 1925 and set in motion his mammoth streak of 2,130 consecutive games played. That stood as baseball’s all-time record until Cal Ripken Jr. surpassed it on Sept. 6, 1995.

Between the final day of Gehrig's streak on April 30, 1939, and that 1995 day when his record was broken by Ripken, Gehrig’s Yankees played 8,898 games. That means that, as long as Gehrig's streak lasted -- and remember, it spanned 15 years -- he could have done the whole thing four more times over in the time that his record stood.

• Gehrig started 2,124 of the games during his streak at first base, the most of any player at the position in that span, of course. The next-most starts at first in that span were 1,540 by Jim Bottomley. But Gehrig started 2,127 of the games in total -- so the three other games? Those were started in left field, right field and at shortstop, once each.

• Gehrig faced seven opponents over the course of his streak -- which makes sense, since the American League had just eight teams at the time. He played at least 300 games against all eight, with 309 games against the Senators leading the way, followed by the Tigers (307), Browns (307), Indians (304), White Sox (302), Athletics (301) and Red Sox (300).

• Four different managers helmed the Yankees over the course of Gehrig’s streak. It began under Miller Huggins, who managed the first 722 games. Next was Art Fletcher, for the subsequent 11 games, before Bob Shawkey managed the next 154 -- just the 1930 season. The primary manager over the course of the streak was Joe McCarthy, for the final 1,243 games.

• The setting for Gehrig’s streak consisted of 10 different ballparks, with his most games at any road park coming at Griffith Stadium, home of the Senators, where he played 156 contests. A perfect half (1,065) of his 2,130 games during the streak were at Yankee Stadium.

He sits among all-time company

• Gehrig’s lifetime 1.080 OPS ranks third all time behind Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. How rare is a career OPS of 1.000 or better? Ruth, Williams, Gehrig, Barry Bonds, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg and Rogers Hornsby are the only AL/NL players with at least 1,000 plate appearances and an OPS that high.

• This man was a run-producing machine. Of the six highest single-season RBI totals in history, Gehrig owns three of them -- 185 in 1931 (second most) and 173 in ‘27 and ‘30 (tied for fifth most).

• According to Baseball Reference, Gehrig’s 113.8 WAR is the most all-time of any player whose primary position was first base, ahead of Albert Pujols’ 101.5. And if we look specifically at his best seven individual seasons, his 67.7 WAR in those is also the highest such total for any first baseman, well ahead of Pujols’ 61.7.

• Gehrig belted 23 grand slams during his career, which stood as an MLB record for more than 70 years until Alex Rodriguez eclipsed the mark in 2013. Rodriguez finished his career with 25. Manny Ramirez is third on the all-time list with 21.

• Gehrig tallied at least 400 total bases in five different seasons, peaking at 447 in 1927 -- the third-highest single-season figure of all-time. Only six other players in MLB history have even recorded more than one season with at least 400 total bases, with Chuck Klein’s three such campaigns representing the next highest collection behind Gehrig. The last time any player topped 400 total bases was back in 2001, when Bonds, Luis Gonzalez, Todd Helton and Sammy Sosa all reached the benchmark.

• Two-hundred base hits represent one of the biggest accomplishments for a Major League hitter in one season, but combining the contact skills for 200 hits with the patience required for 100 walks makes for a much smaller club. Gehrig paired 200 hits with 100 walks in seven different seasons, over twice as many as any other player in history except for Wade Boggs, who achieved that combo in four straight years from 1986-89.

Gehrig just missed out on an eighth such season in 1928, when he racked up 210 hits and walked 95 times. No player has put up a 200-100 season since Todd Helton back in 2003.

• Gehrig’s prime stands as a stupefying example of consistent excellence. In the 11-season span from 1927-37, Gehrig not only played in every single game, but also hit the following benchmarks in each season: A .300 average, a .424 OBP, a .583 slugging percentage, a 1.015 OPS and a 166 OPS+.

How many other players have produced 11 qualifying seasons with an OPS+ of at least 165? Just three: Ty Cobb, Ruth and Bonds.

• Gehrig is one of only 10 different players to win a batting Triple Crown since RBIs became an official statistic in 1920. And he's one of only four players during that time to win the MLB Triple Crown -- that's leading not just his league, but the Majors, in batting average, home runs and RBIs. Gehrig did it in 1934, when he batted .363 with 49 homers and 166 RBIs. The other three to do it: Hornsby (1925), Williams (1942) and Mickey Mantle (1956).

Extraordinary odds and ends

• As great as he was in the regular season, Gehrig was maybe even greater in the World Series. Consider this: he had a career .340 batting average and .632 slugging percentage in the regular season, both among the best all-time. In the postseason? He had a .361 batting average and .731 slugging percentage. Both of those are second-best among all players with 100 or more career playoff plate appearances, trailing only Paul Molitor (.368) in average and Ruth (.744) in slugging. The Yankees won six of the seven World Series Gehrig played in.

• Although he’s not among the all-time top 20 in World Series games played -- his 34 games are tied for 24th -- Gehrig is tied for fifth in Fall Classic homers (10) and ranks third in RBIs (35). Gehrig recorded a 1.214 OPS in seven career World Series, tying him with Ruth for third in World Series history (min. 50 plate appearances) behind David Ortiz and George Springer.

• Gehrig played in a very different era than today. One sign of that? He rarely struck out, even while hitting for power.

The peak example was 1934, when Gehrig led the Majors in homers (49) and struck out just 31 times in 690 plate appearances. That’s 1.6 times as many homers as K’s. No other player in history has put together a season with more than 32 homers and at least 1.5 times as many big flies as K’s.

• Gehrig led the AL, if not all of the Major Leagues, in nearly every significant offensive category over the course of his career. Just in terms of the AL, he led in games played (seven times), plate appearances (twice), runs scored (four times), hits (once), doubles (twice), triples (once), home runs (three times), walks and intentional walks (three times each), batting average (once), OBP (five times), slugging (twice), OPS and OPS+ (three times each), total bases (four times), position player WAR (four times) and win probability added (six times).

• Gehrig’s star might have been born in 1920, when he hit a clutch, late-game grand slam over the fence at Chicago’s Wrigley Field for his Commerce (N.Y.) High School team that inspired newspapers to call him “The Babe Ruth of the High Schools in New York” -- three years before he joined the mighty Ruth in the Yankees lineup.

• On the day Yankee Stadium opened -- April 18, 1923 -- Gehrig was pitching for Columbia University against Williams College and struck out 17 batters to set a school record that stood for nearly half a century.

• Gehrig never hit 50 homers in a season, but he came close several times, socking 49 homers in 1934 and ‘36, 47 in ‘27 and 46 in ‘31. Gehrig and fellow Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew are the only players with multiple seasons in which they hit exactly 49 homers. Killebrew never had a 50-homer season, either. Gehrig also fell seven homers shy of 500. When he retired, his 493 homers put him second in MLB history behind Ruth.