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June 2018

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U.S. Census Bureau History: Lou Gehrig

Lou Gehrig slides home

The throw home got away from Washington Senators' catcher Hank Severeid allowing the head-first-sliding
Lou Gehrig to score. Gehrig and his New York Yankees won the August 16, 1925, game against the Senators, 3–2.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

June marks several significant anniversaries in the life of New York Yankees' first baseman Lou Gehrig. Although nearly 8 decades have passed since the baseball legend's death, Gehrig—nicknamed the "Iron Horse"—remains one of the most beloved and honored players in sports history.

Henry Louis "Lou" Gehrig was born in New York City, NY, on June 19, 1903. In 1921, He received a football scholarship to attend Columbia University, Link to a non-federal Web site where he studied engineering. He was banned from intercollegiate sports during his freshman year when he was discovered playing professional baseball for the minor league Hartford Senators.

Gehrig returned to college sports during his sophomore year and caught the attention of a New York Yankees' scout who signed Gehrig to a major league baseball contract in 1923. He left Columbia to play for the Hartford Senators and intermittently for the Yankees over the next 2 years. In 1925, he played in 126 major league games after replacing first baseman Wally Pipp in the Yankees lineup. Between 1926 and 1937, Gehrig's batting average exceeded .300. During his 17-season major league baseball career, he earned the American League's Most Valuable Player award twice (1927 and 1936) and played on seven consecutive American League All-Star Teams from 1933 to 1939. He helped the Yankees win six world championships and still holds several records as first baseman, including runs batted in (RBIs), walks, and extra base hits. Gehrig's record of 2,130 consecutive games played remained intact until Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr., surpassed it in 1995.

Apart from his stellar baseball skills, Lou Gehrig is also remembered for the heartbreaking and abrupt end to his career as a result of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Teammates and fans sensed something was wrong with Gehrig early in the 1939 season. After days of testing at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, the slugger received the devastating diagnosis on June 19—his 36th birthday. A few days later, he announced his retirement from baseball.

The New York Yankees held "Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day" on July 4, 1939, so adoring fans could bid farewell to one of the greatest baseball players who ever lived. Standing before more than 62,000 fans, dignitaries, and teammates, Gehrig fought back tears as he delivered one of sports' greatest speeches Link to a non-federal Web site, saying that despite his diagnosis, "I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth . . . ."

In the months that followed, New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia appointed Gehrig as a New York City Parole Commissioner and the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) Link to a non-federal Web site held a special election to elect him to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY. The Yankees retired his number (#4), making him the first major league baseball player to be honored in this way.

Lou Gehrig died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)—more commonly known today as "Lou Gehrig's Disease"—at his Bronx, NY, home on June 2, 1941. Despite playing in the shadow of Babe Ruth, Gehrig was remembered for his hard work and commitment to the game. Following his death, the New York Times wrote, "...baseball has had other great hitters before and other great all-around players. It was the durability of Gehrig combined with his other qualities that lifted him above the ordinary players and in a class all his own."

You can learn more about the life and career of Lou Gehrig and the sport he loved using census data and records. For example:

  • During Lou Gehrig's lifetime, his hometown of New York City grew from 3,437,202 in 1900 to 7,454,995 in 1940. New York City has been our nation's largest city since the first census in 1790. In 2010, the largest cities in the United States by population were, Gehrig's hometown with 8,175,133, followed by Los Angeles, CA (3,792,621), Chicago, IL (2,695,598), Houston, TX (2,099,451), and Philadelphia, PA (1,526,066).
  • After watching Gehrig play for Columbia University Link to a non-federal Web site, the New York Yankees signed a contract with Gehrig on April 30, 1923. Initially assigned to the minor league Hartford Senators, he made his major-league debut with the New York Yankees on June 15, 1923, against the St. Louis Browns. Standing in for first baseman Wally Pipp, Gehrig fielded the final out of the game. He struck out during his first at bat 3 days later against Detroit Tiger's pitcher Aaron Ward. Gehrig became a regular player in the Yankees lineup in 1925.
  • Gehrig's 1927 season remains one of the greatest ever played by a major league baseball player with a .373 batting average, 47 home runs, and a record-setting 175 runs batted in, which earned the first baseman the American League's Most Valuable Player award. Thanks to the Yankee's "Murderers' Row (comprised of legendary players Earle Combs, Mark Koenig, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel, and Tony Lazzeri), the Yankees dominated the 1927 season with a 110–44 record. In that year, they beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in four games to win the World Series.
  • On December 7, 1939, the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) Link to a non-federal Web site held a special election to induct Lou Gehrig into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum Link to a non-federal Web site in Cooperstown, NY. Earlier in the year, the BBWAA inducted Cap Anson, Eddie Collins, Charles Comiskey, Candy Cummings, Buck Ewing, Willie Keeler, Charles Radbourn, George Sisler, and Al Spalding into the hall of fame. Gehrig's induction came late in the year following his diagnosis and retirement. The BBWAA also held special elections to induct Roberto Clemente in 1973 and Addie Joss in 1978, following their untimely deaths.
  • Lou Gehrig was the youngest player inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum Link to a non-federal Web site until the 1972 induction of Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodger's pitcher Sandy Koufax. The class of 1972 also included New York Yankees Yogi Berra and Vernon "Lefty" Gomez, Homestead Grays Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard, Cleveland Indians' pitcher Early Wynn, and New York Giant Ross Youngs.
  • In 1942, approximately 85 million Americans attended the movies each week and spent approximately $1.02 billion on tickets. Among audience favorites that year was the July 14, 1942, release of The Pride of the Yankees—a tribute to the life of Lou Gehrig. It was one of the year's top grossing films behind Casablanca starring Humphrey Bogart, Yankee Doodle Dandy starring James Cagney, and Walt Disney's animated film Bambi. Pride of the Yankees earned 11 Academy Award nominations, including best actor (Gary Cooper) and actress (Teresa Wright), as well as best picture, music, cinematography, and writing. Daniel Mandell won the Oscar for the movie's film editing.
  • According to the economic census, there were 283 Baseball Clubs (NAICS 7112112) in the United States in 2012—up from 272 in 2007. In 2012, these clubs employed 23,164 people in the 50 states and in District of Columbia. California (29), Florida (22), and New York (20) led the nation with the most clubs.
  • Learn more about some of baseball's legendary players by visiting the Census Bureau's May 2015 history Web page honoring the 100th anniversary of Babe Ruth's first major-league homerun. Other sports-themed pages include the Jesse Owens (August 2016) and Super Bowl (January 2017's) pages.

1937 baseball allstars

Members of the 1937 American League All-Star team gather for the 5th annual All-Star Game in Washington, D.C. Photographed before the game were
(from left to right): Lou Gehrig, Joe Cronin, Bill Dickey, Joe DiMaggio, Charlie Gehringer, Jimmie Foxx and Hank Greenberg.

Gehrig hit a two-run homer off National League pitching ace Dizzy Dean, helping the American League to win the game 8–3.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

2010 Census Public Service Announcement screenshot
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This Month in Census History

The 2012 Statistical Abstract of the United States reported that 75 to 81 million people attended a major league ballgame each year between 2000 and 2010.

For the 2010 Census, the U.S. Census Bureau "drafted" popular baseball players to star in public service announcements promoting awareness and encouraging participation in the count.

Players included: Milwaukee Brewers Yovani Gallardo; San Francisco Giants Pablo Sandoval (shown above); Cincinnati Reds Jay Bruce; and Arizona Diamondbacks Justin Upton.

Benjamin Harrison depicted on a 19th Century baseball card
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Presidential Games

The W. Duke, Sons & Co. featured Benjamin Harrison (pictured above), Grover Cleveland, Levi Morton, and Allen Thurman in its series of baseball cards featuring the 1888 presidential candidates.

On June 6, 1892, Harrison became the first president to attend a major league baseball game while in office. On that day, the Washington Senators fell to the Cincinnati Red Stockings at Washington's Boundary Field.

During extra innings, Reds' third baseman Arlie Latham broke an 11th-inning tie when he singled home catcher Morgan Murphey. The Reds' extended their lead to 7–4 when Bug Holliday drove Latham and Bid McPhee home. Reds pitcher Tony Mullane retired the Senators' batters in order for the victory.

The Senators ended the 1892 season with a 58–93 record. Harrison's "season" ended with his loss to Grover Cleveland in the 1892 Presidential Election.

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: December 08, 2021