May 2, 1939: Lou Gehrig Isn’t In The Yankees Lineup Anymore

After the game Gehirig explained his decision frankly to reporters:

I decided last Sunday night on this move. I haven’t been a bit of good to the team since the season started. It would not be fair to the boys, to Joe or to the baseball public for me to try going on. In fact, it would not be fair to myself and I’m the last consideration.
It’s tough to see your mates on base, have a chance to win a ball game, and not do anything about it. McCarthy has been swell about it all the time. He’d let me go until the cows came home, he is that considerate of my feelings, but I knew in Sunday’s game I should get out of there.
I went up there four times with men on base. Once there were two there. A hit would have won the ball game for the Yankees, but I missed, leaving five stranded as the Yankees lost. Maybe a rest will do me some good. Maybe it won’t. Who knows? Who can tell? I’m just hoping.”

Joe McCarthy told the press afterwards, “[Lou has] been a great ballplayer. Fellows like him come along once in a hundred years. I told him that. More than that, he’s been a vital part of the Yankee club since he started with it. He’s always been a perfect gentleman, a credit to baseball.” (John Nogowski, Last Time Out: Big-League Farewells of Baseball’s Greats, p.122.)
John Kieran of the New York Times thought the end of Gehrig’s streak did not necessarily mean the end of the line for the Iron Horse. He wrote in a sidebar column on May 3,

So they unhitched the Iron Horse from the old wagon, but Marse Joe McCarthy did not order him to be taken behind the barn and destroyed. With a little rest he should begin to feel his oats again. One or two days of rest may life the weight of years from his brawny shoulders. He’ll drive home a few more runs for the Yankees before he is turned out to green pastures.
Lou Gehrig will not be 36 years old until June 19. He’s big and brawny and hale and hearty. Eddie Collins, Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and others romped around in uniform and banged in many a run for some years after celebrating their thirty-sixth birthdays. There’s no reason why Lou Gehrig, with his physique, should fold up all at once. Just consider the way he is built. He isn’t the quick folding type.

Gehrig travelled with the team for a while in the faint hope that whatever was ailing him would simply go away. It did not, of course. Gehrig even got into an exhibition game on June 12 in Kansas City against the Yankees’ top farm team. Though members of both teams feared for Lou’s safety, The Kansas City Star said Gehrig played “by popular demand and because he was an obliging fellow.” (Aaron Stilley, “Vince DiMaggio’s 46 Home Runs, Gehrig’s Last Hurrah, An All-Star Game & 107 Wins: the 1939 Kansas City Blues,” After catching a line drive and being knocked to the ground by the force of it, Gehrig exited the game in the third inning. It was his final appearance as a player on a baseball diamond.

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