by, Pete Janny & Anna Woods, Sports Editor & Asst. News Editor
The name Lou Gehrig still reverberates just as strongly today as it did 80 or 90 years ago. Here in New York City, the “Iron Horse” is an icon, not just in a baseball sense, but also in a cultural context. At the height of his baseball stardom in the late 1920s into the 1930s, Gehrig was a living god of sorts. He was adored at every corner of the baseball universe, making his passing in 1941 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis feel like a national tragedy. But even among local residents around the Manhattan College campus, it’s easy to forget which place bears claim to his final resting place. That would be 5204 Delafield Ave. in Riverdale.
The house on Delafield Ave. is only a five-minute drive from campus. Gehrig and his beloved wife Eleanor resided at a colonial white house located on a hill just off the Henry Hudson Pkwy. The house on Delafield Ave. became an important symbol of Gehrig’s life, and during his battle with ALS he rarely left the house as his body was slowly weakening.
After living in New Rochelle during his days as a Yankee, the couple relocated to the quaint neighborhood of Riverdale for Gehrig’s final act in life, as the city’s Parole Commissioner for Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia’s administration. This chapter in his life gave him a new purpose in spite of his harrowing diagnosis. Gehrig chose to keep working as a way to keep himself busy and not dwell too much on his impending death. As the disease progressed, he relied on Eleanor to take notes and assist him in signing documents.
During his time in Riverdale, he became a central part of the local community. Most notably, Gehrig was a dedicated parishioner of Christ Church Riverdale on Henry Hudson Parkway, which ended up being the site of his funeral in 1941. It has been said that Babe cut the long line of parishioners and sobbed at the casket of his longtime friend and colleague.
According to the church’s website, Babe Ruth dedicated a side altar rail in the church to honor his memory and commitment to the Riverdale community. Gehrig was cremated and is buried in Kensico Cemetery located in Valhalla, NY.
His fame only grew after his death and today he is still widely regarded as one of the greatest baseball players to have ever lived. During his darkest times, he still remained faithful and optimistic until the day he died. He will forever be adored for his farewell speech on July 4, 1939, also known as Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day at Yankee Stadium, which came after the first game of a double-header against the Washington Senators. He spoke to the crowd with dignity as he addressed his diagnosis and said farewell to the game of baseball.
“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got,” said Gehrig. “Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.”
Gehrig’s run of dominance with the Yankees started in 1925 when he infamously replaced starting first baseman Wally Pipp in the line-up due to a headache. Gehrig went on to play in a then-record 2,130 consecutive games for the Yankees which earned him the moniker the “Iron Horse.” The streak was shockingly broken in 1995 by the great Cal Ripken Jr., but is something that will never be taken away from Gehrig.
In 1927, Gehrig hit 47 home runs, drove in 173 runs, and batted .373, according to Baseball Reference, as a key member on the team nicknamed Murderers’ Row that went on to sweep the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series.
“When you look around, wouldn’t you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such fine looking men as are standing in uniform in this ballpark today? Sure, I’m lucky,” Gehrig eloquently said during his farewell speech in reference to those who helped architect the Yankees dynasty of the 1920s. “Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Rupert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins?
His consistency was a thing of beauty rarely seen throughout baseball history.
He played in 14 regular seasons, but in 13 consecutive of them he amassed more than 100 runs and at least 100 RBIs, according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Even as he was aging, Gehrig managed to continue to put together special seasons. In 1931, he set the American League record for RBIs with 185 and he took home the Triple Crown in 1934 by leading the American League in home runs (49), RBIs (166), and batting average (.363).
Of the 27 World Series Championships the Yankees have won, Gehrig helped lead the franchise to six of them, including boasting World Series statistics of a .361 average, 10 home runs, and 35 RBIs in 34 games. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939, two years before his death.
“So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for,” Gehrig said to end his farewell speech.