Jun 1, 2009

Masterpiece Moments Mondays-Lou Gehrig

I loved the 2007 UD Masterpieces set. The images and artwork create an aesthetically pleasing appearance. For me, the best part was the inclusion of old-time players depicting key moments in their careers (besides the generic portrait or action shot). Understanding baseball history and how it has woven itself throughout the game today is one of the characteristics that makes baseball both great and memorable. Let's details the moments depicted on Masterpieces first...and then expand to other sets. If you have any images of cards or cards that depict a historical moment, please submit them in the comments for future consideration.

Presented here is Lou Gehrig, "The Iron Horse", giving his farewell speech at Yankee Stadium on Lou Gehrig Day, July 4, 1939. This was a mere 2 months after the day when he removed himself from the lineup after 2130 consecutive games played. It was a poignant moment in many ways.

Gehrig was the consummate quiet leader, playing in the shadows first behind the spectacular and flamboyant Babe Ruth and then behind other events and people. He had arguably his best season in 1927 with a 1.240 OPS (221 OPS+; that's 121% better than league average), 47 HR, and led the league with 447 TB and 175 RBI. And yet that was the year that Ruth hit 60 HR. On June 4, 1932, he hit 4 HRs in a game. And yet that was the day that the great John McGraw stole the headlines and retired from managing.

He finished his career with 493 HR, 179 OPS+, a record 23 grand slams, .340 BA, and 1508 BB vs. only 790 K. He also is 5th on the career list with 1995 RBI and 10th on the career list with 1888 R after only playing 14 full seasons. His stats, though, don;t lend any insight to the man.

He was perceived as aloof because he was the antecedent of Ruth. But he was really just quiet, withdrawn, and dedicated to his craft. He was intelligent and family-oriented, graduating from Columbia and having his mother travel with him on road trips. A masterful hitter with powerful, quick reflexes and a smooth, fluid fielder (he had a range factor of 9.64 vs. the league average 1B of 6.64 for his career); his everyday presence provided a calm and his overwhelming talent provided wins for the entirety of his career.

At the beginning of 1939, he had lost a step, unable to even hit batting practice well or field a ground ball without a struggle, he removed himself from the lineup on May 2. He was diagnosed with ALS in June, and Lou Gehrig Day was scheduled for July 4. And here he stands, captured in a moment just before he gives a heartfelt farewell to the organization and the fans.

Later that year, the Hall of Fame elected him to its hallowed halls, and his ubiquitous number 4 was retired by the Yankees, the first such player to be accorded this honor. He died June 2, 1941 from his illness, thereafter known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. All players after him would do well to emulate him in character and approach to the game

For the text of his speech on this day. Click here.

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