Gehrig’s Iron Man Streak: four, not one, tainted games.

by

Kenneth Matinale

Last update: September 6, 2011

Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig played 2,130 consecutive games from June 1, 1925 through April 30, 1939.  During the 1933 season Gehrig broke the previous record of 1,307 set by Everett Scott from June 20, 1916 through May 5, 1925 playing shortstop for the Red Sox and Yankees.  Gehrig’s record was broken by another shortstop who played 3B exclusively in 1998 and primarily in 1997: Cal Ripken, Jr. 2,632 games from May 30, 1982 through September 19, 1998 playing for Baltimore.

See data for details on Gehrig.  This data clearly shows that the popular perception that Gehrig always batted 4th and Babe Ruth 3rd is not correct.  Only during their great home run race in 1927 did Yankee manager Miller Huggins bat Gehrig exclusively 4th.  In 1929, the first that the Yankees wore numbers on their uniforms which corresponded to their postion in the batting order, Gehrig batted 4th in only 35 (23%) games.  When he took over in 1931 Joe McCarthy batted Gehrig 4th almost exclusively from 1931 through 1937.   In 1936 Joe DiMaggio had batted 3rd in all 138 games he played and in 1937 DiMaggio batted 3rd in 144 starts and 4th in 6.  In 1938 DiMaggio batted 4th in 116 games and 3rd in 29.  In 1938 Gehrig batted 4th in only 41 (26%) games and 5th in 103 (66%) games.  The young slugger DiMaggio had supplanted Gehrig.

There are four games during Gehrig’s streak which are tainted.  The first is fairly well known.  On Friday, July 13, 1934, in Navin Field Detroit the Yanks regained first place from the Tigers by defeating them 4-2.  Gehrig started at first base.  Gehrig singled in his only AB and had one PO in the field.  Then Gehrig was replaced in the fourth spot in the lineup by Red Rolfe who played SS.  Frankie Crosetti moved from SS to 3B and Jack Saltzgaver moved from 3B to 1B replacing Gehrig in the field.

The following day Yankee manager Joe McCarthy did something very unusual.  According to some biographies Gehrig was sick and unable to play.  On Saturday, July 14, 1934 McCarthy batted Gehrig leadoff playing SS.  Since the Yanks were on the road Gehrig did not need to play the field but he was the first batter in the game.  Gehrig singled off 33 year old righthander Vic Sorrell and Gehrig was replaced by pinch runner Red Rolfe who again played SS.  Sorrell started 19 games in 1934 and relieved in 8.  He was credited with one third of an inning in this game against the Yankees.  Sorrell may have retired Jack Saltzgaver, 1 for 5 batting second and playing 1B.  Ruth batted third and CF Earl Combs moved from the leadoff spot in the previous game to Gehrig’s usual number 4 place in the batting order.

Sorrell had previously pitched 8 days before, winning in Detroit against the St. Louis Browns 4-3 and throwing five innings.  He was relieved in the Yankee game by 23 year old righthander Elden Auker who had thrown 4.33 innings in relief when Detroit beat Washington 13-7 three days before.  In 1934 Auker started 18 and relieved in 25.  Was there some sort of Kabuki dance going on between McCarthy and Detroit player/manager Mickey Cochrane in his first season as a manager?  Cochrane’s Tigers won the AL pennant in 1934 and the WS in 1935.  Cochrane, a 31 year old catcher, was voted AL MVP.  Gehrig won the AL triple crown but finished fifth in 1934 MVP voting but that’s another whole story.  Born in 1931 Mickey Charles Mantle was named after Cochrane (real name Gordon also known as Black Mike) and one of the Mick’s grandfathers.

So in the heat of a pennant race Joe McCarthy pulled a stunt in order to preserve Gehrig’s streak of consecutive games played even though Gehrig had broken the old record the previous season.  That makes the three other games in 1937 which also taint Gehrig’s streak not such a big deal.

Detroit beat the Yanks 12-11 in McCarthy’s stunt game and also the next day Sunday, July 15, 1934 8-3 even though Gehrig returned to the Yankee lineup.  In 4 AB Gehrig had three doubles and a single.  Detroit led the Yanks by 1.5 games and never fell below a tie for first finishing 7 games ahead of the second place Yankees.  1934 was Ruth’s last season with the Yankees.

In 1937 things were very different.  Joe DiMaggio was in his second season and belting 46 HR.  By Yankee game 152 the Yanks led by 13.5 games.  Gehrig’s 1937 game log shows something very strange.  In games 152, 154 and the final game 157, all in Yankee Stadium, Gehrig starts at 1B batting SEVENTH but has zero plate appearances (PA).  Gehrig does the reverse of what happened in 1934.  Gehrig plays the field abut then immediately is replaced by the aforementioned Jack Saltzgaver who takes all of Gehrig’s PA in those three games.

Saltzgaver: Born: January 23, 1903 in Croton, IA

Gehrig: Born: June 19, 1903 in New York, NY

Jack is actually older than Lou.

Wednesday, September 29, 1937, Yankee Stadium I

Attendance: 4,425, Time of Game: 1:20 Second game of doubleheader; game goes only 7 innings.  First game took 2 hours; Yanks won 15-4; Gehrig was 2 for 3 plus 3 BB.

Since Gehrig is batting seventh his spot in the batting order never comes up in the first inning as the Yankees lose to the Philadelphia As 3-0.  Lefty batter Saltzgaver goes 0 for 2 and is apparently replaced by PH righty batter 26 year old Don Heffner in his last of four seasons as a Yankee reserve.  Philadelphia pitcher Eddie Smith is a lefty.  Both Smith and Yankee pitcher Ivy Andrews throw all 7 innings.

Thursday, September 30, 1937, Yankee Stadium I

Attendance: Not Given, Time of Game: 1:17 Second game of doubleheader; game goes only 7 innings.  First game took 2 hours 3 minutes; Yanks lose 8-3; Gehrig was 2 for 3 plus 3 BB.

Same as the previous day since Gehrig is batting seventh his spot in the batting order never comes up in the first inning as the Yankees fail to score in the first inning and again lose to the Philadelphia As 6-3.  Saltzgaver is 0 for 2 plus a BB.

Sunday, October 3, 1937, Yankee Stadium I

Attendance: 4,206, Time of Game: 1:40

Same scenario.  Without taking a turn at bat Gehrig retires and for the third time in six games Saltzgaver replaces Gehrig without PH for him, finally getting a hit in that role: 1 for 4.  DiMaggio hits his final HR of the 1937 regular season, #46.

The 1937 WS against the NY Giants started Wednesday, October 6, 1937.  Yanks won 4 games to 1.  Gehrig's WS OPS: 1.102.  DiMaggio: .682.

Through 1937 Gehrig’s streak is approaching 2,000 consecutive games played.  In 1938 Gehrig will rush past that milestone.

Jack Saltzgaver played for the Yankees in 1932, 1934-1937.  In 1934 he had his most PA (406 ) and highest BA as a Yankee (.271).  He played 52 games for Pittsburgh in 1945 at age 42.  Saltzgaver replaced Lou Gehrig in each of Gehrig’s four tainted games during the great streak.

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