Greatest Yankees of All-Time – Number 2
Rich: The second greatest Yankee has to be Lou Gehrig. As I mentioned previously, I do believe that if ALS didn’t end his career prematurely he would have surpassed some of Ruth’s offensive numbers. On the field, Gehrig was a constant Triple Crown threat, year after year, without taking a game off (even though Cal Ripken Jr. broke Gehrig’s consecutive game streak record, Ripken was a .270 hitter with some power, but Gehrig was among the league leader in numerous categories every year without the benefit of modern medicine, transportation, and nutrition).
Ruth was loud and a braggart, who played by his own rules. On the other hand, from all accounts, Gehrig was soft-spoken and humble. There could not have been two more polar opposite players in regards to attitude and temper than Ruth and Gehrig, however, together, they formed what is perhaps one of the best duos in all of sports history. The Yankees of the 1920s may have been Ruth’s team playing in Ruth’s House, but without Gehrig batting behind Ruth, the Yankees may not have been as successful as they were.
Gehrig the player was amazing; Gehrig the man may have been even better. The “Luckiest Man” Speech is perhaps the greatest sports-related speech in history. Yankees history is full of “what ifs?” from Mattingly’s back, to Munson’s plane crash, to Mantle’s knees, to DiMaggio’s military service, but the greatest “what if?” belongs to Lou Gehrig. Just how great would he have been if given back just a few of the playing years that ALS took? Would he have been the greatest player ever or at least in discussion with Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and others? Would he have surpassed Ruth as the Greatest Yankee ever? What if…
Gehrig’s play on the field while being considered the greatest first baseman in history, his attitude off of the field, and because of the tragic and sudden way his career ended, Gehrig is the Second Greatest Yankee in history.
Adam: Here is the only other position, when ranking the greatest Yankees of all-time, where there is no debate. Lou Gehrig owns this spot and that position is secure. A two-time MVP with a career .340 average, 493 home runs, 1995 RBIs, a career .632 slugging percentage and a WAR of nine or better five times. He was a statistical monster who just showed up at the ballpark and performed at the highest of levels each and every day.
The “Iron Horse” played in a consecutive 2,130 games (a record that stood until Ripken broke it) before taking himself out of the lineup. A major differentiation between Ripken’s streak and Gehrig’s streak was the quality of play. I am not saying that Ripken was a bad player (he would not be in the Hall of Fame or had the opportunity to break the streak if he was) but there is no comparison between the two streaks. For the entirety of the streak, Gehrig was a legitimate Triple Crown threat in an era where you hopped on the bus and kept chugging.
His career was cut short due to ALS, otherwise known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” which led to one of the most impressive and moving speeches ever given. The “Luckiest Man” speech is as moving today as it was almost 80 years ago. When any person can conjure up utter silence from thousands of people, who are hanging on every word, that message is powerful.
His incredible play and the pace to which he was racking up numbers, it is entirely possible that Gehrig might have eclipsed The Great Bambino in some offensive categories. Who knows what might have been but as seems to be true, tragedy does not distinguish. That is why Gehrig is number two on my list of greatest Yankees of all-time.