Harlemite “Columbia Lou” Gehrig At Columbia University

July 15, 2014

GehrigCUAs first baseman (1925–39) for the New York Yankees, Harlem born Lou Gehrig played in 2,130 consecutive league games (a record that would stand for more than fifty years), batted .361 in seven World Series, and broke many other major-league records.

Gehrig was born on 1994 Second Avenue (near E. 103rd Street), in East Harlem, New York, 1903.

Known as the Iron Horse for his remarkable endurance, Gehrig was a four-time Most Valuable Player, earned a lifetime batting average of .340, and hit 493 home runs, including 23 grand slams, a record that still stands today. In 1939, stricken by a rare form of paralysis, he retired from the Yankees with a short, graceful speech that has been called the Gettysburg Address of baseball. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in a special election in 1939, and was the first baseball player ever to have his uniform number retired.

Before he was the Iron Horse, Gehrig was known as ‘Columbia Lou.’ He attended Columbia College from 1921 to 1923, playing both football and baseball. Gehrig’s record-breaking home runs for the Lions bounced into the Journalism building and landed at Alma Mater’s feet, more than 400 feet away from the home plate then situated at the southeast corner of South Field. He also pitched for the Lions, striking out a team record 17 in the spring of 1923. After his sophomore year, Gehrig signed with the Yankees for a 1,500 dollar bonus. In later years, Gehrig recalled why he had abandoned his intention to go on from Columbia to become an engineer: “There’s no getting away from it,” he told the New York Times in 1939, “a fellow has to eat. At the end of my sophomore year my father was taken ill and we had to have money. I had been playing on the college ball team and I had had eight offers to join professional clubs. So when there was no money coming in there was nothing for me to do but sign up.”

Lou Gehrig returned to campus in the late 1930s as a guest lecturer at a Teachers College physical-education course. (“Bat Used as Textbook,” the Times reported, noting that the audience consisted of forty registered students and 110 ringers and autograph seekers.) He also served on an Alumni Federation recruitment committee. Even toward the end of his life he remained an avid fan of the Lions and followed the football team’s progress on the radio.

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Gehrig died in 1941 of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, now what today is called Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

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