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June 3, 1932: Lou Gehrig hits four home runs, Tony Lazzeri hits for natural cycle

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It was a momentous day in Yankees history in a 20-13 win over the Athletics.

Lou Gehrig (Photo source: Wiki Commons - public domain)
Lou Gehrig
Wiki Commons (public domain)

A crowd of 5,000 at Shibe Park in Philadelphia witnessed a pair of individual records and a team record set, as the visiting Yankees beat their rivals 20–13 in the fourth game of a six-game series.

The Yankees got on the board immediately in the top of the first inning. After Earle Combs led off the game with a groundout, Jack Saltzgaver walked. Following a Babe Ruth flyout, Lou Gehrig hit his first home run of the game to give the Yankees a 2–0 lead. The lead didn't last long.

Max Bishop led off the home half of the first with a triple to the gap in right-center field. After a flyout by Doc Cramer, Mickey Cochrane homered to tie the game at two apiece.

Things were quiet until the fourth, when the Yankees took a 4–2 lead. Gehrig led off the inning with his second home run of the game. Following a Ben Chapman flyout, Bill Dickey singled and moved to third on Tony Lazzeri's single. An errant pickoff attempt allowed Dickey to score and Lazzeri to move to third. Lazzeri was left stranded when Frankie Crosetti and pitcher Johnny Allen struck out to end the inning.

Jimmie Foxx, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Mickey Cochrane (left to right) photographed at Shibe Park in 1937.
Jimmie Foxx, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Mickey Cochrane (left to right) photographed at Shibe Park in 1937.
Wiki commons (public domain)

The Athletics answered with six runs in the bottom of the fourth, aided by two Yankee errors. Eric McNair singled to lead off the inning and Jimmy Dykes followed with a walk. Johnny Allen caught George Earnshaw's popped-up bunt-attempt for the first out of the inning, but then misplayed a grounder by Max Bishop to load the bases. Gehrig dropped a foul pop by Doc Cramer, which would have been the second out of the inning. Cramer took advantage of the second chance, hitting a bases-clearing triple to right.

Dickey caught Mickey Cochrane's foul pop for the second out of the inning, but Al Simmons and Jimmie Foxx walked to load the bases. Cramer and Simmons scored on an Ed Coleman single, with Foxx moving to third. Eric McNair singled him home to give the Athletics an 8–4 lead. Four of the six runs scored in the inning were unearned. The Yankees committed a total of five errors in the game.

Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig hit back-to-back home runs

The Yankees closed the gap to 8–7 in the fifth inning on three solo home runs. Earle Combs homered to lead off the inning. Following a Jack Saltzgaver strikeout, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig hit back-to-back home runs. It was Gehrig's third home run of the game and 11th of the season. Ruth's homer was his 15th of the season, and he trailed only Jimmie Foxx for the league lead.

The Yankees kept the Athletics off the board in the bottom of the fifth, and took a 9–8 lead in the top of the sixth off of reliever Roy Mahaffey. Lazzeri led off the inning with a double and scored on Crosetti's single. Relief pitcher Gordon Rhodes singled on a bunt attempt, moving Crosetti to second. Crosetti moved to third on a Combs force out and scored on a Jack Saltzgaver single. Babe Ruth lined into a double play to end the inning.

The Athletics wasted no time in regaining the lead in the bottom of the sixth. Simmons walked to lead off the inning and moved to second on a wild pitch. After Foxx walked, Yankees Manager Joe McCarthy went to the bullpen, bringing in Jumbo Brown to replace Gordon Rhodes. A force out by Coleman moved Simmons to third, and McNair doubled them both home.

Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig at West Point in 1927.
Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig at West Point in 1927.
Wiki commons (public domain)

Lou Gehrig hits four home runs in one game

The Yankees entered the seventh inning trailing 10–9, but they came back yet again. This time, they took the lead for good.

Gehrig hit a home run to lead off the seventh inning, becoming the first player in modern history to homer four times in one game. Bobby Lowe of Boston had accomplished the feat in 1894, while Ed Delahanty of Philadelphia did it in 1896. Both were National League players, making Gehrig the first AL player to hit four home runs in a game ever.

Chapman followed Gehrig’s historic homer with a triple and scored on a Lazzeri triple. The RBI triple put Lazzeri a home run away from a natural cycle. Crosetti singled Lazzeri home to give the Yankees a 12–10 lead.

The Yankees extended their lead to 14–10 in the eighth inning. Babe Ruth doubled to lead off the inning and scored on a Chapman single, which followed a Gehrig groundout. Chapman moved to third on a Bill Dickey single and scored on a Lazzeri single.

Lou Gehrig’s 1934 Goudey baseball card.
Lou Gehrig’s 1934 Goudey baseball card.
Wiki commons (public domain)

Lou Gehrig barely misses hitting his fifth home run of the game

The Athletics closed the gap to 14–12 in the bottom of the eighth. Jimmie Foxx led off the inning with a triple and scored on Ed Coleman's double. Lefty Gomez was brought in to replace Jumbo Brown and quickly got Eric McNair to ground out and Jimmy Dykes to fly out. But then Ed Madjeski reached on an error by Crosetti on what should have been the third out, allowing Coleman to score the Athletics' twelfth run.

Lefty Gomez and Earle Combs began the top half of the ninth inning with singles. After Jack Saltzgaver bunted the runners over, Ruth was intentionally walked to load the bases.

Lou Gehrig then hit a long fly ball to center field, which was caught near the wall by Al Simmons, who had moved over from left to replace Doc Cramer. Gehrig barely missed hitting his fifth home run of the game, as the ball was hit to the deepest part of the ballpark (468 feet in the center field corner). The long flyout was estimated to be 460 feet. Gomez scored on the play, with Combs and pinch runner Myril Hoag each tagging and moving up a base.

Shibe Park in Philadelphia. The corner in center field is 468 feet from home plate.
A photo of Shibe Park in Philadelphia showing the corner in center field, 468 feet from home plate. Gehrig's bid for his fifth home run of the game was caught about eight feet shy of the fence in that corner.
Wiki commons (public domain)

Tony Lazzeri caps natural cycle with a grand slam

Following Gehrig’s near-miss, Ben Chapman was intentionally walked to load the bases and Bill Dickey drew a walk to force in a run.

Lazzeri came up and hit a grand slam to complete his historic natural cycle. It was the third natural cycle in major league history, but it was the first capped with a grand slam. Lazzeri — making his first start of the season at third base for an injured Joe Sewell — finished the day 5-for-6. Lazzeri and Gehrig had six RBI apiece.

The Yankees’ six-run outburst in the ninth gave them a commanding 20–12 lead. Jimmie Foxx hit his league-leading 19th home run of the season off of Lefty Gomez in the bottom of the ninth, making the final score 20–13. Jumbo Brown got the win for the Yankees, while Roy Mahaffey took the loss for the Athletics.

Tony Lazzeri’s 1933 Goudey baseball card.
Tony Lazzeri’s 1933 Goudey baseball card.
Wiki commons (public domain)

The Yankees set a modern record with seven home runs

The Yankees set a modern major league record by hitting seven home runs in the game. The feat had also been accomplished by the Boston Beaneaters in 1894.

The win gave the Yankees a three game lead over the Washington Senators in the AL. The loss dropped the Athletics to six games out.

The Yankees were desperately trying to stay ahead of their rivals in the pennant race and end Philadelphia's streak of three straight AL championships. The Yankees had won three consecutive pennants of their own from 1926–1928, but their bid for a fourth straight was foiled by the Athletics in 1929.

Epilogue

  • The incredible feats by Lazzeri and Gehrig in the same game were somewhat overshadowed in the newspapers of the day by the announcement that John McGraw was retiring. McGraw had managed the New York Giants for 29 years. The Yankees had just dedicated a monument in center field at Yankee Stadium to their former manager, Miller Huggins, on May 30. Huggins was the first to be granted this honor.
  • Although the term "save" was not used until 1952 and didn't become an official stat until 1969, Lefty Gomez was retroactively credited with a save for this game. It was his only save of the year. Gomez went 24-7 on the season in 37 games (31 starts) and finished fifth in the 1932 MVP voting. Gomez was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972.
  • Tony Lazzeri remains the only player in MLB history to hit a natural cycle capped by a grand slam. Lazzeri finished eighth in the 1932 MVP voting and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1991.
  • Babe Ruth hit 41 home runs (second to Foxx's 58), got 137 RBI, led the league with a .489 OBP, and finished sixth in the MVP voting in 1932. Ruth was elected to the Hall of Fame in the inaugural Class of 1936.
  • Lou Gehrig finished the 1932 season with 34 home runs and 151 RBI, finishing second in the MVP voting. Gehrig was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939 in a Special Election following his sudden retirement. Gehrig remains the only Yankee to hit four home runs in a game.
  • Joe Sewell holds the distinction of being the most difficult batter to strike out in MLB history. He struck out only 114 times in 7,132 career at-bats, or once every 62.6 times at-bat. (Lloyd Waner is second on this list, striking out once every 44.9 at-bats.) Sewell received MVP votes 10 times in his career, including 1932, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977.
  • Bill Dickey finished fourteenth in the 1932 MVP voting and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1954.
  • A record nine players on the 1932 Yankees were elected to the Hall of Fame. In addition to Gomez, Lazzeri, Ruth, Gehrig, Dickey, and Sewell; Herb Pennock was elected in 1948, Red Ruffing was elected in 1967, and Earle Combs was elected in 1970. The 1932 Yankees are also represented in Cooperstown by Manager Joe McCarthy (elected in 1957), General Manager Ed Barrow (elected in 1953), and Owner Jacob Ruppert (elected in 2012).
  • The 1932 Yankees finished with a record of 107–47, winning their seventh AL pennant. They finished 13 games ahead of the Philadelphia Athletics and swept the Chicago Cubs in the World Series for their fourth championship. Babe Ruth's famous called shot occurred in the fifth inning of Game 3, held on October 1 at Wrigley Field.
  • The sweep of the Cubs in the 1932 World Series, which followed sweeps of the Pirates in 1927 and Cardinals in 1928, gave the Yankees a record 12 straight wins in World Series games in which they played. The record was broken when the Yankees won 14 straight World Series games from 1996–2000.
  • The 1932 Yankees matched a record set by the Philadelphia Phillies from 1893–1895 by scoring at least 1,000 or more runs in three consecutive seasons. The Yankees remain the only team in modern history to achieve this feat.
  • The 1932 Yankees remain the only team in MLB history to go an entire season without being shut out.