As a stat, RBI can be an iffy one. You can be as good a hitter as possible, if your teammates don’t get on ahead of you, then you’re just not going to rack up as many as other players might. If you put up a lot of them, the odds are that you’re a good player, but a middling total does not necessarily equate to a middling player.
On the other side of that same equation is runs. Once you get on, you need someone to drive you home. You won’t find many more obvious examples of runs being iffy than Lou Gehrig getting zero of them against the White Sox on August 27, 1935.
Batting in the cleanup spot, Gehrig ended up coming to the plate in the first inning. With two on and one out, he drew a walk to load the bases. However, George Selkirk and Jack Saltzgaver both popped up to end the inning. That would become a theme.
In the third, Gehrig again drew a one-out walk, but Selkirk and Saltzgaver failed to bring him home. In the fifth, he drew yet another walk, and this team he even did some more work himself, stealing second. But you’ll never guess what happened next. Selkirk made the second out of the inning. Saltzgaver flipped the script somewhat by drawing a walk of his own, but Joe Glenn was the culprit this time, and couldn’t keep the inning alive.
In both the seventh and ninth innings, Gehrig was intentionally walked twice. In both of those instances, he was erased on the basepaths by a Selkirk grounder, once via double play and once when he was a force out at second. Gehrig finished the day with a line of 0-0 with five walks, but no runs scored.
Why is this such a big deal? Well, the final score of this game was 4-3 with the White Sox coming out on top. They lost by one run in a game where one player was on base five different times but was never brought home. Only once did Gehrig even make it past first base. If one person hitting behind him had an even okay day, the Yankees very well might’ve won. The 1935 Yankees finished in second place in the American League, just three games behind the first place Detroit Tigers. Luckily this game alone wouldn’t have been enough to flip the pennant race, because that would have been quite the mess up if it did.
Gehrig’s performance tied a MLB record at the time for most walks in a game. Since then, four players have walked six times in a game, with Bryce Harper most recently doing it in 2016.
Of the players to walk at least five times in a game, 37 have done so in a losing effort. Remarkably, 17 of those came in one-run losses, so the Yankees aren’t alone in losing in that frustrating of a fashion. Charlie Hemphill, Hersh Martin, and Mark Teixeira have also walked five times in a Yankees loss as well. Martin is the only other one who did so without being driven home.
There technically is more that Gehrig could’ve done to help the Yankees win, but honestly not that much more.
New York Times, August 28, 1935