Pinstripe Alley kicks off our Yankees Top Moments Tournament by going back to the very beginning in the Founding to 1959 bracket. Vote in the poll below for which moment you think deserves to advance to the next round.
(#1) Lou Gehrig's "Luckiest Man" Speech
On July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig stepped to the microphone at Yankee Stadium on Lou Gehrig Day after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a disease that would later be known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The disease put an early end to the Iron Horse's career, also forcing an end to Gehrig's consecutive game streak at 2,130 games from June 1, 1925 to May 2, 1939 because of his deteriorating health.
After announcing his retirement on June 21, Gehrig made his famous speech in front of more than 60,000 fans between games of a double header against the Senators on Independence Day. In the emotional farewell, Gehrig thanked the fans for their kindness and encouragement following his grim diagnosis, and claimed himself "the luckiest man on the face of the Earth", which would become one of the most iconic sports moments in history. Gehrig closed his speech with the similarly famous line, "So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for", before being joined at the microphone by his Murderer's Row partner, Babe Ruth.
By the time Gehrig made his famous speech, his condition had already worsened considerably. His number 4 was retired by the Yankees, earning him the honor as the first baseball player to have their number retired in baseball. In December of 1939, Gehrig was elected to the Hall of Fame in a special vote by the Baseball Writers Association as the second-youngest player ever to be voted in. Gehrig passed away in 1941, exactly 16 years after he famously took over for Wally Pipp in the Yankees' lineup to begin his great consecutive game streak.
The Luckiest Man speech is much more than just an iconic player's farewell to the game of baseball, instead representing a dying man showing grace and humility in the face of a tragic illness that ended his career and life all too soon. Gehrig walked away because his condition made him feel like he was hurting his team, but as his manager told him on the day of his famous speech, he was never that.
(#8) 1941 World Series strikeout turned win
In the very first Subway Series between the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers, the teams squared off in the 1941 World Series. The Yankees leading the series two games to one heading into Game Four at Ebbetts Field in Brooklyn, but found themselves down 4-3 with two outs in the ninth inning. One out away from dropping Game Four and allowing the Dodgers to tie the series, the original Old Reliable, outfielder Tommy Henrich, stepped to the plate to try and keep the game alive for New York.
Henrich worked the count full before whiffing on a curveball from Hugh Casey that would have ended the game, but the ball got away from Dodgers catcher Mickey Owen which allowed Henrich to safely reach first base. Owen, who had set a record for National League consecutive errorless attempts by a catcher at 476, experienced a rare breakdown of his defense in not being able to corral the ball. Joe DiMaggio and Charlie Keller kept the rally alive with a single and a two-run double, respectively, before Joe Gordon drove in two more to put the Yankees on top 7-4 for good.
The Yankees, of course, went on to win the 1941 World Series after winning Game Five, with some help from Henrich once again with a big home run. They had been one out, one strike, away from finding themselves all knotted up in the series before a tough defender unexpectedly failed to come up with a ball that Henrich missed totally. Instead, Owen's costly mistake was just the extra life the Yankees needed to piece together a game-winning rally and fight their way back with late game heroics.
The nickname Old Reliable was given to Henrich by Mel Allen for being able to come up big when needed the most. It wasn't pretty on this particular occasion, but it was a catalyst for a huge comeback win for the team that led them to another World Series championship.
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