On Tuesday, June 5, 2007, Sotheby’s and SCP Auctions will offer three unprecedented single-owner collections: The Estate of New York Baseball Legend Casey Stengel, The Collection of Mitsuhiko Fujita featuring memorabilia from the 1934 Tour of Japan and the finest private collection of Hall of Fame basketball jerseys ever to come up for auction. Included in the auction will be Lou Gehrig’s circa 1931 New York Yankees home jersey.
Lou Gehrig will forever be lost in the glare of New York Yankees teammate Babe Ruth's vast spotlight. But nothing about Gehrig's accomplishments should be minimized, from the 2,130 consecutive games he once played as the “Iron Horse” to his longtime link with Ruth as the enforcer of baseball's most prolific slugging duo.
Gehrig was a rock-solid 6-foot, 210-pound left-handed slasher who rocketed line drives to all sections of the park, unlike the towering, majestic home runs that endeared Ruth to adoring fans. And unlike the gregarious Ruth, Gehrig was withdrawn, modest and unassuming, happy to let his teammate drink the fruits of their tandem celebrity. But those who played with and against Gehrig understood the power he could exert over a game.
As the Yankees' first baseman, cleanup hitter and lineup protection for Ruth, Gehrig was an RBI machine. He won four American League titles and tied for another, and his 184-RBI explosion in 1931 is a still-standing American League record. His 13 consecutive 100-RBI seasons – he averaged an incredible 147 from 1926-38 – were a byproduct of 493 career home runs and a not-so-modest .340 average. It's hard to overstate the havoc wreaked by Gehrig's bat. He topped 400 total bases in five seasons, topped 150 RBIs seven times, hit a record 23 grand slams, won a 1934 Triple Crown, hit four homers in one 1932 game and cranked out a World Series average of .361 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs. In 1927, when Ruth hit his record 60 home runs, Gehrig batted .373 with 47 homers and 175 RBIs, winning the MVP award.
The Ruth-Gehrig relationship powered the Yankees to three World Series championships, and when Ruth left New York after the 1934 season, Gehrig and young Joe DiMaggio powered the team to three more. But Gehrig is best remembered for the iron-man streak that lasted from 1925-39, when Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis— now known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, ended his career prematurely and tugged at the heart strings of a nation. Gehrig, finally accorded the recognition that long had eluded him, died two years later.
This is one of only a handful of known examples of a Lou Gehrig game used Yankees home pinstriped jersey. Based on a thorough inspection of jersey’s own physical traits as well as documented photographs of Gehrig wearing what appears to be an identical jersey, SCP Auctions has identified its era of usage to the 1931 season. In a career full of great seasons, 1931 was a watershed for Gehrig. He batted .341 and led the league with 184 RBIs setting a still-standing single season record. During the 1931 season, Ruth and Gehrig combined for 92 home runs and 347 runs batted in, the most ever by a pair of teammates. The Yankees, as a team, averaged more than seven runs a game. Gehrig, having never won a home run title, finally notched a league leading total of 46 in 1931. However, Gehrig had to share the title with Ruth who matched his output of 46. In April of that season an event occurred that can be viewed as a capsulization of Gehrig’s subordination to Ruth.
With Lyn Lary on base, Lou Gehrig hit a home run into the stands at Washington. The ball, however, bounced back on the field and Lary saw a Washington outfielder catch it for what he believed was the last out of the inning. Gehrig circled the bases, but was called out when he passed Lary on the base path as Lary headed for the dugout. Instead of a home run, Gehrig was credited with a triple, costing him the single home run he needed to claim sole ownership of the home run title at seasons end.
Manufactured by Spalding, this jersey is tagged exclusively for Gehrig featuring red chain stitching in the collar that reads “L. Gehrig.” Every technical aspect of the body of this uniform is as it was when last in the custody of Gehrig with a few exceptions. All of the seams and tagging are original and unaltered. Gehrig’s own customization of cutting the sleeves can be validated by the photograph presented in the catalogue. Appropriately, there is no evidence of an “NY” logo ever having appeared on the front since this feature was not instituted on Yankees uniforms until 1936. Post-Gehrig alterations to the jersey include the removal of the felt portion of Gehrig’s number 4 on the back, although remnants of black stitching still reveal the outline of the numeral. Secondly, the outline of lettering that appears to be “STANTON” appears faintly on the front of the jersey indicating its one time designation for service in a minor league. The jersey shows signs of extensive use and wear including general and consistent soiling throughout the jersey. Significant fabric stress/damage appears in the upper back portion of the jersey as well as in the front shoulders with a half-inch hole on the left shoulder and fabric tears on the left. Most of these damaged areas have been professionally restored and reinforced in some cases by the addition of supportive fabric applied to the interior. There are a few areas of red staining/fabric bleed in the lower one-third portion of the jersey. The second button from the top has been replaced, but this appears to be a vintage repair. In spite of these technical imperfections the jersey retains excellent visual appeal.
In the pantheon of sports memorabilia a jersey worn by Lou Gehrig has few peers. Columnist Jim Murray called Gehrig “Gibraltar in cleats” and sportswriter John Kieran said of him, “His greatest record doesn't show in the book. It was the absolute reliability of Henry Louis Gehrig. He could be counted upon. He was there every day at the ballpark bending his back and ready to break his neck to win for his side. He was there day after day and year after year. He never sulked or whined or went into a pot or a huff.”
Gehrig was the same in baseball as he was when he faced a fatal disease that struck him in the prime of his life. Ruth may have been rightfully dubbed “The Sultan of Swat” or the “The Colossus of Clout” among other things, but Gehrig’s acclaim as “The Pride of The Yankees” has never been disputed.
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