40,000 days since Lou Gehrig’s birthby Chris Jaffe
December 23, 2012
40,000 days ago, one of the greatest baseball players in history was born—the Iron Horse Lou Gehrig.
His career is so well known to be hardly worth recapping. He belted 493 homers and drove in 1,995 runs. Hitting behind Babe Ruth, Gehrig led the league in RBIs five times. Heck, he led the league in damn near every category at least one time—batting average, slugging percentage, OBP, doubles, triples, home runs, plate appearances, walks, total bases, games played. Everything but steals, strikeouts and at-bats.
It’s a good question: What would his career looked like had it not been for ALS? As great as his career stats were, you have to assume they would’ve been quite a bit better. Though 1937, Gehrig’s production was seemingly unaffected. It was only in 1938 that his numbers dropped considerably and in 1939 he had to pull out.
In 1937, Gehrig was 34 years old. Some drop-off should be expected. (That said, many of the all-time greats, like Hank Aaron or Babe Ruth or Willie Mays, do age fairly well, just as Gehrig had been doing).
Through age 34, Gehrig had 464 homers. That’s the 14th most ever though that age. Of the 13 in front of him, one is Albert Pujols, who hasn’t had an age-35 season yet. Half of the remaining dozen topped 600 homers: Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, Willie Mays and Ken Griffey Jr.
Of the other half-dozen, Frank Robinson and Harmon Killebrew got near 600 homers (with 586 and 573 respectively). Manny Ramirez is a little behind, with 555.
Three guys really fell off: Mickey Mantle (536 homers), Jimmie Foxx (534), and Eddie Mathews (511). Two of those were major drinkers—Foxx and Mantle—and that hurt their aging. Mantle also suffered through some leg injuries in his career. Mathews could be a roughneck.
Gehrig was always known as man who lived cleanly. You can’t play 2,130 games in a row otherwise. So he very likely would’ve passed the three guys lower on the list and made it over 550 homers. How far over 500 homers he got would depend on things beyond his control, like his health.
Other factors would make it tricky for Gehrig. First, he benefited from his era. The 1930s AL was a golden age for hitting, but in 1940 run-scoring dropped notably. That’s not what Gehrig would need in his late 1930s. Then came World War II, and many aging players were drafted in the war.
Gehrig would likely fall between 550-600 homers, but more likely to end up over 600 than under 550. Regardless, Gehrig never got to have a normal decline phase due to ALS. His career and life were cut short. The latter began 40,000 days ago with his birth.
Aside from that, many other events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary.” Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim through things.
2,000 days since Texas Ranger Brad Wilkerson hits three home runs in one game.
3,000 days since the Yankees break Minnesota’s hearts once again, topping the Twins 7-6 in 12 innings in Game Two of the 2004 ALDS. The Twins take a 6-5 lead in the top of the 12th but allow a pair of runs in the bottom of the frame.
5,000 days since Kevin Brown suffers his 100th loss, becoming 140-100 for his career.
5,000 days since Curt Schilling hits the only triple of his career. He never homers. Also, this is the only game in his career he draws two walks. They didn’t walk him in the right plate appearance, apparently.
6,000 days since Greg Maddux loses his 100th decision (making his career 160-100) in unique fashion. It’s the only walk-off hit loss of his career. Houston’s Derek Bell singles in a run against him in the bottom of the ninth for a 2-1 Braves defeat.
6,000 days since Kirk McCaskill plays in his last game.
9,000 days since Darryl Strawberry hits his 155th homer as a Met, passing Dave Kingman as the all-time franchise leader. He still is the Mets' homer king.
1871 Sam Leever is born. He’ll be a very good pitcher for the early 20th century Pirates.
1879 Frank Owen, who won 20 games three straight years from 1904-06 with White Sox, is born.
1899 Tommy Thomas, workhorse White Sox pitcher in the late 1920s, is born.
1905 Washington purchases veteran third baseman Lave Cross from the A’s.
1915 The Giants purchase Benny Kauff from the Federal League's Brooklyn squad. Kauff had been the best player in that league. On the same day, the Giants get a pair of Hall of Famers from the Federal League’s Newark squad: Bill McKechnie and Edd Roush. McKechnie will be a Hall of Fame manager, and the Giants will flip Roush to Cincinnati, where he’ll star for a decade.
1926 The A’s sign Eddie Collins. Hed been a star for them for many years earlier.
1941 Ken Hubbs, 1962 Rookie of the Year winner who died in early 1964, is born.
1942 Jerry Koosman, Robin to Tom Seaver’s Batman, is born.
1943 Dave May, who led the AL in total bases in 1973 with 295, is born.
1953 Jerry Manuel, future White Sox and Mets manager, is born.
1958 The Dodgers trade young infield prospect Sparky Anderson to the Phillies. Yes, he really was young once.
1958 Tim Leary, second pick overall in the 1979 draft and man who led the AL in losses in 1990 (19), is born.
1967 Star Red Sox pitcher Jim Lonborg suffers damage to the ligaments in his left knee in a skiing accident. He’ll never have a season as good as his 1967 campaign.
1968 Rick White, reliever, is born.
1975 Jim McGlothlin, big league pitcher as recently as 1973, dies at age 32 of leukemia.
1975 It’s a brave new world for major league baseball as arbitrator Peter Seitz ends the reserve clause. In a 61-page decision on the contract status of Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, Seitz rules that both players are free agents and can play for the highest bidder.
1976 Brad Lidge is born.
1977 Shawn Chacon is born.
1978 Victor Martinez is born.
1980 Cody Ross, outfielder, is born.
1983 Hanley Ramirez is born.
1988 Atlanta signs free agent Darrell Evans.
1990 The White Sox trade Ivan Calderon to the Expos for Tim Raines in a five-player deal. Calderon, whose career is off to a nice start, will fizzle badly.
1994 Baseball owners use the nuclear option, unilaterally implementing a salary cap after declaring negotiations with players to be at an impasse.
1995 St. Louis signs free agents Ron Gant and Andy Benes.
1997 The Cubs trade Doug Glanville to the Phillies for Mickey Morandini. Glanville will have his best season with the Phillies while Morandini will have one last fine season with the Cubs in 1998.
1998 Anaheim signs free agent pitcher Tim Belcher.
1998 Toronto signs free agent catcher Mike Matheny.
1999 Houston trades Mike Hampton and Derek Bell to the Mets for Roger Cedeno and Octavio Dotel. It’s a rare trade featuring four notable players.
2002 Texas signs free agent reliever Ugueth U. Urbina.
2003 The Mets sign defensive stud center fielder Mike Cameron.
2004 J.D. Drew signs with the Dodgers as an outfielder.
2004 St. Louis signs diminutive infielder David Eckstein.
2006 The White Sox and Rangers have a challenge trade for prospect starting pitchers. Chicago sends Brandon McCarthy to Texas for John Danks and two others. The White Sox get the better half of the deal.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.