Batting first and playing shortstop.... Lou Gehrig?
In the course of researching baseball's past, it's not often you come across a boxscore that really catches your attention. And yet today, July 14, marks the anniversary of one of the game's true oddities. Midway through the 1934 season, Yankees slugger Lou Gehrig was already well on his way to establishing a new consecutive games played streak which would stand for more than 50 years. In fact, by the time the team visited Detroit for a four-game series just after the All-Star break, the "Iron Horse" hadn't missed a single game in over nine full seasons. Gehrig had appeared in every Yankees game since June 1, 1925 when he pinch hit for Pee Wee Wanninger and famously replaced veteran first baseman Wally Pipp in the Yankees line-up the following day.
Now, 1,426 games later, Gehrig was suddenly stricken with a severe case of lumbago in his lower back. On July 13, in a game the Yankees wasted a 9-1 lead and eventually lost to the Tigers 12-11 on four runs in the bottom of the ninth, Gehrig was removed from the lineup after only two innnings of play. Coincidentally, it was in this very same game that Gehrig's teammate, Babe Ruth, smashed the 700th home run of his career in the third inning. The written acounts of the game included a prominent mention of Gehrig's condition and speculated on his availability for the following day's game. A separate side-bar detailing Gehrig's consecutive games played streak was included in the New York Times' account noting how he had long since passed Everett Scott's previous mark of 1,307 games.
Gehrig and Yankees manager Joe McCarthy came up with a simple solution in a quest to prolong Gehrig's streak. When the line-ups were announced for the game on July 14, Gehrig was inserted as the Yankees lead-off hitter and his position listed as shortstop. The move acomplished two things. As New York was the visiting team, it assured Gehrig of batting in the top of the first inning, allowing him to continue the streak, without ever having to exert himself in the field. It also gave McCarthy the flexibility to immediately replace Gehrig when the half-inning was over and the Yankees took the field defensively. So, after Gehrig singled to get things rolling in the top of the first inning, Red Rolfe was immediately sent out to play shortstop in the bottom of the inning and Gehrig returned to team hotel to rest his aching back.
By the following day, Gehrig was back in the Yankees line-up at his familiar first base position and batting fourth behind Ruth. He pounded out three doubles and went 4-4 at the plate in a 8-3 Tigers victory. Gehrig finished the season with his streak intact at 1,504 games. He also hit .363 to lead both leagues in batting average and his 49 home runs and 165 RBI were both tops in the American League, giving him the Triple Crown. He wouldn't miss another game until May 3, 1939, again back in Detroit, when he took himself out of the starting lineup and ended the streak at 2,130 games.
When Orioles great Cal Ripken, Jr. was chasing Gehrig's record late in his career, he occasionally came in for criticism from the local press and some fans about the lengths he occasionally went to extend his own streak. It's worth noting that even the original record-setting accomplishment of the great Lou Gehrig was not without its own embellishment.