A Quick Asterisk

This is not a knock against Derek Jeter, who has been a credit to his franchise and the game since 1995, and who has never been anything but courteous and professional in his dealings with me (and everybody else I knew). This is not, in fact, about Jeter.

But I wish there would be a little more emphasis of the caveat in all of the discussion of Jeter’s having reached within four hits of breaking Lou Gehrig’s Yankees franchise record of 2,721, that Gehrig stopped accumulating them when he was 35 years old, because he contracted a fatal disease that would claim his life.
I made this point years ago, as Cal Ripken approached Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak. It needs to be said again that Gehrig didn’t stop because of loss of talent, or retirement, or failure. And most remarkably of all, it should be emphasized that at least the last 174 of Gehrig’s hits (just as was the case for at least the last 165 of his games played), certainly came after Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis had already begun to kill him. 
Again, nothing to take away from Jeter’s accomplishments. Just a reminder of the remarkable quality of Gehrig’s, and that as time guarantees that his name will become harder and harder to find in the record books, he should never be forgotten.

15 Comments

It’s amazing, that Lou Gehrig managed to keep playing, even as his life was starting to be drained by ALS. No enemy is as cruel, insidious, or difficult to fight, as a disease that destroys a person from within.

There should be more than just “a quick asterisk” commemorating Lou Gehrig in the record books. He deserves some sort of honorable mention, for his courage and accomplishments, which were cut short by a ruthless disease. No matter how many people break his record, he should never be bumped entirely, because his particular record is so unique and inspiring.

I couldn’t agree more. I made this point to a friend who is an Orioles fan and he thought I was slighting Ripken somehow. In my opinion neither of these records are broken if Gehrig is able to finish his career. Either way they are impressive achievements for Jeter and Ripken but their fans should try to keep the records in context.

At least we can take some solace in knowing that the guys breaking those records are fine ambassadors of the game. Without calling anyone out by name, I think we can all call up a list of players who would be regrettable inheritors of the mantle.

Glenn?

I am sure that lovers of baseball and its history (and that would be everyone who comments on this blog except the idiots who try to politicize it when its author does nothing of the sort) will never forget Lou Gehrig. It’s akin to the question of the greatest home run hitter ever. Numbers point to Barry Bonds with an asterisk of his own, then Hank Aaron, but can anyone argue that, historically, no one could match Babe Ruth, whatever numbers we may see in the future?

One of my favorite questions in the game of “What If?”, MLB edition is “What Would Have Happened If Lou Gehrig Hadn’t Contracted ALS?

He was barely 35 when he was forced to stop playing. The Streak aside (a great accomplishment, but when you look at what else he did in his career, less important), the record book would have looked a lot different. For one thing, Hank Aaron would probably have broken Gehrig’s career record for home runs, rather than Babe Ruth’s (and wouldn’t Gehrig have loved to break that record?).

Something else to ponder. Playing for teams that featured Babe Ruth and then Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig was the cleanup hitter. That tells you something.

Yep Gehrig was great, no doubt. However, injuries and illness have robbed many great players of better career numbers. Let’s not forget wars-as Ted Williams fought in two of them, losing several years of his career.

Gehrig did what he did in the time he had. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long enough. The same could be said about many others.

Keith has hit the nail on the head. Don’t get me wrong, I love Jeter. He plays the game the way it is suppose to be. Not like a guy named Manny. Gehrig was a run producing machine. If you look at his offensive stats, you would be quite impressed. His RBI total is fourth all-time behind only Ruth, Aaron and Bonds (all of which had much longer major league careers). In the research I did for my book “Iron Men of Baseball”, it was amazing to find out there are only three major leaguers who have played 1,300 or more consecutive games (Gehrig, Ripken and Everett Scott). Gehrig and Ripken have no rivals as far as durability. History can never be changed but even as Gehrig’s name starts disappearing from some of the record books, his name will always be there associated with greatness, class, humility, and durability. Long live the legacy of Lou Gehrig!!!

Marty Friedrich

We should absolutely respect Gehrig for everything he did. Hell, it’s taking several players to break records he set as one man. BUT consider this:

Derek Jeter is 35 years old, and may have more at bats than Gehrig, but has played in less games. I think our author is splitting hairs here. Let’s not forget what Gehrig did, but let’s not give Jeter an asterisk here (especially due to the awful connotation it now has in baseball).

I think there’s two separate issues that we need to disentabgle — who holds a record, and who is worthy of honor.

For the latter, IMO, it should be based on what was actually done rather than what people would have done. Jeter has more hits than Gehrig. Ripken played in more consecutive games than Gehrig. This is inescapable. The reason why is beyond Gehrig’s control, and have nothing to do with Gehrig’s ability as a ballplayer. But the same could be said for countless players.

Indeed, if Gehrig had been stricken with ALS five years earlier, KO’s article would be no less true, but he wouldn’t have set any records, and if he had, they would have been passed several times now. Should Gehrig receive extra credit because his career was cut short by ALS, but not so short that if didn’t prevent him from amassing huge numbers?

And what Major League numbers would many Negro League players have put up if they were not prevented by segregation from doing so?

Still, in baseball, the strongest vocabulary of praise is numbers, and everything else more or less fades away. Some, like Sandy Koufax, manage to gain a mythology without accumulating huge numbers, but that is the language.

If we want to preserve Gehrig’s legend, we should find a way to do so that doesn’t pretend that there should be an asterisk next to the accomplishments of those who break his records because Gehrig’s career was cut short by a terrible disease.

Let us also not be quick to forget that Gehrig (and Ruth for people still proclaiming him the Home Run King) played in a segregated baseball league.

This isn’t meant to disrespect or diminish what those players did, but if anything needs an asterisk it’s the entire baseball league prior to 1947.

A weak discussion on a weak post OC. Yes the Iron Horse was great and his career was cut short by a disease. But this are number and that is all. Yes Gehrig could have done more. But is this the same as saying Barry Sanders or Brown would be the best rushing records if they finished their careers instead of Smith. No because they decided to walk away.

In a storied franchise of the Yankees no one else is close. And a class act like Jeter breaks it at the same age as Gehrig.

If/when Jeter hits his 3,000th hit, he’ll be one of only 12 men in the history of baseball to have reached that number and had over 1500 Runs scored, 1000 RBIs, and 300 Stolen Bases…That’s a pretty impressive feat.
I think it’s impossible to compare players of different eras (except perhaps in the way they behaved, but even that is subject to the times).
Instead I’d prefer to compare Jeter to his other players in his own era. Jeter while perhaps not the greatest at any one single aspect of the game, was (and is) the best all-around shortstop of his era.
I also think it is quite odd that folks attack his defense, claiming that he’s “lost a step” when he’s having statistically his best defensive season of his career (and last year was his 3rd best).

Except, nobody is arguing that this makes Jeter a better player than Gehrig. It’s just a number, an objective quantifier of fact: Jeter in fact has more hits than Gehrig. As to why Jeter has more hits than Gehrig – has anyone forgotten that Gehrig’s career was medically truncated? In fact, all the attention focused on Jeter the past few weeks has, probably, brought more attention on Gehrig than he would otherwise have received.

Let’s not encourage any kind of anti-Jeter backlash. He’s not responsible for the hype, any more than he was ever responsible for it in the past. He didn’t vote himself any Gold Gloves, and he didn’t evoke any of the “overrated” claims some have made. Lou Gehrig was one of the greatest players in the history of baseball, and so far I wouldn’t say that Derek Jeter is. But Derek Jeter is still an awfully goddamn good ballplayer. And he’s a Yankee. That’s enough for me.

Keith – I also saw no mention other than yours of this truth. And even with his severely diminished capacity during his final year mixed in, Gehrig acquired his hits with fewer plate appearances and drove in many more runs. He was truly great.
Thank you.

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