The Beginning Of A Legend
Gehrig started playing for the Yankees in June of 1923. As the story goes, his first meeting with the team was stunning. At the beginning of that first practice, before most of the team was on the field, several of the Yankees best hitters, including Babe Ruth, were taking some extra batting practice. Manager Miller Huggins escorted Gehrig onto the field and encouraged him to take a few swings. Gehrig grabbed a bat at random. It happened to be Ruth's favorite, a forty-eight ounce monster that was too heavy for most players to handle. Gehrig's nervousness showed as he missed a few pitches, then hit a few weak ground balls. Then some of his friends from Columbia, who were sitting in the bleachers providing moral support, started to shout encouragement to him. "Show that big guy, Lou. He's not the only one that can hit it out of the park," one said, referring to Ruth. Gehrig proceeded to hit some half-dozen balls into "Ruthsville," the section of the right-field bleachers where many of Ruth's hits wound up. The veteran Yankees were stunned, while Gehrig's friends only got louder in their cheers. Embarrassed, Gehrig walked away from the plate.
Gehrig made his major league debut only weeks later, on June 16. He spent much of the 1923 and 1924 seasons in the minor leagues, playing for the Hartford Senators, but he was learning the confidence he needed to play big-league baseball. He was called back to the Yankees in late August of 1924 and became an invaluable pinch-hitter, and in 1925 he joined the starting line-up.
Gehrig began his consecutive games streak on June 1, 1925, when he pinch-hit for shortstop Peewee Wanninger. The next day, June 2, Gehrig started at first base. The Yankees already had a good first baseman, the crowd-pleasing Wally Pipp, but that morning Pipp had been struck in the head with a pitch during batting practice. He spent two weeks in the hospital recovering from his injuries, and by the time he returned Gehrig was well established at first base. Pipp was eventually traded, and from June 2 on, Gehrig would play in every single game the Yankees played until 1939.