- The Washington Times - Monday, June 3, 2002

What does a fellow have to do to rate big, black headlines in the newspaper?
Hit four home runs in a game?
That didn't work for legendary slugger Lou Gehrig on June 3, 1932, at Philadelphia's Shibe Park. Nobody had gone deep four times in 38 years, but Gehrig discovered his feat buried on page 10 of the New York Times the next morning.
John McGraw, sick and tired at the age of 59, picked that day to resign after 30 tumultuous years as manager of the New York Giants and likely the best skipper in baseball history.
You might call it a big news day.
It's unlikely that Gehrig, a modest, unassuming man, was upset at McGraw stealing the show. The two had become friends, although the famous manager had ignored Gehrig when he worked out with the Giants as a New York schoolboy sensation before being signed by the Yankees. Years later, Mac told Lou, "I wish I had paid more attention to you at the Polo Grounds."
First baseman Gehrig was one of the greatest and most durable players in baseball history. Over 14-plus seasons before being struck down at 36 by an incurable disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), he was a consistent .300 hitter, slammed 494 home runs and set an American League mark with 184 RBI in 1931 And, of course, he played in 2,130 consecutive games a record considered unbreakable until Cal Ripken did it in 1995.
Yet Gehrig unluckily had a way of being overshadowed on his own team first by Babe Ruth and later by Joe DiMaggio. Consider this: Gehrig's lifetime batting average was .340; Ruth's was .342. And in 1927, when Ruth bashed his 60 dingers, Gehrig had 47. Lou would be remembered, one writer suggested, "as the guy who hit all those home runs the year Ruth broke the record."
Nor was Lou a favorite in the media, which in those days meant mostly newspapers. A team man to the core, he rarely said anything quotable or notable as the Babe snatched all the headlines. In the third game of the 1932 World Series, Gehrig followed Ruth's famed "called shot" home run with a blast of his own. Said Gehrig afterward: "It didn't matter what I did I could have gone up there and stood on my head and nobody would have noticed. They were all talking about what the Babe had done."
But on his big day in Philly, there was reason to suspect that Gehrig finally might capture the public's attention and favor. He homered to right field on his first three times at bat against the Athletics' star right-hander, George Earnshaw, who had won 68 games over the past three seasons. Wishing to spare Earnshaw further embarrassment, Philadelphia manager Connie Mack summoned relief pitcher Leroy Mahaffey before Gehrig came up again in the seventh inning.
"Sit here next to me, son," Mack told Earnshaw. "I want you to see how Mahaffey does it. You've been pitching Gehrig all wrong."
Mahaffey threw a fastball that the left-handed Gehrig sliced over the left-field wall, becoming the first man since Bobby Lowe in 1894 to hit four home runs in a game.
"I understand, Mr. Mack," Earnshaw said. "Mahaffey made Lou change his direction. Can I go take my shower now?"
With the Yankees collecting 20 runs on 23 hits, Gehrig had two more chances to become the first (and only) man to homer five times in a game. He grounded out in the eighth, but in the ninth he drove a tremendous shot off Eddie Rommel to the deepest part of the park before center fielder Al Simmons leaped and caught the ball before it could sail over the fence.
Said Gehrig years later: "That last ball was the hardest one I hit all day, but Simmons caught up with it. How do you figure?"
Two days later, not a word about Gehrig's feat appeared in the Sunday Times. Sports columnist John Kieran, a friend of Lou's, devoted his entire piece to "Memories of McGraw." And few would have denied that the fiercely competitive and sharp-tongued old Baltimore Orioles third baseman deserved the accolades.
In his three decades, McGraw had built the Giants into baseball's most famous and successful team. He won 10 pennants, including four straight from 1921 to 1924, and his winning percentage of .587 (2,763-1,948) was the game's best. But now it was all downhill. The Giants hadn't won in seven seasons and were off poorly this spring at 17-23. McGraw, overweight and suffering from cancer, no longer demanded and commanded the respect of his players as he once had.
On June 3, the Giants were rained out at the Polo Grounds for the third straight day. Baseball writer Tom Meany of the New York World-Telegram was approaching the clubhouse to get an off-day story when a hot dog vendor said, "Did you hear the news? McGraw is out."
"Out?" Meany said.
"Yeah. He quit and [Giants first baseman] Bill Terry is the manager."
Later that afternoon, McGraw walked into his house in Pelham, N.Y. "Why are you home so early," his wife asked, according to Frank Graham's 1944 biography, "McGraw of the Giants." "Was the game called off again?"
"Yes," McGraw said. "But that isn't the only reason. I quit."
"You quit what?"
"I quit my job."
Mrs. McGraw smiled. "I'm glad, John. Without the team on your mind, you'll get well sooner."
It was not to be. Named a vice president of the Giants, McGraw actually did little work as his health declined in 1933 while Terry drove the Giants to their first pennant in nine years and a World Series victory over the Washington Senators. In July, Mac managed the National League team in the first All-Star Game and lost it on a home run by Ruth. The following February the man known as the "Little Napoleon" died of cancer and related illnesses.
Gehrig survived the '30s but not by much. His play declined sharply in the last half of the 1938 season; the following spring, barely able to run or hit a ball, he took himself out of the lineup after eight games. Diagnosed with ALS at the Mayo Clinic, he served as the Yankees' honorary captain for the rest of the season but never played again.
On "Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day" at Yankee Stadium on July 4, Gehrig delivered what has come to be baseball's Gettysburg Address, ending with "today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth." His No.4 became the first to be retired, and the usual five-year waiting period for election to the Hall of Fame was waived. On June 2, 1941,17 days before his 38th birthday, Gehrig died in his sleep.
Seventy years after McGraw shoved Gehrig out of the headlines, both endure in lore part of the fabulous fabric that makes baseball's history so much richer than that of other sports.

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