If Yankee Stadium was a church June 19th would be a holy day of obligation for Yankee fans. The “Iron Horse” was Major League Baseball’s all-time greatest first baseman and perhaps the greatest athlete ever to be born in the Big Apple. In 17 years with New York he batted .340 lifetime and in seven World Series, he averaged .361. Lou had thirteen straight seasons in which he drove in and scored at least 100 runs. Along with his achievements on the ball field, his untimely illness, the grace with which he handled his misfortune, and his early death made Gehrig a true American hero.
Ruth, DiMaggio, and Mantle were each truly great Yankees on the field who lived unhappy, personal lives. I always found it ironic that Gehrig, the Yankee legend with an extremely strong marriage and idyllic private life, never got the opportunity to enjoy his retirement years.
Update: I originally wrote the above post in June of 2008. Since that time I learned something I never knew about Gehrig. I had always thought that after he was diagnosed with ALS at the Mayo Clinic, he simply returned to his home in the Bronx and waited to die. But Gehrig, who would live until June 2, 1941, over two years after his fatal diagnosis, actually accepted Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia’s appointment to the New York City Parole Commission in October of 1939. The appointment was for a ten-year-term and the position paid a salary of $5,700 per year. Besides sympathy for one of his city’s sports heroes, LaGuardia’s rationalization for selecting the Iron Horse for this job was sound. The Mayor was quoted in the New York Times after making the announcement, “I believe that he will not only be an able and intelligent commissioner but that he will be an inspiration and a hope to many of the younger boys who had gotten into trouble. Surely the misfortune of some of the young men will compare as something trivial with what Mr. Gehrig has so cheerfully and courageously faced.” LaGuardia went on to say that Gehrig had told him he wanted to dedicate his remaining days to public service and the Yankee legend meant what he said. Gehrig showed up for work regularly and did not stop doing so until just a month before he died, when he became to weak to leave his home.
Gehrig shares his birthday with another former Yankee first baseman.
Here are Gehrig’s incredible regular season statistics as a Yankee player:
The only member of the Yankee all-time player roster to be born on June 18 (1975) is their former reliever, Felix Heredia. The Yankees claimed the southpaw off waivers during the 2003 season and he pitched real well out of their bullpen for the remainder of that year, making 12 appearances during which he allowed just two earned runs in fifteen total innings. That effort represented an ERA of just 1.20 prompting New York to sign him to a new two-year contract. But during his second season in pinstripes, Heredia struggled with control problems and his Yankee ERA ballooned by over five times causing Joe Torre to eventually lose faith in him. The Yankees traded him to the Mets after the 2005 season in a deal that returned Mike Stanton to the Yankee bullpen. Heredia retired after the 2005 season with a 28-19 record for his ten years in the big leagues and 6 career saves. During that decade he pitched for six other teams in addition to the Yankees.
The only other member of the Yankee baseball family to be born on this same date is this announcer, who’s most famous call had nothing to do with Yankee baseball.
|CHC (4 yrs)||15||6||.714||5.01||221||0||54||0||0||3||163.1||166||102||91||20||80||146||1.506|
|FLA (3 yrs)||6||7||.462||4.72||118||2||27||0||0||2||114.1||112||68||60||5||72||102||1.609|
|NYY (2 yrs)||1||2||.333||4.86||59||0||13||0||0||0||53.2||57||33||29||6||25||29||1.528|
|NYM (1 yr)||0||0||0.00||3||0||1||0||0||0||2.2||1||0||0||0||1||2||0.750|
|CIN (1 yr)||5||2||.714||3.00||57||0||18||0||0||1||72.0||61||27||24||9||28||41||1.236|
|TOR (1 yr)||1||2||.333||3.61||53||0||15||0||0||0||52.1||51||29||21||5||26||31||1.471|
Vic Mata got his opportunity to play in the Bronx in 1984 mostly because George Steinbrenner was growing frustrated playing and paying high-priced veterans to miss the playoffs. In 1983, the Yankees had won 91 games but finished third in the AL East. That was the second consecutive season New York had failed to qualify for Fall Ball and that was the first time that had happened to a Yankee team since 1975. So “The Boss” let it be known he wanted to start testing the fruit from the Yankee farm system, hoping young guys like Don Mattingly, Mike Pagliarullo, Bobby Meacham and Vic Mata could show the old guys how to win with hunger and hustle. The Yankees were a game under .500 in July when Mata got his first start. Yogi Berra played the Dominican Republic native quite a bit in center field for the balance of that year and both Vic and the Yankees responded. Mata got real hot at the plate in August and helped the Yankees go 40-27 the rest of the way. But that proved to be the best and longest stretch of big league baseball Mata would ever play. That December, the short-memoried Steinbrenner went out and got the A’s Ricky Henderson to play center field for the Yankees. Then when the Yankees got off to a slow start in ’85 “The Boss” canned Berra and replaced him with good old Billy Martin. Berra liked Mata and Martin loved Henderson. Mata ended up playing just six more regular-season games in pinstripes.
After spending the final couple of seasons of his playing career in the minors, Mata eventually got into scouting. It has been in that capacity that this he has made his most significant contribution to the Yankees. Vic is the guy who signed Robinson Cano. He is also the only Yankee past or present who was born on June 17th. Happy Fathers’ Day to all you Dads out there.
Mata shares his birthday with this former front office Yankee executive.