On this day in 1939, New York Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig took himself out of the lineup at a game between the Yankees and Detroit Tigers at Tiger Stadium. Gehrig’s strength and playing ability had been noticeably declining from the start of the season, and on June 19, 1939 — his 36th birthday — Gehrig was diagnosed with incurable and fatal amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a condition sometimes known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Gehrig’s last game was played on April 30, when the Yankees met the Washington Senators. It was his 2,130th consecutive major league game, a record that would stand until Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. surpassed it in 1995. However, the once-mighty Gehrig was unable to get a hit in.
Shortly before the following game in Detroit, Gehrig told Yankees manager Joe McCarthy, “I’m benching myself, Joe, for the good of the team.” Before the game began, the announcer at Tiger Stadium said, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the first time Lou Gehrig’s name will not appear on the Yankee lineup in 2,130 consecutive games.” Tigers fans responded with a standing ovation, which Gehrig accepted while sitting on the bench with tears in his eyes.
He never played in a major league game again.