On July 4th, 1939 the greatest first baseman ever to pick up a baseball bat was honored at Yankee Stadium with a day dedicated all to himself entitled, "Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day," celebrating the ending of a career that would prove to be one of the most prolific in the history of the game. Gehrig, stricken with the mysterious disease ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), was forced from baseball because of his illness, but on that July afternoon he delivered — in his final contribution to the game he was leaving and the world he would soon depart -- the most famous speech in MLB history, endearing him to every baseball fan with a consciousness of the game's history for as long as baseball is played. Seventy years later, with the affliction known more popularly as Lou Gehrig's Disease still incurable, the entirety of the MLB honored Gehrig, commemorating his career and immense courage in the face of his own mortality, largely in an effort to raise awareness of the disease that ended the legend's career and eventually his life.
As a player Gehrig was one of the most complete hitters of all time. In 14 full seasons and small slices of three others, Gehrig's numbers are nothing short of astounding. Displaying both power and the ability to hit for average like few have done in the history of the game, Gehrig posted a career batting average of .340 (17th all time) to go with his 493 home runs. Three times he led the American League in dingers during the era of Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, and Mel Ott, and shockingly, five times he led the AL in RBIs — batting behind Babe Ruth — for a career total of 1995, good enough for fifth all time behind only Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Cap Anson, and Barry Bonds. With Ruth at second and Gehrig at fifth on this list, the commentary about the Yankees' run production from that era is obvious and yet still startling even to those with an awareness of Murderer's Row.
But Gehrig's prowess at the plate was not limited to the long ball and a high batting average. Lou's career OBP percentage of .447 is good enough for fifth all time, leading the league five times. Gehrig was on base with a clockwork-like consistency, and was powerfully productive in that same regard, posting a 1.080 career OPS, third all time, and a fourth-best all-time 179 OPS+ behind only Ruth, Williams, and Bonds.