On May 2, 1939, a streak to end all streaks came to an end at the Tigers’ Briggs Stadium. What began on June 1, 1925 with a pinch hit, ended officially on April 30, 1939, when baseball legend Lou Gehrig played his last game with the New York Yankees. By the time it was all said and done, Gehrig had played 2130 games. A record that would stand unbroken until Cal Ripken, Jr. surpassed him on September 6, 1995. Ripken would go on to play 2632 consecutive games.
For Tigers fans, the May 2 game was more memorable at the time for just how badly the Yankees trounced them, with a final score of 22-2
Gehrig was meant to play in the May 2 game, but he approached Yankees manager Joe McCarthy ahead of time and requested to be removed from the lineup. In 1938 Gehrig had already begun to show worsening symptoms from his ALS (a disease that would come to bear his name after his death), and by the time May of 1939 rolled around, he realized he simply couldn’t do it anymore. He was frustrated with his own performance, and didn’t want the streak to be the thing holding the team back. He told the press, “I haven’t been a bit of good to the team since the season started.”
When Joe McCarthy spoke to the press later he lamented the end, “I told him it would be as he wished. Like everybody else I’m sorry to see it happen. I told him not to worry. Maybe the warm weather will bring him around. We’ll miss him. You can’t escape that fact. But I think he’s doing the proper thing.”
During the game, Gehrig himself took the lineup card to home plate, and Tigers announcer Ty Tyson informed the crowd at Briggs Stadium that Gehrig has pulled himself from the game, ending his streak. As Gehrig struggled to keep his composure, he tipped his cap to the crowd, and the amassed Tigers fans gave him a thunderous cheer.
Gehrig hoped to only sit out a few games, however May 2 not only marked the end of his streak, but the end of his career. Lou Gehrig would never play baseball again. Later, on July 4, 1939 he would deliver his famous farewell speech to 60,000 Yankees fans, and indeed, to all of baseball.
Two years later, in 1941, Lou Gehrig passed away, a mere two weeks from his 38th birthday, with his wife Eleanor beside him.