It was April 30, 1939, a sunny Sunday, and New Yorkers were out in force for two history-making occasions.
The first was obvious.
It was opening day of the New York World’s Fair. “President Roosevelt, who left his country home at Hyde Park by special train at 9 a.m., arrived at the Fair Grounds at 12:45 p.m.,” The New York Times reported in a front-page article. He had switched to an 18-car motorcade for the ride to Queens and “was driven through Bronx streets lined with cheering crowds, and heavily guarded by police.”
That night, “the National Cash Register Company gave 601,484 as the attendance,” the article reported.
Back up in the Bronx, a considerably smaller crowd — 23,712 — was taking its weekend leisure at Yankee Stadium. Those people, too, were witnesses to history. But they didn’t know it. It was Lou Gehrig’s last game. The Yankees lost, 3-2, to the Senators. Gehrig was hitless in four at bats. In the account of the game by The Times, his name appears only in the box score.
It was two days later, in Detroit, at the Yankees’ next game, that the bombshell dropped. “Gehrig Voluntarily Ends Streak at 2,130 Straight Games,” The Times’s headline read in its account.
“The mighty iron man, who at his peak had hit forty-nine home runs in a single season five years ago, took himself out of action before the Yanks marched on Briggs Stadium for their first game against the Tigers this year.”
Gehrig had told the manager, Joe McCarthy, privately, and later spoke publicly. “Gehrig, visibly affected, explained his decision quite frankly,” The Times reported. “‘I decided last Sunday night on this move,’ said Lou. ‘I haven’t been a bit of good to the team since the season started. It would not be fair to the boys, to Joe or to the baseball public for me to try going on. In fact, it would not be fair to myself, and I’m the last consideration.’”
“‘It’s tough to see your mates on base, have a chance to win a ball game, and not be able to do anything about it. McCarthy has been swell about it all the time. He’d let me go until the cows came home, he is that considerate of my feelings, but I knew in Sunday’s game that I should get out of there.’” And so he did.
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