Baseball was a way of life.
The first time I saw the greenest outfield I’d ever seen, I was hooked by the game.
At first, baseball was about late nights with the radio, silently cheering home run calls so I didn’t give away the fact that I was awake instead of asleep.
As I got to know this game more, however, I realized that there were many stories that had been told over the years.
Lessons offered. Heroes born. That’s when I met Lou Gehrig.
Not for real, of course.
Most people outside of baseball know Lou Gehrig because the devastating disease ALS is named after him.
Yet even in the worst times, there were still lessons to be learned just as there were from the best times.
Here’s what I have learned from the former first baseman of the New York Yankees.
#1. Grab an opportunity and never let it go
Gehrig was riding the bench on the depth chart behind a fellow named Wally Pipp.
In 1925, as the story goes anyway, Pipp came down with a headache that was bad enough to request the day off.
That put Gehrig into the lineup and he would wind up never letting it go.
From that first game, Gehrig would play 2,130 consecutive games for the Yankees.
Pipp would go on to play a few more seasons for the Reds before becoming a writer for Sports Illustrated.
Whenever you have a good opportunity come your way, grab it. Hold onto it with all of your might. Don’t let anyone take it away from you. You can do great things with just one opportunity, but you’ve got to have the tenacity to never let it go.
#2. You can be your own person
Lou Gehrig was given the number 4 on his jersey because he batted after Babe Ruth, who wore the number 3.
Some might say that Ruth overshadowed Gehrig during their playing time together, but that was because of their differences in personality.
Gehrig was reserved, quiet, and went out every day to do his job… and he did it well.
In 1931, he even led the American League with 184 RBI, which was 21 more than Babe Ruth hit that year.
By being himself instead of trying to be someone else, Gehrig found his own way to make a difference. That is something we all can do every day at work, at home, and in everything that we do.
#3. What you do is important
Gehrig quietly went about the business of scoring runs.
For 13 straight years, he would score over 100 runs and drive in over 100 runs.
He had 3 seasons where he led the league in home runs, but had eight seasons where he had at least 200 hits.
Gehrig still holds the record for the most grand slams in a career with 23.
Game after game, Gehrig went through the grind because he loved what he did.
He realized what he was doing was important, even if he wasn’t the “star” of the team.
It may seem like some of the things you’re doing right now are unimportant. Pushing paperwork at work, spending your last bits of energy to have some fun with the family, offering a couple of bucks to someone who is homeless… many of the things we do in life create positive outcomes even if we don’t see them. Always remember that every decision you make is important.
#4. It’s other people who make us great
When Gehrig decided to retire in 1939 because of his struggles with the disease he had, the speech he gave has one very memorable line: “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
Gehrig was a dependable ball player who could really hit a baseball and that could have made him feel self-important, but the opposite was true.
Gehrig knew that if it weren’t for baseball fans, he wouldn’t be able to play the game he loved so much.
And if it wasn’t for our own support networks, we wouldn’t be the people who we are today either. Family, friends, co-workers, supervisors – there are many who support what we do. Sometimes it’s a good thing to take a step back, recognize their contributions, and make an active effort to thank them for that help.
#5. Sometimes it’s okay to break the rules
Lou Gehrig was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939 – the same season of his retirement.
Although the 5 year waiting rule for retirement wasn’t put in place until 1954, most players had to be retired for at least a year before consideration.
If that had happened for Gehrig, he wouldn’t have been elected until 1942 – a year after he died, because the nomination committee wouldn’t meet for another 3 years after 1939.
Rules are in place for a reason, but sometimes rules need to be bent or even broken to do what is right. Roberto Clemente was immediately elected to the Hall of Fame and Addie Joss was admitted in 1978 even though he was 1 game short of the mandatory 10 year professional status. You can do the same in your life. There are always rules that we follow for some reason or another. Instead of blindly following those rules, do the right thing instead.
#6. One big moment can change everything
When Gehrig was 17, his high school baseball team from New York was playing a team from Chicago in Wrigley Field, though it was called Cubs Park back then.
With his team losing by two runs late in the game, Gehrig hit a home run that completely left the stadium.
No one had ever heard of a kid at that age being able to do that before.
That one home run would catapult Gehrig into the national baseball spotlight.
One big moment can permanently change your life. Sometimes we might only have one big moment like this in our lives. It might be a scholarship offer to study abroad, an interview with a major publication in your career industry, or that pretty girl [or handsome fellow] you see across the room looking at you and so you decide to go speak with them. Look for these moments. Have the courage to experience them.
#7. Traditions are more important than we realize
While growing up, Gehrig and his mother used to fish for eels.
Then together they would pickle the eels that they caught.
Throughout his career, Gehrig would eat pickled eels because he felt like they would help his batting.
His lifetime batting average of .340 seems to bear evidence that his traditions were an important part of his life, whether they helped his batting or not.
When I play any sport, I insist that I get to wear the number 4 whenever possible. This is because of the lessons I’ve learned by the decisions made by Lou Gehrig. Growing up, playing high school baseball, soccer, and basketball, this was always my number. When I went off to college to play soccer, I paid off the guy who had the number on the team so I could keep it.
Why? Wearing that number was important to me because when I had it on my back, I thought of these lessons and worked hard to grab the opportunities which came my way.
Lou Gehrig may have had his life shortened by a terrible disease, but that didn’t reduce the impact that he made on the world – even to this day.
Has someone influenced you over the years? What lessons did you learn from them? Let me know in the comments below.
P.S. the article above was written by an anonymous Lou Gehrig and baseball fan.