A Brief History
On June 3, 1932, New York Yankee greats Lou (Henry Louis) Gehrig and Tony Lazzeri made history with their batting prowess. Gehrig became the first major league baseball player in the modern era (after 1900) to hit 4 home runs in one game, while Lazzeri became the first and only major leaguer to hit for the “natural cycle” and finish it off with a grand slam.
Gehrig, born in 1903 (and weighing almost 14 pounds!) was no stranger to records. Known as the Iron Horse, he played in 2130 consecutive games, a record that stood for 56 years until Cal Ripken broke it in 1995. The record of 4 homers in a single game still stands, tied by 16 players.
Although Gehrig was a terrific home run hitter, he was overshadowed by teammate Babe Ruth. During the years they played together Gehrig did hit for a higher average than Ruth, and he hit more career grand slams (23), a record (since broken). Gehrig’s real value was as an RBI man, hitting 1995 in 16 years, with a record 13 seasons in a row of 100 or more RBI’s (broken by Alex Rodriguez in 2010). In a 3 year period from 1930-1932 Gehrig hit 509 RBI’s, the most in major league history. Gehrig finished his career with a .447 on base percentage, a .340 batting average and a slugging percentage of .632. An All-Star 7 times, MVP twice, and winner of batting’s triple crown in 1934, Gehrig did it with style and grace. He was on 6 World Series championship teams.
Cut down in his prime by ALS (also called Lou Gehrig’s Disease), Gehrig retired at age 36 and died at age 37. In his farewell address at Yankee Stadium he called himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” He is so admired that his number (4) became the first ever retired by a major league team. An award for the ball player with the best integrity and character is named in his honor.
On the same day and in the same game as Lou Gehrig’s homer bombardment, second baseman Tony Lazzeri pulled off an even rarer feat. He hit a single, double, triple and home run in consecutive at bats (called a “natural cycle”) with the homer being a grand slam. No other player has ever finished a “natural cycle” with a grand slam. To illustrate how rare a “natural cycle” is (done 14 times), more perfect games (21) have been pitched than batters hitting for a “natural cycle.”
Not to be totally outdone by Gehrig’s records, Lazzeri had a few of his own. He hit 15 RBI’s in 2 consecutive games, a record that still stands, and still holds the American League record of 11 RBI’s in one game. He also hit a record 6 homers in 3 consecutive games, and 7 homers in 4 consecutive games (both since beaten), and he was the first player to hit 2 grand slams in one game.
In a cracked turn of events, Lazzeri also died quite young, dying of a fall at age 42. The fall may have been caused by a heart attack or a seizure.
What a rare and wonderful thing for 2 such spectacular records to be set in one day, and there back in 1932 they happened in one single game.
Both players are in the Hall of Fame, and are a big part of why the Yankees were so great while they played.
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For more information, please see…
Eig, Jonathan. Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig. Simon & Schuster, 2006.
Votano, Paul. Tony Lazzeri: A Baseball Biography. McFarland & Company, 2005.