The Iron Horse claims the American League Triple Crown, Sporting News' MVP Award!1934 Lou Gehrig Signed New York Yankees Player's Contract, PSA/DNA Mint 9. It was one of the greatest seasons ever delivered to fans of Major League Baseball, but did it also reveal a lurking, tragic truth? The 1934 New York Yankees season, the last to enjoy the legendary slugging tandem of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, was the tenth of the Hall of Fame first baseman's historic consecutive games streak, and the season in which that chain came closest to breaking before its ultimate conclusion in 1939. In a June exhibition game, Gehrig was struck by a pitch above the right eye and knocked unconscious, with newspapers of the day reporting that a terrifying five minutes passed before the durable legend was roused back to his senses.
Weeks later, Gehrig was stricken by a debilitating attack of lumbago and had to be assisted off the field. The next day he was penciled into the line-up as shortstop, singling as the lead-off batter before being lifted for a pinch runner. Doctors have since speculated that this muscle spasm may have signaled an early symptom of the illness that would claim his career in 1939, and his life two years after. As the National Football League has its feet held to the fire regarding dangerous failures in concussion protocol, many in the medical community have suggested that the Iron Horse may have been an early victim of the "shake it off" masculinity that characterized the American sports work ethic for most of its history.
But until recent years, the Lou Gehrig's 1934 season was remembered only for its incomparable brilliance, the first Triple Crown in New York Yankees franchise history, and one of only two (with Mickey Mantle's 1956) to date. Gehrig's forty-nine (49) home runs in 1934 marked the only season he got the better of his rotund teammate during their shared pinstriped tenure, his 166 runs batted in the greatest production of any Triple Crown season in history. Gehrig's league-leading batting average in 1934: a scorching .363.
A red-hot Detroit Tigers team barred entry to Fall Classic competition for the Yankees this year despite finishing thirty-four games over .500, and Gehrig was shockingly snubbed by the Baseball Writers Association of America for MVP consideration, a miscarriage of justice righted by The Sporting News, who supplied their own award to Gehrig. That trophy likewise appears within this Platinum Night event.
Presented here is the contract that secured the iconic first baseman's services for that season for the ages. The format is the standard boilerplate that characterizes all Major League contracts of the era, identifying the player, the season, and a salary of $23,000 on the cover page, remarkably less than a third of the figure assigned to a fading Bambino. The humble Gehrig consents to the terms at the bottom of page two in his rare and desirable, "Henry Louis Gehrig" format, while Hall of Fame executive signs as a witness and ghost signs for owner and fellow Cooperstown denizen Jacob Ruppert, likely due to the Colonel's absence from the spring training grounds where Gehrig was stationed at the time of the March 10, 1933 execution. Gehrig's autograph is assessed at a Mint 9 level by the experts at PSA/DNA.
For the uninitiated, we report that Major League contracts of this era were executed in triplicate, with one delivered to the League, the team and the player respectively. The absence of Harridge's authorizing signature and date stamping on this version strongly suggests that it is Gehrig's personal model. Gehrig signed on to wear the pinstripes for two seasons before the start of the 1933 campaign--a fact reported in Jonathan Eig's critically acclaimed biography, "Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig"--and it would appear that standard practice dictated separate paperwork for each year.
Unquestionably, this personal 1934 contract is the most important of the covenants to derive from that two-season deal, for reasons that extend beyond the bold ink of Gehrig's stat line. With new bride Eleanor's firm guidance, Gehrig would begin to capitalize on his talent and movie star looks that year, becoming the first athlete pictured on a Wheaties box, and headlining the 1934 Goudey trading card issue with fellow future Hall of Famer Chuck Klein. After the conclusion of the season, he'd sail for Japan with Ruth, Foxx and a cast of American All-Stars to plant baseball seeds in the fertile Land of the Rising Sun. From top to bottom, few Major League seasons have been quite so eventful and influential, few baseball documents as significant and desirable. Full Grading LOA from PSA/DNA, Mint 9.
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