Who was the first Major League Baseball player to have his uniform number retired?

In short, the first Major League Baseball (MLB) player to have his uniform retired was Henry Louis ‘Lou’ Gehrig. A first baseman by trade, Gehrig signed for the New York Yankees on April 29, 1923 but, after just seven games, he was sent back down to Hartford Senators of the Eastern League for the remainder of the season. In fact, it was not until June 2, 1925, during an uncharacteristic slump in form, that he made his first start for the Yankees, replacing regular first baseman Wally Pipp.

Yankees manager Miller Huggins was evidently impressed and, before the next game, told Gehrig, ‘You’re my first baseman, today and from now on’. So he was, too, playing 2,130 consecutive games for the Yankees, thereby setting an MLB record that stood until September 6, 1995, when it was finally broken by Baltimore Orioles’ shortstop Calvin Ripken Jr..

Known as the ‘Iron Horse’ because of his dependability, endurance and no mean hitting ability, Gehrig recorded 185 runs batted in (RBI) in 1931 and 173 in both 1927 and 1930, to lie second and tied fifth in the all-time single-season list. He was also instrumental in the Yankees winning the World Series six times, in 1927, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1937 and 1938.

Gehrig played his last game for the New York Yankees on April 30, 1939, voluntarily withdrawing from the starting lineup two days later because of ill health. He was subsequently diagnosed with

amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as motor neuron disease (MND), which would claim his life two years later. On July 4, 1939, Gehrig delivered an emotional farewell speech at Yankee Stadium, in which he described himself as the ‘luckiest man on the face of the earth’. His uniform number, No. 4, which reflected his position in the Yankees’ batting order, was officially retired on the same day.

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