An Iron Man may come in various forms. They may be in the form of a boxer like Iron Man Mike Tyson. Or they may come in the guise of a superhero in a gadget-filled suit. Another kind of an Iron Man is that of the baseball player. And that is why I Is for Iron Man.
In the grand game of baseball, there have been few ballplayers worthy of the nickname. And this moniker was not acquired easily. It was earned over many years of hard-fought baseball. These players had to be tough, play through injuries, and rarely bow out of a contest due to exhaustion or afflictions. Only after such trials could they answer with pride to the name Iron Man.
In 1900 Joe McGinnity was a star pitcher for the Brooklyn Superbas of the National League. He came to be called Iron Man because of his durability and stamina. McGinnity was known to pitch back-to-back complete games on numerous occasions for the Superbas. He would go on to spend the majority of his career with the New York Giants, where he continued to pitch in back-to-back games with great success. Although it later came to light from McGinnity’s own mouth that there was another reason he was called Iron Man. He had been asked by a reporter what he did in the off-season for work (yes ballplayers used to have to work in the off-season). And McGinnity replied, “I work in a foundry, I’m an iron man.”
While it is unclear if McGinnity earned his moniker through his hard work on the baseball diamond, in the foundry, or both, there is no doubt about our next Iron Man. Lou Gehrig was a rookie for the New York Yankees in 1925. He played second fiddle to Yankees starting first baseman, Wally Pipp. And then on June 2, 1925, Pipp had a headache and asked to be taken out of the lineup. Yankees manager Miller Huggins gave Gehrig the nod and the rookie first baseman took the field and didn’t leave it for nearly 14 years. That’s right, Gehrig played 2,130 consecutive games until he benched himself on May 2, 1939. Sadly, he passed from ALS two years later, exactly 16 years to the day–June 2, 1941–that he took over for Pipp. If ever there was an Iron Man in baseball, it was Gehrig.
Cal Ripken Jr.
Gehrig’s 2,130 consecutive games record remained un-eclipsed for over 56 years until September 6, 1995. On that day, Cal Ripken Jr. surpassed Gehrig, reaching 2,131 successive games played. Ripken would go on to play without taking a day off for another three years. Finally, on September 20, 1998, with an astounding 2,632 consecutive games played, Ripken took himself out of the lineup. Thus ending the longest consecutive games played streak in baseball history. And while records are meant to be broken, it is safe to say that this one will last for quite some time.
The current active consecutive games played MLB leader is Matt Olson of the Atlanta Braves with 246. A far cry from the aforementioned ballplayers. And that is why Iron Man is a nickname that is not bestowed lightly. It must be earned over years and years of hard, backbreaking work. All three Iron Men were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.