On May 2, 1939, the New York Yankees faced the Detroit Tigers. For the first time in 2130 games, there was a new name at first base.
Over the years, Lou Gehrig had been a familiar sight at first base for the New York Yankees. He had played in 2130 consecutive games, shattering the previous record set by Everett Scott in the process. The iconic Yankee legend was seemingly indestructible, an Iron Horse at first.
But something was wrong. Gehrig had what was considered a “down year” based on his standards in 1938, producing ‘only’ a .295/.410/.523 batting line, hitting 32 doubles and 29 homers while driving in 114 runs. As manager Joe McCarthy said, if that was a down year, he would take more players to be so off of their game.
In 1939, there was no denying the fact that Gehrig was not right. His bat was slow, and after eight games, he had just four hits, albeit with five walks, in 33 plate appearances. On May 2, he asked out of the lineup, knowing that he was hurting the Yankees. Babe Dahlgren replaced Gehrig at first, with the Iron Horse never to play another game.
Dahlgren was not a stranger to Yankees fans, having appeared in a combined 28 games in the two seasons prior. However, there was a lot of pressure in being the player to replace the legendary Gehrig. For his part, Dahlgren made an incredible first impression in 1939, going 2-5 with a double and a homer, driving in two runs and drawing a walk in the Yankees 22-2 victory.
He only spent one more year with the Yankees, being sold to the Boston Braves on February 25, 1941. There were unfounded rumors that he smoked pot, which hounded him throughout his career. Those rumors may explain why Dahlgren was never a part of any team for long, playing for eight franchises in his 12 years in the majors. In fact, his 327 games with the Yankees were the most he had with any team in his career.
Despite the frequent travels, Dahlgren had a solid career. An All Star in 1943, he posted a career .261/.329/.383 batting line, hitting 174 doubles and 82 homers. He was a decent first baseman with above average range, and also spent time at third and short during his time in the majors.
Yet, those accomplishments are generally forgotten, even if Babe Dahlgren is not. He will forever be remembered as the man who replaced New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig at first, ending the streak.