Commentary

Yanks to commemorate Gehrig's birthday

Updated: June 19, 2003, 1:30 PM ET
By Jim Baker
Today marks the 100th birthday of baseball legend Lou Gehrig and the Yankees will commemorate the event with a ceremony prior to their game against the Devil Rays. Arguably the best first baseman of all time, Gehrig was the first New York City native to become a superstar, writes Kevin Kernan of the New York Post. During Gehrig's time with the Yankees, they posted a 10-3-1 record on his birthday, not losing a June 19 game from the start of his career until 1933.

Meanwhile, at Gehrig's college, Columbia, the baseball field is being renamed in his honor. This brings up an interesting point: will someone else come along to displace Gehrig's name from this honor? When you get something named after you, don't you have a right to expect it to stay that way? Apparently not. The field was named in honor of long-time Columbia baseball coach, Andy Coakley. He held that post for 36 years and was Gehrig's coach when the Iron Horse played his ball there. Coakley was also a big-league pitcher, breaking in with the Philadelphia A's at the age of 19. He was on the losing end of one Christy Mathewson's three shutouts in the 1905 World Series and had a nine-year pitching career that including stops with those A's, the Cubs and Reds as well as a brief stint with the New York Highlanders. While Coakley is certainly not in Gehrig's league as a ballplayer and it would be hard to find more than 500 people who remember his tenure as baseball coach at Columbia, isn't there something spooky about taking his name off the field?

There is something very Soviet Union about taking away an honorary naming rite. Baseball does it all the time nowadays with its corporate sponsorships overriding stadium names that used to honor real people (think Jack Murphy in San Diego) rather than company names. Reader Murray Markowitz comments that Columbia University is no stranger to this practice of eradicating old names, either. He relates how Columbia changed the name of a building to Wien Hall. To enact this change "&the guy whose name was scrubbed off the building was Samuel Johnson, the first president of Columbia College. There was this elaborate inlaid floor panel with brass letters reciting the history of Dr. Johnson and the building. On the day of the name change, they put a heavy red rug over the panel, conveniently sweeping 240 years of history under the rug. History is for losers, I guess. Columbia's certainly familiar with losing."
Jim Baker is an author at Baseball Prospectus and a frequent contributor to Page 2. You can e-mail Jim at bottlebat@gmail.com.

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