Lou Gehrig and Concussions

Friday September 9, 1938

It is noted in Charlton’s Baseball Chronology that Lou Gehrig played his 2,100 consecutive game on September 9, 1938 against Washington. As was par for the course in Nats-Yankees, games, the Yankees shut out Washington in the game.

That little tidbit reminded me of the recent episode of HBO’s Real Sports in which Gehrig’s career, and its tied to his namesake disease, were discussed. Now, it seems, a link has been discovered between head trauma and ALS (or an ALS-like disease) that would explain the higher than normal rates of ALS among former athletes.

A search of news archives performed by Real Sports turned up at least six instances in Gehrig’s Yankee career in which the Iron Horse was knocked unconscious on the field. In one particularly scary incident, Gehrig was forced to wear teammate Babe Ruth’s cap the next day- several sizes larger- due to the swelling in his head.

The recent research indicates that athletes who “play through the pain” when it comes to head injuries likely make the effects worse. Gehrig, of course, made part of his legend by playing every day.

All of this seems to indicate that head injuries should not be treated the same as other injuries, and that the Twins and Justin Morneau are doing the right thing by delaying his return. There has been a small amount of discontent, most notably in the comments sections of various Twins blogs, with the amount of time it is taking Morneau to get back. It is not too far off base to say those whispers might be a bit louder if the team were not winning. Based on these findings and others, however, it is prudent to err on the side of taking too much time to get back – whether the team suffers or not.

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