Friday, July 4, 2014

75 Years Ago Today

Today is the 4th of July, a time for fireworks and celebrations.  (For me it will be 14 hours of questions about the time and place of the fireworks, but that's another story.) If you want to read what I had to say about the first American 4th of July (which was really July 2, 1776) check out my article yesterday at Lefty Pop.

Today I would like to remember another 4th of July.

 75 years ago today the greatest first baseman of all time, stood at home plate of Yankee Stadium and said goodbye to his sport and his fans.  Only a few weeks earlier, Gehrig had learned he had ALS.  The disease was little understood by the public, many thought it was a kind of polio (It is actually a form of Muscular Dystrophy). He knew, even if the fans did not, that the disease would be relentlessly progressive.

The team had chosen the 4th of July (for a baseball team the biggest series of their season) to honor their team captain.  The great Yankees who had been his teammates, including Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio stood along the baselines, but the crowd had eyes only for Gehrig. He was given a trophy by the team, and speeches were made, and then it was Gehrig's turn.
credit: NY Daily News

This is what he said:

Fans, for the past two weeks, you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth. I have been in ballparks for 17 years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.
"Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I'm lucky. Who wouldn't consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I'm lucky.
"When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift -- that's something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies -- that's something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter -- that's something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body -- it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed -- that's the finest I know.
"So I close in saying . . . that I may have had a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for. Thank you."

To this day, Lou Gehrig's farewell is considered one of the greatest and most gracious moments in sports. It was recreated as the finale of one of the finest sports films ever made: Pride of the Yankees, starring Gary Cooper, Theresa Wright and Babe Ruth as well as a number of other ballplayers.  (Babe Ruth was far better at playing Babe Ruth than any of the actors who ever tried to portray him.) If, by the way, you remember the part about "The luckiest man on the face of the earth" coming last in the speech, you've been watching Gary Cooper. The writers re-arranged the speech a little for dramatic effect. 

Today, Lou Gehrig will be remembered in every Major League ballpark hosting a game. A video will be played featuring modern major leaguers reciting the speech.

It is important to note that ALS, often referred to now as Lou Gehrig's disease, continues to kill and cripple. (Probably the best known ALS patient today is Stephen Hawking.) Many communities host ALS walks. A friend of mine lost her brother to this disease earlier this year. She will be participating in an ALS walk this fall. Although progress has been made improving the quality of life for ALS patients, a cure is  a long way off. So if you can donate, or participate in a fundraiser do so. If you want more info about ALS visit the ALSA  website here.


  1. I got goose bumps reading this. Lou Gehrig has been a household name for me since as far back as I can remember. We lost two family members to ALS. Thank you ofr sharing this to inform everyone. XO

    1. Thank you for the kind words. This is one I had to write.