He was one of baseball’s all-time greats. Lou Gehrig, known as the “Iron Horse,” set the record for most consecutive games played. He still owns the record for most career grand slams. But it was what he did on this day in history – July 4, 1939 – that made him more than a great baseball player. It made him a great man.
Upon learning that he had ALS, a disease he knew would soon take his life, the Yankees’ first baseman stepped up to the microphone on Independence Day at Yankee Stadium, before a big game. And 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 [pointing to his teammates]. 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 tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.”
Lou Gehrig was dying – while in the prime of life. Still, he considered himself “the luckiest man on the face of this earth.” Still he considered life a “blessing.” Still, he said, “I have an awful lot to live for.”
This is a national holiday, as it should be. But it is also a good time to remember baseball immortality at its finest. Remember Lou Gehrig. Remember the speech. Remember those timeless words – from 77 years ago today.