If there was ever to be a Mount Rushmore of baseball figures, surely Lou Gehrig would be one of the first faces chiseled in stone. So, it is only fitting that Gehrig will be commemorated by the MLB, and June 2nd will forever be known as “Lou Gehrig Day”. He joins the likes of Jackie Robertson and Roberto Clemente as being one of the only players to be commemorated across the entirety of MLB. Each home team with display “4-ALS” in their ballparks, while managers and players will wear a special “Lou Gehrig Day” patch on their uniforms.
While Gehrig’s play on the field cannot be heralded enough, and his numbers speak for themselves, he is a figure that transcends the sport of baseball. On his 36th birthday, June 19th, 1939, he was diagnosed with the debilitating ALS disease. ALS, also now known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a life-altering diagnosis that carries with it a life expectancy of just two to five years. It is a neurodegenerative disease that affects the nerve cells and the brain and spinal cord. The disease creeps onto those affected and takes away their ability to walk, talk, eat, and eventually, breathe. Currently, there is no cure and roughly 5,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with it each year.
Lou Gehrig, known as the “Iron Horse” for his 2,130 consecutive games played, is the penultimate ballplayer to achieve such a feat, only having Cal Ripken Jr. surpass him with 2,632 games played. Surely Gehrig would have continued to play if not for his diagnosis, but it was Gehrig’s speech on July 4, 1939, that will outlast any feat accomplished on the ball field. His speech, nicknamed the “Luckiest Man” speech, is considered the Gettysburg address of baseball. Lou Gehrig was not one for the spotlight, but his speech before 61,180 fans is a marvel of humility, but also reverence for the game of baseball and all those that accompany it.
Lou Gehrig’s jersey #4 was the first number to be retired in MLB history and he was elected to the Baseball Hall of fame in 1939 and is considered one of the best first basemen of all time.
Surely this day will be of reverence for one of the greatest ballplayers to have ever played the game, but also for all those that have battled and are currently battling the ALS disease. June 2nd will forever help bring awareness to the disease and to help further the research to bring about a much-needed cure.
“Luckiest Man Speech”
“For the past two weeks, you have been reading about a bad break. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.
“When you look around, wouldn’t you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such fine-looking men as they’re standing in uniform in this ballpark today? 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 might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.”