Seventy-five years ago today -- July 4, 1939 -- New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig made his "luckiest man on the face of the earth" remarks in emotionally charged fashion. The Iron Horse, as he was called, died less than two years later at age 37 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), now known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.
To say Gehrig was a great baseball player is an understatement. He finished his career with a batting average of .340 and 493 home runs. He was an All-Star seven times, and helped the Yankees win six World Series titles. He was the first Major League Baseball player to have his uniform number retired. Over a period of 14 years, he played in 2,130 consecutive games, a record which stood until 1995, when Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr., broke it.
But Gehrig was also a model of humility, perseverance, and graciousness--qualities we can all aspire toward. I've never been a Yankee fan (and never will be!), but Lou Gehrig's story is one of the reasons I love the game of baseball, and why I think it is a unique showcase of--among other things--endurance, community, and redemption--especially in the face of heart-breaking loss.
Above is a short clip looking back at that day in 1939. Below is the entire text of his speech:
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 this 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 tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.