“Yet today, I considered myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
You take these words out of the context they were said and ask someone what situation might provoke the uttering of these words and the responses would surely vary. Someone could say a persons wedding day, the birth of their child, getting their college diploma or maybe landing that dream job.
What if I told you that these words were spoken by a man who is coming to terms with losing something that he loved almost as much as his family? That the long happy life that he believed he had ahead of him with his wife could end soon? That he is going to have face a disease that there is no cure for? You would probably think that I have gotten the story mixed up.
These are the word uttered by Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig on July 4, 1939 when he publicly said farewell to the game and he fans whom he loved so dearly. That day is considered one of he bookmarks in American sports history and the speech Gehrig gave, only 169 words long, is called baseball’s Gettysburg Address. In a short and heart-felt 169 words, Gehrig was able to summon up what made him the humble and honorable man he was.
As Gehrig stepped to the microphone that day he could have been bitter and sad and no one could have blamed him. Diagnosed with ALS or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which will later be called Lou Gehrig’s Disease, which has caused him to slowly watch his skills diminish for the game he loved and the ability to live a normal life after baseball with his wife, Eleanor. He could have mentioned how he was under-appreciated by Yankee fans during his days of playing with the iconic Babe Ruth. There is a lot of things Gehrig could have said, which makes his speech that much more timeless.
Gehrig talks of those whom he felt honored to associate with throughout his career. Of he sacrifices of his mother and father to help obtain and education and “build his body”. Of the love and courage of his wife that he dreamed never existed. He told the packed house at old Yankee Stadium, “So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I have an awful lot to live for.”
Lou Gehrig died on June 2, 1941 at the age of 37. Despite his passing his career in baseball and the man he was, of which he showed a little glimpse of in his farewell speech, is still remembered to this day. Gehrig is considered one of he greatest Yankees of all-time and quite possibly the best first baseman ever to play. His record of consecutive games started of 2,130 games stood all the way to 1995.
The Iron Horse will be forever remembered for what he did on the baseball diamond but his legacy was forged on a hot July day, with only 169 words from the luckiest man on the face of the earth.
Lou Gehrig was a sports icon…..but that day he became an American hero.