Friday, July 03, 2009

Lou Gehrig - Still a Hero

Tomorrow, baseball will honor the 70th anniversary of one of its watershed moments. The argument can be made that this is the single most significant non-game event. For it was on July 4, 1939, between games of a Yankees/Senators doubleheader at Yankee Stadium that Lou Gehrig made his famous speech.

For my money, there is no better unrehearsed, completely off the cuff speech. This came from the heart and is still emotional to hear.

There's just one problem. No full audio or video exists. Go ahead, search for it. I'll wait.


There is footage of his first few words, his last couple of lines, but not the entire text. Of course, we have the oft-repeated line,
"Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth."
As for the rest of the text, go ahead and search. Check several sites and you'll see that we don't even agree on that! For instance, at, they start like this:
"Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got."
WRONG! Watch what little video exists. The speech begins,
"For the past two weeks you've been reading about the bad break."
For the love of the Iron Horse, can we at least get it right on "his" own site?!

This is video from Ken Burns' Baseball. While the series has many errors, it seems to do well with this.

I implore you - sports fan or not - to take a moment and read about Lou Gehrig. I especially recommend that you check this out from ESPN, which has collected letters from Gehrig, his wife Eleanor, and his doctor, written over the final two years of Lou's life. They are heartbreaking in that a devoted wife will do anything to keep her husband's spirit up. The doctor agrees with the plan.

Gehrig would hold on for two years, dying on June 2, 1941, just 17 days shy of his 38th birthday.

The letters are sad, inspiring, and at times humorous, but most of all, very emotional.

Let's be clear. Henry Louis Gehrig was our sports' greatest first baseman - of that I think we can agree. He left the game with 493 home runs at the age of 35 in 1939 - second only to Babe Ruth. When talk of "greatest players" come up, his name should always be part of the conversation.

But with the way he faced the end of his career, and the end of his life, Gehrig became an even bigger icon. Kids should know about him (and mine does - perhaps more than Ruth, DiMaggio, or Mantle). Everyday people should recognize this brave, decent human being and know his story. It seemed to be a great life but it doesn't have a pleasant ending. It does however, say a lot about how to live a life and face adversity.

I met a new friend over the past week who is not a baseball fan. I hope by reading this, maybe an interest in learning more about the game will come.

Watch and read the ESPN piece. I think you - even the Yankee haters - will be moved.

For more on "Lou Gehrig's Disease", please visit the ALS Association.

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