Wednesday 4 November 2015

Lou Gehrig's Farewell to Baseball

"He was a symbol of indestructibility -- a Gibraltar in cleats." (Jim Murray)

Sixty thousand fans gathered at Yankee Stadium on a steamy day in July of 1939.  Mayor LaGuardia was there.  So too was Babe Ruth.  The fans, all waiting to hear what the man at the microphone was about to say, chanted:  "We want Lou!  We want Lou!"  He stood at home plate, wiping the tears from his eyes, hesitant.  The coach patted his shoulder and whispered something in his ear.  In a heavy New York accent, the Yankee first baseman started his speech.  "The clangy iron echo of Yankee Stadium picked up the sentence that poured from the loudspeakers and hurled it forth to the world:  'I am the luckiest man on earth...'" (

Thirty six year old Lou Gehrig had just been diagnosed with ALS, a disease that would cut his life short by decades.  Yet, here was baseball's superstar announcing to the world that he was "the luckiest man on earth".   Rather than focussing on his disease, he was counting his blessings:  the 2130 consecutive games he had played in his professional baseball career, the 147 RBI average, 
and the 15 stolen bases.  "He was a symbol of indestructibility -- a Gibraltar in cleats." (

Lou Gehrig was born and raised in New York City.  He used to swim across the Hudson River to New Jersey, although he never strayed far from his roots.  He was a self proclaimed momma's boy.  It was only his future wife, Eleanor, who was able to cut the apron strings.  By all accounts he was a good husband and father.  

Lou Gehrig's fans thought he would play baseball forever.  He was "the emblem of the Yankees", clinching six World Series titles during his career.  Yet, on that day in 1939, he stood before the microphone, and announced to the world that he was retiring from the game.  He explained that "he had so much to live for", intending on fighting the dreaded disease.  However, in 1941, he succumbed to ALS, now called Lou Gehrig's Disease.  

1.  For more information, read Luckiest Man by Jonathan Eig.  
2.  To read "Baseball's Gettysburg Address", visit

1 comment:

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