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Friday, August 12, 2022

A Baseball Legend’s July 4 Message Over 80 Years Ago Inspires Us Still Today

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In perhaps the most famous speech in sports history, the New York Yankee great, Lou Gehrig, said farwell to his fans and supporters on July 4, 1939. His legend lives on today, and 83 years later, we still admire and take inspiration from the brave remarks of a man who faced imminent mortality from ALS disease that eventually was nicknamed, “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”

The Fourth of July holiday means fireworks, picnics, time spent with family and friends, time off from work, good food, sports, etc., to most of us. But as we celebrate the start of our great nation every July 4th, the words of Lou Gehrig’s famous “Luckiest Man on the Face of this Earth” speech still resonate today.

In the background of Gehrig’s speech was the irony that Gehrig himself had become known as the “iron man” of baseball. Gehrig started a record 2,130 consecutive games before the onset of ALS took him out of the starting lineup. Not much was known about ALS at that time. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS, symptoms include difficulty walking, tripping, falling, weakness of the legs, feet, hands, etc. ALS affects muscles needed to move, eat, and breath, and a cure is not known. Its causes are relatively unknown, but, according to what sources you read, it is believed by some to be inherited. The symptoms of ALS are in stark contrast to the strength and endurance that Lou Gehrig demonstrated as a professional baseball player for the Yankees, and a trait that named him as Captain by his teammates and members of the Yankees organization.

The New York Yankees honored Gehrig in a special on-field ceremony on July 4, 1939. Members of the Yankees team, including the great Babe Ruth, were there to honor Gehrig in front of a capacity crowd. Gehrig, could have used the occasion to gain sympathy for the “bad break” life had dealt him. Instead, Gehrig chose to thank and recognize everyone who had given him the opportunity to play baseball, and, in doing so, emphasized how lucky he had been.

Yankees captains Lou Gehrig (L) and Babe Ruth (R) on July 4, 1939 (Image Credit: Sabr.org)

As a writer and a sports fan, I can’t help but to reflect on the courage of Gehrig at this moment in his life, and at the same time, compare what this circumstance would look like today. In the “me” world that we seem to find ourselves today, I wonder if a similar situation would have been handled the same way. Would the player today put himself second and thank others around him or her that enabled the player to have a stellar career? in short, would the player of today be grateful for the opportunities he or she had, or, would it be a sad attempt at gaining more attention? Gehrig’s generation of players built the great games we enjoy today, and even in the most dire, life-threatening cases, Gehrig thought of the game and the support he had received from others. That, my friends, is raw courage.

So, as we look toward the July 4th holiday that will be upon us in a few days, I thought it would be appropriate to publish Gehrig’s speech as a tribute to the player himself and to the courage he displayed. Our country was built by many men and women who displayed courage on many fronts, and in the sports world, Gehrig’s speech may be at the top of the list. And, perhaps the most amazing part of this iconic speech is that it was all spoken by Gehrig without notes; he spoke extemporaneously and from the heart.

So, readers, think of an emotional day at Yankee Stadium, and the teams are lined up on the baselines. The great Babe Ruth and others are there, standing behind Gehrig, who is standing behind several microphones. And in front of Gehrig is an adoring and emotional crowd that is hanging on his every word.

As Gehrig speaks into the Yankees Stadium microphones, the sound echoes throughout the massive stadium as the crowd grows silent to hear these immortal words:

“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 seventeen 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.”

-Lou Gehrig

From all of us at RNN Sports and the entire Resident News Network staff, we wish you and your families a very happy and safe Independence Day holiday.

Source: Lou Gehrig’s speech was published by the website, SI.com

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Jim Best
Jim Best is a man of many talents. His storied career in Arkansas education led him to a new passion, and hidden gifts in sports journalism.
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