July 4, 1939

Seventy years ago today  there was a brief but heartfelt speech made in Yankee Stadium. It was made by a guy who generally avoided the limelight and played in the shadow of perhaps baseball’s most famous player ever. Lou Gehrig, the Iron Horse, who played 2,130 consecutive games, a record that would last for almost 60 years, was done  as a baseball player.

Gehrig was only 35 years old at the time  and would be dead in less than  2 years

Lou Gehrig's Farewell

Lou Gehrig's Farewell

of the disease that now bears  his name . Its proper name is amyotropic lateral sclerosis, a disease of the central nervous system. It  also claimed another well known Yankees player, known in this area as Jimmy Hunter, who died at age 53. ( My son was privileged to meet him when he was much younger and Mr Hunter was quite gracious. Other relatives knew him and his family quite well.)

Gehrig made a famous , albeit, short speech on that day. It is often known as the “luckiest man ” speech since that was how he referred to himself. He didn’t claim to be a victim or show anger or remorse, but was rather stoic. Watching the video, one is struck both  by his youthfulness and his discomfort at having to speak in such a public setting. His official website has the complete text  of the speech and youtube has some good video selections.

I  read a good  bio of Gehrig by author Jonathan Eig  and have read a number of articles about him as well. I remember reading one as a kid  that described him as  an invaluable player. I was unfamiliar with the word in that context and couldn’t understand how he could be described that way. Now, I understand that he was invaluable and one of the greatest Yankees and greatest players ever. His #4 was retired shortly after the famous speech, the first time in professional sports a player was  so honored.

He always  played in the shadow of Babe Ruth, but in his last months until his death on June 2, 1941 he became a legend  that we can still remember. ( He and the Babe reconciled  at the time  of his farewell speech, having been estranged for 5 years.)

As the Yankees PA announcer said on May 2, 1939, ” Ladies and gentlemen, Lou Gehrig’s consecutive streak of 2,130 games played has ended.”


July 4, 2009 - Posted by | Sports | , , , , , ,

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