The New York Yankees and all of baseball celebrates Lou Gehrig Day today, June 2nd. A large group of people affected by ALS banded together to convince teams and the leagues to honor Gehrig as they do with Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente. As a result, the day not only celebrates one of the greatest baseball players ever to have played the game, but it brings attention to Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Those fans who do not know who Lou Gehrig is, he was one of the greatest New York Yankee players ever to play the game. Unfortunately, his life was cut short by ALS, later to be named Lou Gehrig Disease. ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is a fatal disease; there is no cure. ALS often begins with muscle twitching and weakness in a limb or slurred speech. Eventually, ALS affects control of the muscles needed to move, speak, eat and breathe.
On July 4, 1939, between games of a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium, nearly 42,000 baseball fans sat quietly in the stands waiting for their teamâ€™s first baseman to address the crowd. It was Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day. It should have been a joyous celebration, but it wasnâ€™t. A few weeks earlier, Yankees fans learned that Gehrig was suffering from an incurable disease that would prevent them from seeing him continuing to play.
On that day, Gehrig made one of the saddest and memorable speeches ever made in New York Yankee history. After not seeing Gehrig for several weeks, fans were shocked to see the once very handsome man, gaunt and thin, obviously zapped of his strength. All the dignitaries were there, including the Major of New York. He was showered with gifts from fellow players, the Yankees, and the opposing Washington Senators. Gehrig, a shadow of his former self, was holding back tears, and it looked as if he might not be able to speak on that hot, humid summer day. But somehow, he garnered the strength to stand behind the microphone.
Just like he had done in each of the 2,130 consecutive games he played in his career, the Iron Horse gathered his strength and forged ahead.
â€œFor the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.
â€œWhen you look around, wouldnâ€™t you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such a fine looking men as theyâ€™re standing in uniform in this ballpark today? Sure, Iâ€™m lucky. Who wouldnâ€™t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseballâ€™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, Iâ€™m lucky.
â€œWhen the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift â€“ thatâ€™s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies â€“ thatâ€™s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter â€“ thatâ€™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 â€“ itâ€™s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed â€“ thatâ€™s the finest I know.
â€œSo I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but Iâ€™ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.â€
In his seventeen years, Lou Gehrig, all with the New York Yankees, became a legend for being one of the best and more durable players that the team had ever seen. He played from 1925 to 1938, taking part in no less than 150 games a season. But in 1939, as the disease started to ravage the once-great man, he played in only eight games, with a career batting average of an unbelievable .340. Then, early in the 1939 season, while he could still play, he batted only .143 until he could no longer play.
In his career, he was an MVP nominee 10 times, winning the award twice. 1933 marked the first time baseball had an All-Star game. After that, Gehrig was an All-Star every year until his career ended. After Gehrigâ€™s emotional speech, he managed to live almost two years. But on June 2, 1941, the great Lou Gehrig lost his battle with ALS.
Gehrig was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. On Dec. 7, 1939, the BBWAA (baseball writers) voted unanimously to suspend the waiting period and immediately placed Gehrig in the Baseball Hall of Fame. On June 2nd, the Yankees will be at home at Yankee Stadium playing against the Tampa Bay Rays. They also will celebrate the life of Lou Gehrig, the player, the man, the legend, and yes, the American hero.