On July 4th, every Major League baseball home team will conduct ceremonies to honor the 70 year anniversary of the now infamous Lou Gehrig “Luckiest Man on Earth” speech and to bring awareness and financial support to organizations fighting ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
“Seventy years ago, Lou Gehrig delivered an impassioned speech (see below) that has become part of American History,” said Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig. “Major League Baseball is proud to devote the Fourth of July to Lou Gehrig and the disease that bears his name. We are pleased to have this opportunity to help find a cure for ALS and help those who are suffering from the disease.”
In New York, at the Yankees – Blue Jays game, all on-field personnel, including players, coaches, umpires and groundskeepers will wear a “4♦ALS” patch. In addition, to honor Gehrig, who played first base with the Yankees for 17 years, a special “4♦ALS” logo will appear on top of first base in each ballpark.
Also, authenticated first bases from the July 4th games will be auctioned off at a later date on MLB.com to raise funds for ALS. A special “4♦ALS” video was created for Clubs playing at home on July 4th.
It is still hard to believe that Gehrig, with his .340 batting average, stopped playing at age 36. His last season, 1938, he played in 157 games. 1939 he only played in 8 games before realizing that he just couldn’t play any longer. He played his last game on April 30th of that year.
On July 4th of that season, he put on his uniform one last time and stood at home plate in the stadium he loved so much. There, in front of his family, both his actual family and Yankees family, and over 61,000 fans, he made one of the most famous speeches since Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg. Even Babe Ruth, who he had been fighting with for some time, set aside his differences and showed up.
Gehrig died less than two years later, on June 2, 1941.
Major League baseball has been at the forefront of the fight against ALS for many years. Chief among those fighters has always been (now retired) pitcher Curt Schilling and his wife Shonda.
Whether in Philadelphia, Arizona, or Boston, they have always done whatever they could to raise awareness and money to fight this awful, dreadful disease. Schilling has gone as far as writing K ALS on his shoe that he wore in the now famous 2004 “Bloody Sock” game. And, they’ve named their son Gehrig.
Like MLB’s fight annual fight to help bring awareness to breast cancer on Mother’s Day, and prostate cancer on Father’s Day, maybe this will become an annual event as well. Since pink and blue are already taken on the other days, maybe they can go with red on the 4th.
Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” Speech (Abbreviated Version, courtesy of MLB.com)
“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. 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.”