On July 4, 1939 before a crowd of 60,000 a unique event occurred in the history of baseball. Lou Gehrig, whose impressive numbers had become the stuff of legends, was being honored. He was given many awards and spoken highly by all those who spoke before the crowd. Gehrig was awed by all the attention he was receiving. The crowd wanted him to speak and he did. What he said went down in baseball history. Regrettably only a small amount as actually recorded but the full speech was reported in the newspapers and later accounts.
“For 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.
“When you look around, wouldn’t you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such a fine looking men as they’re standing in uniform in this ballpark today? 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 might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.”
Lou Gehrig would pass away in June 1941 a young 37 years of age due to complications of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS is incurable neuromuscular disease where progressive muscle weakness results causing paralysis. The brain loses the ability to control muscle movement so the muscle weaken and deteriorate. His wife Eleanor, who never remarried, spent the rest of her life supporting ALS research. Columbia University, where he attended for a while, has The Eleanor and Lou Gehrig ALS Center to continue to research and ways to treat this terrible disease. His number, 4, was retired by the Yankees in 1939.
Below is the official recording and commentary from the Smithsonian Channel. The second is from Ken Burns Baseball documentary but uses the speech from the movie Pride of the Yankees with Gary Cooper playing Lou Gehrig. It is a great movie and worth getting on dvd. This final scene with the farewell speech ranks as one of the top movie lines most remembered of all time.