It is referred to as Baseball’s “Gettyburg Address”. The farewell speech Lou Gehrig made on July 4th, 1939 in front of 60,000 fans will be remembered as long as they play the game. In honor of its 70th anniversary, Baseball is having players read the speech in its entirety during the 7th inning stretch at all scheduled games from coast to coast. The Yankees, of course, will do the same at today’s game. Commemorative caps and jerseys will be used by all players across Baseball and sold with all proceeds going to ALS-related charities.
ESPN has published some of the letters Lou wrote to his Doctor at the Mayo Clinic, courtesy of the Rip Van Winkle Foundation and collector James Ancel. But in typical ESPN fashion, they attempted to sensationalize them somewhat by claiming that Lou didn’t fully understand the extent of his illness when he gave his famous speech. I, and most people who understand the type of man Lou Gehrig was, would disagree. He was a selfless (and somewhat shy) man who always preferred to focus attention on others. Even at the moment of his speech, just 2 weeks after receiving his diagnosis and as he was saying goodbye forever to the game of Baseball he loved, he spoke mostly about his teammates, the fans, his manager(s), GM Ed Barrow, Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert, anyone but himself. He never viewed himself as a big star, but rather as one small part of a great team. So when he wrote letters to his wife that were less than honest, most historians believe he was thinking of her, and trying to spare her the ugly truth. His reporting of minor improvements or shreds of hope to his Doctor are typical of any patient with a major illness, and not an indication he was unaware of the severity of his condition. Medical professionals try to offer patients some hope while also being honest with them, all indications are Dr Horton did exactly that.
Here is the famous speech in its entirety. Make sure to catch the 7th inning stretch today, as I’m sure it will be memorable. Have a happy and safe 4th of July.
“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.”
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