It was July 4th, 1939. Lou Gehrig was a dying man. Earlier that year, he’d ended his 2,130 consecutive game streak, taking himself out before a game in Detroit for the good of the team (he was hitting .143 with an RBI). A visit to the Mayo Clinic in June confirmed the worst: he had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, the disease that now carries his name. Although his mind would remain intact, his body would slowly betray him. Although his wife had told the doctors to try and withhold some of the more horrible details of the diagnosis from him, there is evidence to suggest that Lou knew, somehow, that he was on his way out. He announced his retirement from the game he loved.
So it was on Independence Day that the Yankees held a day in his honor. They retired his number 4- the first in baseball to be so honored. Some of his most famous teammates, including Babe Ruth, joined delegates from across the country in Yankee Stadium.
Everybody knows how the speech began, and many know how it ends, as can be seen below:
However, that was because, as amazing as it sounds, no media outlets had recorded the whole thing. That is partly why Gary Cooper‘s speech in Pride of the Yankees is occasionally played instead, although it moved the beginning of the speech to the end for artistic reasons and was more of a paraphrase of the actual words Gehrig gave on that day.
Since Gehrig’s death in 1941, he has remained an inspiration and a rallying-cry in the fight against ALS and similar diseases. What had been before Gehrig a little understood disease is now studied across the world.
Progress has been made. A few years back, a report came out that suggested that people who have a history of concussions may be more likely to develop an ALS-style disease (Gehrig, it should be noted, took plenty of beanballs during his career, and also had played football at Columbia), and there is also some evidence that genetics and mutations may also play a role. Despite this, however, there remains no cure.
BONUS: The Starter First Basemen of Major League Baseball, as well as Derek Jeter, recite the “Luckiest Man” speech in tribute to Gehrig: