75th anniversary of Lou’s “luckiest man” speech

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Lou Gehrig at Yankee Stadium July 4, 1939

One of baseball’s most memorable moments had nothing to do with a ball being pitched or hit. It was a speech delivered July 4, 1939 by Lou Gehrig at Yankee Stadium as he bid farewell to the game and his fans.

Having been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Gehrig took himself out of the lineup May 2, 1939, in Detroit, thereby ending a consecutive game streak of 2,130 games that lasted as a record until broken in 1995 by Cal Ripken Jr.

On the Fourth of July that year, the Yankees honored the “Iron Horse” at the Stadium before a sellout crowd of nearly 70,000 people. Along the baselines stood his teammates from the current Yankees and those from years gone by, the famous “Murderers Row” teams of the 1920s, including Babe Ruth.

Gehrig had not prepared a speech. He did not expect to talk but just to wave his cap in appreciation. Yankees manager Joe McCarthy whispered to Gehrig, “Lou, you’ve got to say something,” and out of the first baseman’s mouth came words of emotion and dignity.

Here is what Lou Gehrig said:

“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 17 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.”

That moment will be celebrated this week. At Yankee Stadium Wednesday, the first 18,000 customers will receive a Lou Gehrig bobblehead that depicts him the day he gave that speech.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum will celebrate the Diamond Anniversary of Lou Gehrig Day in Cooperstown, N.Y., with special programming while teaming up with the ALS Association Upstate New York Chapter to honor the Hall of Fame first baseman.

The Museum will offer tributes throughout the day Friday, July 4 as well as provide complimentary admission for those with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and a care-giver, pre-arranged through The ALS Association UNY Chapter.

Gehrig was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939 in a special election by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America before passing away June 2, 1941.

Special programs offered by the Museum Friday, July 4 – all included with Museum admission – will feature:

10 a.m. – The Plaques of the Gallery (Buck O’Neil Award, 1st Floor)
Learn about the history of the Hall of Fame Gallery and the process by which each plaque is made and installed in this 20-minute guided tour.

10 a.m. – 3 p.m. – Operation Gratitude (Learning Center, 1st Floor)
Honor the military personnel and veterans by taking some time out of your visit to write a letter to our soldiers and veterans. All letters will be sent to Operation Gratitude. In honor of the 4th of July we will be handing out American Flags participants in this Museum program.

11 a.m. – Guided Tour: Lou Gehrig (Location, 2nd Floor)
Gehrig’s career will be highlighted in a guided tour throughout the Museum focusing on artifacts that relate to the Iron Horse.

1 p.m. – Artifact Spotlight: Lou Gehrig (Bullpen Theater, 1st Floor)
Get an up-close look at artifacts highlighting Gehrig’s career not currently on exhibit, and learn about the stories behind them.

2 p.m. – A Tribute to Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” Speech
A tribute features a first baseman from each major league team reciting a line from Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” speech.

3 p.m. – Lou Gehrig Trivia (Bullpen Theater, 1st Floor)
Test your knowledge of Gehrig in this interactive game show. Make your way through nine ‘innings’ of questions, and win a free year-long membership to the Museum.

4 p.m. – “The Pride of the Yankees” (Bullpen Theater, 1st Floor)
A special screening of the 1942 film starring Gary Cooper as Gehrig and featuring Babe Ruth as himself. Gehrig died only one year before its release at the age of 37.

For more information about Lou Gehrig, please visit http://www.baseballhall.org/hof/gehrig-lou.

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