Friday, July 4, 2014

The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth

"Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for 17 years, and I 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?"

Lou Gehrig
July 4, 1939

Seventy–five years ago today, Lou Gehrig delivered what may be the most famous farewell address in history.

For sure, it's the most famous farewell address in sports history.

Diagnosed less than a month earlier with the incurable disease that took his life and now informally bears his name, Gehrig was the subject of a July 4 tribute at Yankee Stadium. New York played a doubleheader with the Washington Senators that day, losing the first game and winning the second.

Between games, Gehrig was honored with "perhaps as colorful and dramatic a pageant as ever was enacted on a baseball field," reported the New York Times. He was reunited with the legendary '27 Yankees, also known as "Murderer's Row," including Babe Ruth.

It was an emotional occasion for everyone.

Yankees manager Joe McCarthy said Gehrig was "the finest example of a ballplayer, sportsman and citizen that baseball has ever known." Openly emotional, McCarthy turned to Gehrig and said, "Lou, what else can I say except that it was a sad day in the life of everybody who knew you when you came into my hotel room that day in Detroit and told me you were quitting as a ballplayer because you felt yourself a hindrance to the team. My God, man, you were never that."

And, in return, Gehrig gave baseball a moment to savor. Appropriately, the Yankees' publicist recently told USA Today it is "baseball's Gettysburg Address."

"I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth," he said, and he meant it. He knew he had been given a "bad break," but he practically bubbled over with gratitude for his career and the people in his life.

"I've got an awful lot to live for," he said. And he meant that, too.

It's hard not to admire a guy like that.

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