76 years ago this week, Lou Gehrig stepped up to a microphone in Yankee stadium and delivered one of the most memorable speeches in American history. He was 36 years old, and he was dying. Yet to a crowd of over 61,000 people, Gehrig called himself "the luckiest man on the face of the Earth."
Gehrig was an American baseball first baseman who played 17 seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB) for the New York Yankees, from 1923 through 1939. He spoke between games of a New York Yankees doubleheader with the Washington Senators on July 4, 1939. The moment came two weeks after he retired, having been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Gehrig lived less than two years after his speech.
Before that, he was an All-Star seven consecutive times, an American League Most Valuable Player twice, and a member of six World Series champion teams. He had a career .340 batting average, hit 493 home runs and had 1,995 runs batted in (RBI). In 1939, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame and was the first MLB player to have his uniform number (4) retired by a team. He was known for his prowess as a hitter--and as one of the nicest men to ever to play the game
After he died, Gary Cooper starred in "Pride of the Yankees," a tear-jerker that ended with a slightly revised version of Gehrig's speech.
On a day we celebrate our blessings and independence as a nation, let Gehrig's speech serve as a reminder of gratitude. During times of adversity, we too, can change our disposition to be "the luckiest man on the face of the Earth".
"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."