July 4, 1939: Lou Gehrig said goodbye

Besides Independence Day, we celebrate another anniversary on July 4 -- that of Lou Gehrig's farewell speech.  

It happened on July 4, 1939, when Gehrig was honored by the Yankees.   

Starting in 1925, Lou played in 2,130 consecutive games.   His career numbers were awesome: A .340 batting average, 494 HR, 1888 RBI in 2,164 games.  

Along the way, he drove 100 home runs in 13 straight seasons. Led the AL in HR four times, RBI five times, on-base percentage five times, and batting average once.

Lou finished among the league’s top three hitters in batting average seven times and eight 200-plus hit seasons.

Gehrig took himself out of the line-up early in the 1939 season and headed to the Mayo Clinic for a check-up. 

Sadly, the baseball world learned of his advanced state of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which is also known as motor neuron disease (MND) or, what many also call it today, "Lou Gehrig's disease."

He did not play again and was honored at Yankee Stadium on this day in 1939.  His farewell speech spoke volumes about the man, his integrity, and his love for the game:  

"For the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ball parks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

“When you look around, wouldn’t you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such a fine looking men as they’re standing in uniform in this ballpark today? 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 might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you."

Amazing for a man who knew he was dying.  He died in 1941 at age 37.

P.S.  You can listen to my show (Canto Talk).

Image: Richard Bartlaga, via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

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