This July 4th will mark the 75th anniversary of one of the most memorable speeches in baseball history. On July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig delivered his “The Luckiest Man” speech in front of approximately 62,000 fans, dignitaries, VIP’s, former and current teammates, and stadium staff on “Lou Gehrig Day” at Yankee Stadium. Between double-header games on Independence Day against the Washington Senators, Gehrig was honored on the baseball field with speeches, gifts, commemorative plaques, and trophies. His special day on the diamond came only 15 days after his diagnosis of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) was released to the public and 13 days after the Yankees announced Gehrig was retiring from baseball.
After all the speeches were given and gifts handed out Gehrig approached the microphone and delivered his iconic speech:
“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. Thank you.”
“He never did say very much about himself. He didn’t feel sorry about himself. And it certainly was a very, very sad day for all of us.” – Joe DiMaggio on Gehrig’s farewell address.
The crowd applauded for minutes after the speech was finished as a visibly shaken Gehrig stepped away from the microphone. Gehrig was inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in December of the same year. He was selected by a unanimous vote without having to wait the mandatory waiting period between retirement and induction. On June 2, 1941, Lou Gehrig died at his home in Riverdale, New York, less then two years after his diagnosis and retirement.
This Friday all players, managers, coaches, and umpires will wear the 75th Anniversary patch pictured at the top of the page. Additionally, a special tribute video (shown below) will be played at all ballparks on Friday featuring a first baseman from each Major League Baseball team reciting a line from Gehrig’s speech.