Tuesday, July 24, 2012

When I'm in Baseball Parks...

When I'm in baseball parks throughout the summer months and see game after enjoyable game of America's favorite sport, I remember Lou Gehrig.

Lou Gehrig played for the New York Yankees from 1923-1939 and named "The Iron Horse" of Baseball when he set a record playing in 2130 consecutive games.

Lou Gehrig's life and career were cut shot due to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, ALS, now called Lou Gehrig's Disease.  If memory serves, I first learned about Lou Gehrig when I was around seven years of age.  A friend's father died suddenly of ALS and I started asking questions -- especially when my parents told me his death was from Lou Gehrig's Disease.  I wanted to know the real name, which they told me, but they impressed upon me that Lou Gehrig's Disease really is the common name.

 I started asking questions about Lou Gehrig and fell in love with is story.  The son, and only surviving child (of four) of German immigrants.  Lou Gehrig's story is epic... the only man who gave Babe Ruth a run for his money in terms of a record number of home runs, RBIs, and batting averages.

I started crying several times as I read Wikipedia's account of his legendary baseball playing and then his rapid decline as his illness progressed.  Lou Gehrig actually benched himself "for the good of the team" and the Yankees manager respected his decision.  But Gehrig was told that the position was his whenever he wanted to return.  Can you imagine that?  He commanded such respect that his manager told him he could be back in the game whenever he felt ready.  Something like that between a manager and a player just wouldn't happen in this day and age.

When Gehrig's illness was made public and his formal retirement from baseball was announced on June 21, 1939, the Yankees organize a Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day to be held on July 4, 1939.  The ceremony was held in between the two games of a double header against the Washington Senators and players, managers, fans and dignitaries came out in droves to honor the man who achieved feats that, "For generations to come, boys who play baseball will point with pride to your record" (James Farley).  At this ceremony, Gehrig's Yankee jersey No. 4 was retired making Gehrig the first Major League Baseball player in history to be honored in this way.

Lou Gehrig was handed many trophies throughout the ceremony, and he set each of them immediately on the ground at his feet because his arm strength had diminished so much that he could not hold the trophies for any length of time.
When Lou Gehrig, himself, finally took the microphone, he had these words to say:

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 the 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 that 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.
 — Lou Gehrig at Yankee Stadium, July 4, 1939

I have wanted to find a full recording of this entire speech for years, but the best one I could find was this one:

Lou Gehrig was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in December 1939.
Lou Gehrig passed away June 2, 1941.

When he died, the Mayor of New York instructed that all flags be flown at half-mast.  Baseball parks across the country followed suit.  The Yankees dedicated a monument to Gehrig in July 1941 that included the words, "A man, a gentleman and a great ballplayer whose amazing record of 2,130 consecutive games should stand for all time."

Sixty years after his farewell to baseball, Gehrig received the most votes of any baseball player on the Major League Baseball All-Century Team, chosen by fan balloting in 1999.

And, Mr. Gehrig, not a baseball season passes, as my husband and I visit different parks and enjoy exciting ball games that I don't think of you playing for the Yankees back in the good old days when baseball was America's past time.  I remember your talent, but mostly, I remember your heart of gratitude in the face of unimaginable hardship.  Thank you, Mr. Gehrig, for your example.

Source for information of Lou Gehrig's life.

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