As Independence Day approaches, I cannot help but to think about highlights in sports that occurred on July 4th. There have been many, including Nolan Ryan recording his 3,000 career strikeout in a 1980 game against the Houston Astros, eventually finishing with the all-time record of 5,714 in total. One year later, John McEnroe defeated Bjorn Borg to win his first Wimbledon Championship. Dave Righetti of the New York Yankees tossed a no-hitter against the Red Sox in 1983, finshing the game by striking out Wade Boggs. In 1985, the Mets and Braves played a 19 inning game, spanning over 6 hours and delaying the post-game fireworks until the early hours of the following day.
Without a doubt, the most remarkable July 4th sports moment occurred 75 years ago, well before any of us was around. Yet despite how far back in history it was, even the most casual fan has seen footage of a moment of grace that has transcended sports.
July 4, 1939 was the day in which the Lou Gehrig delivered his farewell speech at Yankee Stadium. I have heard some great sports speeches, including Jim Valvano’s speech at the 1993 ESPY Awards, but none compare with the humble and thoughtful words of Mr. Gehrig. In mid-June of 1939, Gehrig was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), which deprived him of his motor skills and lead to his death just two years later. The disease eventually became known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” and it remains incurable to this day. Once diagnosed, ALS is a horrible death sentence, but those who have suffered from it have shown strength far greater than the powers sapped from them by the disease.
So, as a gift to all of us, I present you with the full text of the words that echoed through the old Yankee Stadium 75 years ago, spoken by one of the greatest gentleman ever to have donned a uniform.
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 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 might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.