On July 4, 1939, Yankee slugger Lou Gehrig gave his emotional “Luckiest Man” speech before a packed house at Yankee Stadium in New York.
Lou Gehrig signed his first contract with the New York Yankees in 1923 for a whopping $1500. He played 2,130 consecutive games, the most of any player before him and after… until Cal Ripken came along in 1995. Gehrig was dubbed “the Iron Horse” because he never missed a game and played through injuries.
During the 1938-9 seasons, Gehrig’s usually consistent stellar performance started slipping. In an unprecedented move, he pulled himself from the Yankee line-up in May 1939. One month later he revealed that he had been diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a devastating and incurable disease that strips nerve cells of their ability to interact with the body’s muscles, making it impossible to move or breathe.
On July 4, 1939, the gifted baseball hero Lou Gehrig stood before a sold-out crowd in Yankee Stadium and officially retired from baseball. In his emotional speech to fans he said,
“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.”
The speech remains one of the most memorable and heart wrenching moments in the history of baseball. Two years after his speech, he died at age 37. Since then ALS has often been referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s disease.”
From the Bio Archives: This article was originally published on June 4, 2014.