I am a 60’s kid. I started watching baseball on the old black and white TV when I was about 7 or 8 years old. The first team that I ever watched was the New York Yankees and from that point on, I was forever a Yankees fan and a baseball fanatic. I tried to learn about as many famous ball players that I could and I loved so many of them.
My all-time favorite baseball player let alone my all-time favorite ATHLETE was “the Iron Horse”, Lou Gehrig…the Hall of Fame first baseman for the Yankees. I remember watching the movie “The Pride of the Yankees”, the Lou Gehrig story, totally mesmerized. I used to try to hit like him, play like him, etc.
One of the things that Lou Gehrig was so famous was two things: A disease that would later take his life, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) otherwise known as “Lou Gehrig Disease,” and his famous “Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth” speech. It was July 4th, 1939 and the Yankees had decided that they were going to honor Gehrig and staged a “Gehrig Appreciation Day at Yankee Stadium.” Ruth and other members of Murderer’s Row returned for the ceremony, along with Yankee officials and dignitaries.
At first, Gehrig was too overwhelmed to speak, but the crowd chanted: “We want Gehrig!” He stepped to the microphone, blowing his nose and rubbing his eyes. Cap in hand, he spoke: “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 17 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? … “When you have a father and 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 had a bad break, but I have an awful lot to live for. Thank you.”
Two years later, Gehrig was gone.
To me, that speech showed the kind of man that he was. Gehrig not only was an astonishing player (he was actually voted as the BEST first baseman of all-time), famous, and well known through-out America, he was an incredibly humble and soft spoken man. He would let his stats do his talking. I used to think that when I played baseball (or any sport) I would emulate his character.
Well, twenty-one years ago, my oldest son was born and we named him Luke Eric. What does that mean? Say his name fast….pretty cool huh? The funny thing about it is that we got the name by accident but once it was said, we decided to keep it. (just a little note: my other son was born on Joe DiMaggio’s birthday but we couldn’t decide on a good Yankee name for him BUT if he was a girl, do you know what his name MIGHT have been? Jody. Get it? Jo-dy (Joe D)…Joe DiMaggio’s nickname.”
Anyway, in remembrance of Mr. Gehrig, here are some remarkable facts about Lou that shows just exactly how good he was.
1. Lou played fullback while he was at Columbia college and studied engineering.
2. Lou was the only one out of four children who survived past infancy in his family.
3. Lou won the Triple Crown in 1934. His batting average was .363, 49 homeruns, and 165 RBIs!
4. The Yankees had actually tried to trade him to the Red Sox but they DIDN’T WANT HIM!
5. Gehrig played in 2,130 consecutive games. During that time, he suffered 17 fractures in his hands at different times (see how tough he was?)
6. Because of his durability, people affectionately gave him the nickname, “The Iron Horse.”
7. When Gehrig’s consecutive game streak was in full effect, he played first base the entire
8. period except for one game in which he played left field (September 28, 1930).
9. Gehrig accumulated 1,995 runs batted in (RBI) in 17 seasons, with a career batting average of .340, on-base percentage of .447, and slugging percentage of .632!