The Day The Yankees Paid Their Final Tribute To The “Iron Horse”
This monument ceremony seen below was supposed to take place July 4 1941, on the two year anniversary of Lou Gehrig Day in 1939.
Many baseball fans know that the New York Yankees began the tradition of Old-Timers Day with a ceremony on July 4, 1939 to honor Lou Gehrig, the “Iron Horse.” On that day, the Yankees brought together Lou’s old teammates to show their deep admiration for a man who exemplified everything the Yankees were about. At the last minute Gehrig was asked to say something to the packed house at Yankee Stadium.
The words he said, now known as, “The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth” speech, live on in immortality because it was completely spontaneous and from the heart.
What you may not know, is that you really have never heard or seen that speech.
You have only seen or heard small portions of Gehrig’s speech, because believe it or not, there is not one extant movie or audio recording of Gehrig’s complete speech. Only snippets.
As incredible as it sounds with all those newsreel cameras present to record the activities at Yankee Stadium, no complete version of the speech has surfaced in all these years.
What most people recall is the movie speech delivered by Gary Cooper playing Lou Gehrig in The Pride of The Yankees. In that speech which was invented by the screenwriters, words were, added, deleted and juxtaposed for the Hollywood effect!
I believe Gehrig’s actual words have just as much impact.
“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 might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.”
Two years later on June 2, 1941 Lou Gehrig died at the age of 37.
The Yankees planned to honor Gehrig on the anniversary of his speech, July 4, 1941, by placing a monument in center field next to the monument for Yankees manager Miller Huggins and under the plaque on the center field wall for Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert.
Unfortunately the game was rained out and the Yankees had to reschedule the event for July 6 before a doubleheader with the Philadelphia Athletics.
Presiding over the ceremony was New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, Bronx Borough President James Lyons, Athletics manager Connie Mack and Lou’s widow Eleanor Gehrig. Yankee manager Joe McCarthy and former Gehrig roommate, confidant and Yankee catcher Bill Dickey unveiled the monument.
The event started at 1:30 and was concluded by 1:45. Several speeches were made and longtime Philadelphia manager Connie Mack, had some poignant words, saying that Gehrig
“was one of the greatest players to ever put on a baseball uniform. Not only was Lou Gehrig a great player but he was a real sportsman, a gentleman whom we all admired. This was true not only of the players who were his associates, but of all players in baseball as well as those who made contact with him. By his conduct on and off the baseball field he has set an example which I would advise the army of the youth of America, whether it be large or small, to adopt. I know of no more appropriate recommendation than to advise our youth in the footsteps of Lou Gehrig.”
60, 948 fans witnessed the event and the Yankees swept the doubleheader 8-4 and 3-1 from the Athletics to extend their winning streak to nine games. Bill Dickey hit a three-run home run in the first game. Joe DiMaggio had six hits in the twin bill and extended his record hitting streak to 48 games.