“Did My Speech Sound Silly? Did it?”
Lou Gehrig to a friend minutes after making his “Luckiest Man” speech on July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day.
Early in the day before being honored at Yankee Stadium, Lou Gehrig told a reporter, “There hasn’t been a day since I came up that I wasn’t anxious to get in uniform and out on the field. But today I wish I was anywhere but in this stadium.”
For the ceremony Lou Gehrig was standing on the field for one hour in between games of a doubleheader with the Washington Senators, as accolades and gifts descended upon him.
Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, Postmaster James Farley, Yankee general manager Ed Barrow and current and former teammates and opponents were there. Besides gifts, they all gave Gehrig the one thing he did not want – sympathy.
A Hindrance To The Team
Yankee manager Joe McCarthy was weeping as he addressed Gehrig and the 61,808 spectators. Over the loudspeaker McCarthy said solemnly, “Lou… what else can I say except that it was a sad day in the life of everybody who knew you came to my hotel room that day in Detroit and told me you were quitting as a ballplayer because you felt yourself a hindrance to the team. My God, man you were never that.”
Gehrig emotionally stirred, was crying.
Babe Ruth came up to Gehrig and hugged him. Ruth whispered through his own tears what everyone had told him for the last hour. “C’mon kid. C’mon kid, buck up now. We’re all with you.”
After being urged to say something, the emotionally drained Gehrig spoke without any preparation.
With dozens of film cameras rolling a silence fell upon the field. Incredibly, there is no complete audio visual record of Lou Gehrig’s famous speech. The speech most familiar to people is actually Gary Cooper’s Hollywood-ized version from The Pride of the Yankees.
Reporters such as the Associated Press baseball writer Sid Feder and the Washington Post’s Shirley Povich either paraphrased or quoted Gehrig directly. Without a transcription, the following has come down through the years to be accepted as the words Gehrig spoke.
Baseball’s Greatest Speech
“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break. 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.
“When you look around, wouldn’t you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such a fine looking men as they’re standing in uniform in this ballpark today? 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. Thank you.”
Lou Gehrig’s speech is universally acknowledged as anything but silly.
Gehrig died of his “bad break,” amyotrophic lateral sclerosis on June 2, 1941, 17 days shy of his 38th birthday.