One of the great July 4th speeches was delivered by a shy man who played baseball for a living. Lou Gehrig played every day, never took a game off, until he was told, at age 35, that he was dying. More than 60,000 fans and former teammates came out to Yankee Stadium to honor him. Between the two games of the doubleheader, he came out of the Yankee’s dugout and stood, listening as former teammates spoke into the microphones that had been set up behind home plate. He was embarrassed enough by their words that he teared up. Among those paying tribute was Babe Ruth, his old teammate. The two had been estranged over some thoughtless remark of Ruth’s but they patched it up on this day.
When it was Gehrig’s turn, he couldn’t manage the words and and asked announcer and baseball writer Sid Mercer to speak for him.
"Lou has asked me," Mercer said, "to thank all of you. He is too moved to speak.”
Gehrig began walking back to the dugout but the fans weren’t having it and shouted “We want Gehrig.”
Gehrig turned around and headed back toward the plate.
"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.”
That much is recorded, on film:
But there was more:
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?
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 against her own daughter—that's something. 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 tough break; but I have an awful lot to live for . . . Thank you.
That was 1939. Not quite two years later, Gehrig was dead.