Standing inside Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig declared himself the ?luckiest man on the face of the earth.? Remarkably humble and modest for a man of his stature, he was not used to the outpouring of public support showered upon him by 62,000 fans in attendance. It was on that day Lou Gehrig officially retired from Major League Baseball. Sixty-six years later, as we honor this historic event, it is only fitting we remember a man still in the hearts and minds of fans all over the world.
Aficionados, historians and casual observers alike all agree that Gehrig is a player for the ages. His claim to fame is the streak of 2,130 consecutive games he played from 1925 to 1939, a record which stood for more than half a century. Kind-hearted, altruistic and introverted, he was a devoted ballplayer just trying to do his best. Not known as someone to draw attention to himself, he shied away from publicity.
His career ended prematurely when he was diagnosed with an incurable condition known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, later known as ?Lou Gehrig?s disease.? Knowing that the disease was robbing him of all muscular functions, Gehrig took himself out of baseball on May 2, 1939 and never played again. In celebration of his career and contributions to the game of baseball, the Yankees retired his jersey number, the first time a Major League player had his number retired. Later that year, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, bypassing the normal five year waiting period for enshrinement.
Why did Lou Gehrig consider himself a lucky man? Perhaps it was because he couldn?t stand taking credit for any of his past accomplishments. The foundation of any sport is teamwork and baseball is no exception. Gehrig was indeed lucky enough to surround himself with a team he could be proud of, graciously including them when greeted with acclaim.
The legacy of Lou Gehrig is not filled with pity or remorse. It reminds us of a time when baseball was a simple sport encapsulated with players who inspired, not merely entertained for the sake of money. It?s a legacy that conjures up warm feelings of admiration for a job well done and a deep respect that only seems to increase with the passage of time.