Between games of a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939, approximately 42,000 baseball fans waited silently in the stands, waiting for their team's first baseman to address the crowd. It was Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day, which seems like it should have been a pleasant occasion. However, things didn't go as planned. Gehrig, who at this point in his career had become an icon for both players and fans, made some comments about how much he enjoyed playing in New York City and then suddenly dropped dead of a heart attack at age 37. The game continued without interruption.
Gehrig's death brought attention to the need for better training and equipment for professional athletes. The Yankees agreed that day to provide life insurance policies for their players that would pay out $100,000 per player if they died during the season. These policies are now provided by most major league teams.
Today, July 4th, is recognized as Lou Gehrig Day throughout the United States and many other countries. In addition, the Yankees honor Gehrig annually by wearing "9" on their uniforms during his memory.
Gehrig was born in New York City on January 1st, 1903, and he lived in Auburndale, Florida after his parents moved to Florida when he was 10 years old. He grew up watching baseball play by play on WFAN radio and became a fan of the New York Yankees.
On July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day, the long-time Yankee first baseman said the legendary remarks during a home plate ceremony at Yankee Stadium: "For the previous two weeks you have been reading about a poor break. Lou Gehrig gave his "Luckiest Man" speech. Well, I am happy to say I can report that my luck has changed." Gehrig went on to win the American League's Most Valuable Player Award that year.
Gehrig died at the age of 37 after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as motor neuron disease or MND). At the time of his death, he was the all-time leader in career hits by a shortstop. The Yankees retired his number 4 in 1939. In 2007, he was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Gehrig's daughter, Eleanor "Louie" Gehrig Jr., followed in her father's footsteps and became an actress. She appeared in several films including 1941's "The Pride of the Yankees".
Gehrig's son, John "Jack" Gehrig, also played baseball. He too was a first baseman but had less success than his father. He spent three seasons in Major League Baseball between 1938 and 1940, playing for the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers. During that time, he made only one appearance at third base, which came in his final season.
The New York Yankees celebrated "Lou Gehrig Day" at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939. The Hall of Famer had been forced to retire two months earlier due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. We provide some rare images of Lou Gehrig in commemoration of the 76th anniversary of his famous "luckiest man" remark.
Gehrig's retirement speech has become part of American culture. An excerpt from it is included in this article. His final words are also recorded by the Baseball Hall of Fame: "You know, you guys can't count me out yet."
After his retirement announcement, reporters asked Gehrig if he would come back for one more season. He said yes, and the news made headlines around the world. However, just three weeks later, on July 26, 1939, Gehrig died at the age of 36 in a hospital in Columbia, South Carolina.
The cause of death was determined to be a form of cancer called leukaemia.
Gehrig's body was returned to New York for burial at Woodlawn Cemetery. The New York Times published an article about his death and included a list of celebrities who attended the ceremony including President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and Carl Hubbell.
In 2004, Lou Gehrig's disease was named after him.
On July 4, 1939, on Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day, the veteran Yankee first baseman said the legendary remarks during a home plate ceremony at Yankee Stadium: "You've been reading about a poor break for the previous two weeks. Nonetheless, I believe myself to be the luckiest man on the planet."
Gehrig had been diagnosed with ALS, also known as motor neuron disease. He died at age 37 after playing in 2,130 games over 20 years. His consecutive game records have since been broken several times.
Gehrig's comments came shortly after New York City held its third Lou Gehrig Memorial Game. The Yankees played the Chicago White Sox at Yankee Stadium. In that game, Bob Meusel hit what has been called the first perfect game in MLB history. The Yankees lost 1-0. They went on to win the World Series that year.
Gehrig's daughter Jane told reporters that her father wanted his farewell address to be heard by as many people as possible. So, he decided to write it himself instead of having someone else do it.
He started writing it several months before his death, but never finished it. However, his wife Dorothy completed the manuscript and sent it to a friend who published it a few days after Gehrig's passing.