A Famous Fourth of July Goodbye: Remembering the ‘Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth’

(Reddit/Colorized History)

On July 4, 1939, New York Yankee legend Lou Gehrig considered himself “the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.” Eighty-three years later, he won’t soon be forgotten. 

Diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), now commonly referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” the Hall of Famer would succumb to his illness less than two years later on June 2, 1941. Despite the crushing blow to the baseball world and the world at large, his perseverance despite the prognosis forever changed the game. 

For months leading up to his now iconic disclosure before the hometown New York Yankee fan faithful, the rumor mill had spiraled out of control. Surely the man nicknamed “The Iron Horse” due to his knack for never failing to appear in the lineup was not benched for good by a most fatal hand? 

But Gehrig himself confirmed “the bad break.” Nevertheless, he handled himself with utter class and bravery in the presence of 60,000-plus spectators and infinite more listening in – then, and for years to come. Speeches simply do not get better than his, and it’s for this reason we at The Messenger feel compelled to attach it below, unedited, in solidarity with countless families who are still ripped apart by the disease to this day. 

Do your part in the search for a cure by donating to a noble not-for-profit ALS cause like “The ALS Association” at www.donate.als.org today. If you can’t, Google search for the “Luckiest Man” speech video and press “play.” You won’t regret it. 

(speech transcription courtesy of the National Baseball Hall of Fame):

“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.”

Sports & Entertainment Editor for The Messenger Papers.