It happened eighty years ago. Lou Gehrig, the “Iron Horse” New York Yankees first baseman, who played seventeen seasons from 1923 to 1939 in a then record 2,130 consecutive games said goodbye to the game he loved.
Gehrig’s farewell speech given on July 4, 1939, at Yankee Stadium is considered the most famous speech in baseball history. It came just after he had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive, fatal, neurogenerative disease that affects an estimated 20,000 Americans every year, according to the ALS Association.
His streak lasted nearly sixty years until 1995 when it was surpassed by Baltimore SS Cal Ripken Jr. Gehrig had a lifetime batting average of .340 and won the Triple Crown in 1934. The Yankees won the World Series six times during his career.
More than 62,000 baseball fans witnessed Gehrig give his farewell speech.
"Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.”
On June 2, 1941 Gehrig passed away at his home. Upon hearing the news, fellow Yankee great Babe Ruth and his wife Claire went to the Gehrig house to console Gehrig’s wife Eleanor. Mayor La Guardia ordered flags in New York to be flown at half-staff, and major-league ballparks around the nation did likewise.
A couple little known facts about Gehrig that are indeed interesting; He was the first MLB player to have his number retired. He was the first ever athlete to appear on a box of Wheaties. He is the only player to collect 400 total bases in five seasons. He scored the game-winning run in eight World Series games. As a man he was strong willed and humble at the same time. As a ballplayer he is one of the ones that will be remembered, and that streak of immortality is unbreakable.