Seventy -five years ago, Lou Gehrig was diagnosed with ALS. He was a quiet, dignified, Yankee baseball player who followed Babe Ruth in the batting order. Ruth and Gehrig were both left handed, but where Babe Ruth loved the spotlight, Lou Gehrig was a very private person.
In 1938 Lou began showing symptoms of ALS. One of his fellow players said, “his muscles were melting away, game by game,” and yet in that baseball season his batting average was .295 with 29 home runs and 114 runs batted in. That was his final season as a baseball player.
On July 4th 1939, seventy-five years ago this month, he announced to the world that he was stepping down because of his battle with ALS. It was an amazing speech. His second sentence was, “Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.” Gehrig did not use his illness as a means to take it easy; he retired from baseball and went to work in a prison.
He died June 2, 1941, just weeks before his 38th birthday. He is remembered not only for the great baseball player he was, but also for the graceful way he dealt with a terminal illness. Pride of the Yankees, the film about Gehrig is still available at Amazon and e-Bay.
Gehrig occupies a prominent place in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium along with Yogi Berra, Joe DrMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Reggie Jackson and Babe Ruth.
Curt Schilling, Yankee pitcher, won the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award in 1995. He later became a broadcaster and has raised millions for ALS research through Curt’s Pitch for ALS
In 1989 the US Postal Service commemorated Gehrig with a stamp and in 1999 Fans everywhere were asked to vote for their favorite all-time players. Lou Gehrig received more votes than any other player in baseball history.
I was born the year Lou Gehrig was diagnosed and now seventy-five years later I am the one living with ALS and there still has not been a great breakthrough in ALS research. Lou Gehrig was the first Major League Baseball player whose uniform number (4) was retired. They retired Gehrig’s number, now let’s retire his disease.