1939: A Look Back at Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” Speech

It was July 4, 1939, and the New York Yankees’ Lou Gehrig wiped away a tear while he spoke during a tribute at the Yankee Stadium in New York, announcing his retirement from baseball. It was just two years before he passed away on June 2, 1941, when he was only 37.

Lou Gehrig
Lou Gehrig (1903-1941). American Baseball Player. Photographed During Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day Ceremonies At Yankee Stadium, New York City, 4 July 1939, At The Time Of His Retirement After Having Been Diagnosed With Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Photo By Granger/Shutterstock

It’s been over eight decades since that speech, which goes down as of the greatest – if not THE greatest – speeches in baseball history. Let’s take a closer look at it.

The Luckiest Man on the Face Of the Earth

One of the best baseball players in history had to suddenly announce his retirement halfway through the season. At the time, nobody knew the severity of the disease he was suffering. The truth is Gehrig himself didn’t fully realize the impact of it either.

Lou Gehrig presented with a scroll commemorating his consecutive game record by Mayor LaGuardia
Lou Gehrig presented with a scroll commemorating his consecutive game record by Mayor LaGuardia. September 19, 1936. Photo By Everett/Shutterstock

At the time, ALS was an uncommon disease. A few weeks after officially retiring, he returned to Yankee Stadium to deliver a truly sad yet genuine moment on the baseball diamond. “I truly consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth,” were his famous words.

The Iron Horse

That wasn’t just the greatest line from any baseball speech, it was also one of the greatest lines in American history. Gehrig was baseball’s “Iron Horse” and seemed to be just about indestructible.

New York Yankees outfielder Babe Ruth and first baseman Lou Gehrig. ca. 1927.
New York Yankees outfielder Babe Ruth and first baseman Lou Gehrig. ca. 1927. Photo By Everett/Shutterstock

In reality, Gehrig played his final year or two with symptoms of ALS. What made his speech so remarkable was that he knew what was ahead of him, yet he spoke about only the great things that he was given. His words give us all goosebumps to this day.

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