Lou Gehrig’s Luckiest Man Speech July 4, 1939
Lou Gehrig’s Luckiest Man Speech, delivered in front of 61,808 fans at Yankee Stadium, on July 4 1939; transcends the sports world and has to be considered one of the most iconic speeches in history. At the time, Gehrig had recently been diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a disease that would become more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Gehrig’s illustrious baseball career and his life, were both shortened by the disease. He retired from baseball just a few weeks before “the speech”, and he died June 2, 1941.
On July 4, 1939, the New York Yankees held “Lou Gehrig Day” at Yankee Stadium. Gehrig had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) just two weeks earlier. With more than 62,000 fans in attendance, the Iron Horse took the microphone for what would become one of the most memorable moments in baseball history.
I was at Yankee Stadium on that melancholy afternoon, an 18-year-old sitting in the faraway right-field bleachers, and I was deeply touched by his words. But I thought only that Gehrig’s long career with the Yankees had come to an end. It never crossed my mind that his death was imminent.
On July 4, 2002 the late James Gandolfini reprised Gehrig’s speech.
It wasn’t a performance that was immediately acclaimed, shared or remembered Wednesday evening in the first moments after the world learned that James Gandolfini had died.
But in June 2002, Major League Baseball set aside a day to remember Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man” speech and raise amyotrophic lateral sclerosis awareness, with someone chosen to recite it in each ballpark. Gandolfini was the pick in New York at the old Yankee Stadium. This wasn’t the sort of thing he liked to do, but it was for a cause that was important to him, so he stepped up to read words that are particularly poignant now.