Saturday marks the 70th anniversary of one of the most stirring moments in American sports history. On July 4, 1939, beloved New York Yankees first baseman
Despite the odds he faced, the Iron Horse, overcome with emotion at the outpouring of support the news of his affliction had generated, stood at home plate and told the throng, "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 may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for."
Less than two years later Gehrig died at age 37. Ever since, ALS has been known as Lou Gehrig's Disease; there is still no cure. In 1999, another Yankees Hall of Famer, right-hander
Gehrig's statistics are staggering -- .340 career average, a Triple Crown in 1934, and 184 RBIs in '31 (still the AL single-season high) -- and his mark of 2,130 consecutive games played was considered unassailable until
Today, we are in the business of cutting our idols down to size. Consider
In this respect, Gehrig and other players of his era (with rare exceptions such as his larger-than-life teammate
Lieb also tells how he and his wife,
Continues Lieb, "I knew it was a hell of a story that any New York paper would pay me a good bonus for, but I made no mention of the Gehrig disability to anyone until the Yankees made the official statement two days later."
Can you imagine this scenario today? There'd be round-the-clock TV stakeouts at the Mayo Clinic. Quite possibly, an insider would be offered a ton of cash in exchange for confidential medical information. And wouldn't any writer, no matter how loyal to his subject, be worried about holding the story and losing his scoop?
All of which is to say, it would be virtually impossible for an athlete to preserve his privacy. He might hold on to his dignity, but there'd be no way to retain the stately, stoic image that Gehrig put forth.
Someday, we may see another Lou Gehrig -- a player as great and humble and inspirational. But we'll find some chink in his armor. As we've seen as the last seven decades have unfolded, the loss is all ours.