It Was On July 4, 1939 That Lou Gehrig Declared Himself `The Luckiest Man' On Earth

Tracy Ringolsby

The Iron Man had reached the end. His career cut short by ALS, Gehrig spoke to the crowd at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939, which was designated Lou Gehrig Day. 

It was during his speech that he declared himself, "The luckiest man on earth." With a crowd of 61,808 filling Yankee Stadium and fans from coast to coast listening to the event on radio, Gehrig's uniform No. 4 was retired that afternoon, the first Major League player to earn that honor. 

He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame that same year.

Less than two years later, on June 2, 1941, Gehrig – only 37 – succumbed to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The rare illness soon became known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

Gehrig played 17 seasons for the Yankees. In the 14 seasons in which he appeared in more than 13 games, he amassed all but one of his 493 homers and 1,980 of his 1,995 RBIs -- averaging 35 homers and 141 RBIs per full season. He finished his career with a remarkable .340 batting average and 23 grand slams.

Most famously, Gehrig played in 2,130 consecutive games, baseball's standard until it was surpassed by Cal Ripken Jr. in 1995.

The written words of Gehrig:

"For the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

“When you look around, wouldn’t you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such a fine looking men as they’re standing in uniform in this ballpark today? Sure, I'm lucky. Who wouldn't consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I'm lucky.

"When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift - that's something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies - that's something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter - that's something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body - it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed - that's the finest I know.

"So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you."

Overhsadowed by Gehrig's moment, are four no-hitters thrown on the 4th of July, including one by Hall of Famer Satchell Paige in 1934. The most recent was turned in by Yankee lefthander, Dave Righetti in 1983.

The 4th of July No-Hitters:

In 1908 -- With two outs and an 0-2 count in the ninth inning, Giant pitcher George Wiltse loses his perfect game when he hits the opposing pitcher, George McQuillan, with a pitch. 'Hooks' keeps his no-hitter intact when New York wins the 1-0 Polo Grounds contest in the tenth, scoring the winning run on a Philadelphia error.

In 1912 -- Tiger pitcher George Mullin celebrated the nation's birthday and his own by throwing a no-hitter against the St. Louis Browns. In addition to his excellent pitching, the 32 year-old also collected three hits and drove in two runs during the 7-0 victory.

1934 -- Hall of Famer Satchell Paige, pitching for the Pittsburgh Crawfords in the New Negro League, no-hit the Homestead Grays. He struck out 17, and was denied a perfect game by a first-inning walk to fellow Hall of Famer Buck Leonard and an error in the fourth inning. Paige had no-hit the New York Black Yankees on July 8, 1932.

In 1983 -- At Yankee Stadium, southpaw Dave Righetti no-hits the Red Sox to become the first Bronx Bomber left-hander to throw a no-no since George Mogridge accomplished the feat in 1917. The 24 year-old southpaw's 4-0 gem is the first no-hitter for New York since Don Larsen tossed his perfect game in the 1956 World Series.

The ALS Society put together a video of the speech, interspersing players reading the lines at different points. Enjoy the video and then read Gehrig's speech.

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