Word Art of Lou Gehrig's 'Luckiest Man' Speech Raising Funds for ALS Charities

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Dan Duffy wants to be clear: he is not Yankees fan.

Growing up in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia, he watched helplessly as New York defeated his hometown Phillies in the 2009 World Series. Nonetheless, this longtime Philly sports fan isn't letting his heartbreaking past come in the way of giving back to those in need.

Duffy works in word art illustration, taking letters and making images out of relevant words. For over a decade, Duffy has been creating countless unique works of art, ranging from city skylines and musicians to famous moments in history. His most recent piece, released to his site 'Art of Words' earlier this month, has a deeper meaning—one that transcends baseball.

Using the words from Lou Gehrig's 'Luckiest Man' farewell speech in 1939—saying goodbye to Major League Baseball as his once-iron body was collapsing in his battle with ALS—Duffy put together an image of the Hall of Fame first baseman standing in front of a microphone delivering the timeless address.

"This is my dream," Duffy said, explaining the process of taking a blank canvas and turning it into an intricately detailed and distinctive image. "From a distance, a person says, 'Oh, that looks like a cool drawing and illustration.' But they don't know it's made out of words. When they get closer, they see that it's letters. And then the exploration of trying to find out what these letters mean, 'What am I looking at?' I love that self discovery."

The bulk of his works are rooted in sports. Duffy has a knack for illustrating championship parades, iconic images of Hall of Famers and legendary moments etched into the minds of all sports fans, all with his own artistic flare.

Duffy had originally created the Gehrig image earlier in his artistic career. But after reaching out to the Yankee legend's family amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he now is making it available to the public to help the charity.

"Because of the crisis, we've seen that charities are being devastated," Duffy explained. "They may not even have their fundraisers. They're not even having events."

Proceeds from the sales of this Lou Gehrig word art will go directly to Project Main St. and the Lou Gehrig Society, raising money for those living with ALS.

Duffy recognized that amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, those living with Lou Gehrig's disease are "hit with double" when it comes to financial uncertainty and striving to stay healthy during unprecedented times.

"From the beginning of my career, the ALS auction has been a big deal, and we wanted to do what we can," he said. "So we reached out and what I couldn't do in the beginning of my career as an individual, which was write to the family and get permission, we were able to do now."

Duffy walked through the process of first envisioning how the final product of the Gehrig piece would look, drawing out a light sketch in black and white, gradually adding shading and details. 

The handwritten project took roughly 50 hours to complete, an illustration that's unlike any other. Instead of tracing out an image that already exists in photography, Duffy watches video, referencing several photos at one time, mixing them all together for a one-of-a-kind interpretation.

"The process starts with trying to figure out my own image," the Philly artist said. "A lot of times, I think about the Willie Mays catch image—there's no other image of that. The 1956 Yogi Berra and Don Larsen image where there's just the one photographer in the one place. That's the only angle we ever know.

"I try to create something that is different from any image [the viewer] may have already known as being famous. So, a lot of times I'm looking for five different photographs."

Specifically with the Gehrig piece, Duffy strove to make it "memorable and recognizable," looking through about 100 different images from that day in 1939 to make his own.

As the coronavirus continues to cancel and postpone events, not only are artists like Duffy unable to sell their work at live auctions, but foundations and charities working to fundraise for those in need of financial assistance can't host events.

With that in mind, not only will Duffy's "Luckiest Man" piece result in donations to ALS charities, but a portion of all proceeds from purchases of any baseball prints will go to an assortment of local ALS Association chapters during the month of May.

"I'm very happy for any impact or anything we can do to help, for sure," Duffy said.

He recalled some of his favorites, including his "Road to the World Series" piece where he took the date, opponent and score of each game en route to Philadelphia's title in 2008.

Yet even for a Phillies fan, Duffy admitted he wouldn't be where he is today without the Yankees. His rendering of Yankee Stadium, drawn out using the names of every player to appear in a Yankees uniform in franchise history up until the 2009 championship, was featured in the New York Post, a sign that this craft is something he can do for the rest of his life. 

"Maybe I'll be able to do more artwork and truly love to hate the Yankees, but I would not be a sports artist, professionally, without the great Yankee fans—there's just no doubt about that."

To view the rest of Duffy's word art illustrations, head over to his website, ArtofWords.com.

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