July 4, 1939 was Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day at Yankee Stadium and ‘the Iron Horse’s’ uniform number 4 was the first ever to be retired in New York.
After emcee Sid Mercer informed the sell-out crowd that the “man of the hour” was too moved to speak, Yankee Skipper Joe McCarthy encouraged Gehrig into changing his mind. What followed became one of the most poignant and emotional moments in the history of American sports, and there was not a dry eye in Yankee Stadium.
Although only 260 words in length, Gehrig’s tear-filled keynote address profoundly encapsulated what it means to play at the professional level when, despite battling the debilitating, life-threatening disease that now bears his name, he described himself as “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
Lou Gehrig farewell speech:
"Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been to ballparks for seventeen years and I have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day?
Sure I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t have considered 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 the white coats remember you with trophies, that’s something.
When you have a father and mother who worked all their lives so that 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 by saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for. Thank you."
Listen to Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech.