Find a League In Your Area
The date: Fourth of
The time: Between
games of a Yankees-Senators double-header
The place: Yankee
The occasion: "Lou Gehrig Day"
It was two months after the greatest first baseman in the history
of the game had learned he had a fatal disease. The speech the Iron Horse delivered that day has been called
"Baseball's Gettysburg Address." Lou Gehrig almost didn't give the speech. During the ceremony, Gehrig’s current teammates, members of
the legendary 1927 Yankees, and the visiting Senator players fanned out around
the infield There were several speeches, including those from such dignitaries
as New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, Yankee manager Joe McCarthy, and Babe
Ruth. But only one speech would be remembered.
Several gifts were bestowed upon "Larrapin' Lou” including an
expensive fishing rod and reel from his teammates, a silver platter from the
stadium vendors, and silver candlesticks from crosstown rivals, the New
York Giants. Gehrig was presented several trophies. At one point, Lou, in
his weakened state, staggered when he was unable to hold a particularly heavy
trophy and was assisted by a few teammates in setting it on the ground.
When the time came for Gehrig to give his remarks, the naturally
shy man broke down. Unable to approach the microphones, he just
stared at the ground before pulling a handkerchief from his pocket to dab his
eyes. The 61,000 fans jammed into the stadium began chanting: "We want
Lou! We want Lou!” Sportswriter Sam Mercer, serving as the event’s master of ceremonies,
stepped to the microphones and informed the fans that Gehrig was too moved to
speak. Mercer thanked the crowd over the din of the thunderous chanting.
McCarthy then put his hand around
Gehrig’s shoulders and
whispered something into his ear. Lou nodded, stepped up to the microphones, and took a deep breath.The crowd fell silent. No doubt, more than 82,000 teary eyes were
looking at home plate. Only a small snippet of newsreel footage of the ceremony exists,
about three sentences of Lou's speech (fortunately one being the most
powerful). But it is enough to give you an idea of how it would have
been to be in Yankee Stadium that day and hear Gehrig's words with
that distinctive echo effect.
Sportswriters jotted down every word of the speech, so we know
what he said. In less than a year after delivering this speech, Lou was
dead at the age of 37 What is found interesting are the differences between Lou's
actual speech and the one presented in the movie Pride of the Yankees. Lou's wife Eleanor was paid $30,000 for the rights to her
husband's story. She implored the movie higher-ups to use the
exact words that Lou had used. Most personnel working on the film agreed with her but the two most
influential ones did not, and changes were made.
Eleanor Gehrig had told producer Sam Goldwyn,
"I feel if you should depart from the original, you will lose all of the
simple charm (of Lou)." The movie mogul disagreed, as well as
director Sam Wood, and changes to the speech were made. It is understandable that the movie version of the speech would be
shorter, both for dramatic effect and time limitations.
The most famous line of Lou’s speech—"I consider myself the
luckiest man on the face of the Earth”—was moved to the end of the address in the movie rather than at the beginning as Gehrig originally had it. This was likely a good choice, making it more dramatic. Another change was Lou’s original line, "I have been in ballparks
for 17 years” being changed to "I have been walking onto ball fields for 16
years." This was an odd change because not only is it neither more
dramatic nor more concise, it is inaccurate. Lou performed in the major
leagues for 17 years, not 16.
As for the other changes, it is it up to the reader to
determine if they were for the better. Both versions, the original and the movie, are presented below for
Lou Gehrig's actual speech:
"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 have been in ballparks for 17 years and
have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you
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 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 [the vendors] remember you with trophies—that’s
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
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
So I close in saying that I might have been
given a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for."
The "Pride of the Yankees” speech, performed by Gary Cooper
as Lou Gehrig
(that’s actually Babe Ruth and Bill Dickey, (left) pictured in the
background, playing themselves in the movie)
"I have been walking onto ball fields for 16 years, and I've
never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.
I have had the great honor to have played with these great
veteran ballplayers on my left—Murderers’ Row, our championship team of 1927.
I have had the further honor living and playing with these
men on my right—the Bronx Bombers, the Yankees of today.
I have been given fame and undeserved praise by the boys up
there behind the wire, my friends, the sportswriters.
I have worked under the two greatest managers of all time,
Miller Huggins and Joe McCarthy.
I have a mother and father who fought to give me health and a
solid background in my youth.
I have a wife, a companion for life, who has shown me more
courage than I ever knew.
People all say that I've had a bad break. But today ... today
I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."