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Gehrig honored, 75 years after speech

On June 13, 1939 — 75 years ago — Lou Gehrig arrived at the Rochester airport. He came to Rochester where he was to undergo a physical check-up at the Mayo Clinic. Weeks earlier (May 2), Gehrig took himself out of the New York Yankees lineup,...

Lou Gehrig giving speech
After 75 years, the image of Lou Gehrig saying farewell to his Yankee fans, remains one of the more iconic images of baseball history. Major League Baseball will commemorate that speech during games with a video and commemorative patch.
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Major League Baseball on Friday will honor Lou Gehrig on the 75th anniversary of his famed "luckiest man" speech, which he made just weeks after he was diagnosed with ALS at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

The Hall of Famer spoke at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939. The first baseman died two years later from ALS at age 37.

MLB players, managers, coaches and umpires will wear a commemorative patch on Friday. The tribute will include a video shown at all ballparks featuring a first baseman from each team reciting a line from Gehrig's speech.

Gehrig's team, the New York Yankees, will play the Twins on Friday at Target Field. A video will be played before the game of Twins and Yankees players reciting Gehrig's famous farewell speech. Both teams will take the field with ALS patients during the national anthem.

The first 10,000 fans to Target Field will receive a Lou Gehrig Bobblehead.

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"When Lou Gehrig delivered his historic farewell speech at Yankee Stadium 75 years ago, he indelibly linked our national pastime to the fight against the disease that would bear his name," commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement.

MLB will donate $300,000 to organizations that fight against Lou Gehrig's disease.

Gehrig's battle with the disease is closely tied to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, where he was diagnosed and treated. Today, Mayo is a leader in ALS research.

On June 13, 1939, Lou Gehrig arrived at Rochester, where he was to undergo a physical check-up at the Mayo Clinic.

Weeks earlier (May 2), Gehrig took himself out of the New York Yankees lineup, ending a streak of 2,130 straight games. The streak lasted more than 14 seasons, and he earned the nickname "The Iron Horse.''

Nobody plays 14 straight years without an assortment of injuries, and Gehrig was no exception. He played with concussions, sprains, back spasms, broken bones and an assortment of other illnesses, but he was always in the lineup.

But the 6-foot-tall, 200-pound Gehrig knew something was wrong during the 1938 season when he found himself sapped of energy and explosiveness.

On May 2, 1939, at Briggs Stadium in Detroit, the Yankee captain came to home plate with the starting lineup in hand.Gehrig's name wasn't on it.

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Earlier in the day, he had informed Yankees manager Joe McCarthy that he was removing himself from the lineup because he "wasn't doing the team any good.''

He would never play again.

Gehrig arrived in Rochester and stayed at the Kahler Hotel. On June 19 — his 36th birthday — he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.

ALS is a progressive motor neuron disease that typically strikes at middle to later life and causes nerve cells in spinal cord, brain stem and brain to gradually break down and die. Eventually, ALS affects the ability of the patient to control the muscles needed to move, speak, eat and breathe.

On July 4, 1939, the Yankees were playing a doubleheader against the Washington Senators.

It was Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day, and a crowd of almost 62,000 showed up at Yankee Stadium. It has been written that it would turn out to be the most "poignant and emotionally charged event in the history of New York sports, thanks largely to the 277 words the guest of honor spoke that day.''

The ceremony took a little more than 40 minutes, after the Yankees lost the opener to the Senators, 3-2.

Speaking were New York Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia, Postmaster General James Farley and Babe Ruth.

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Gehrig received an assortment of gifts, and according to another newspaper report, "Gehrig stood and shifted from side to side, his head down, twisting his Yankee cap in his hands, fighting tears and looking as if he wished he were invisible.''

The New York Daily News wrote this:

"Gehrig did not move. He had apparently prepared some remarks but was too overcome to speak. The festivities were all but over, the workers ready to dismantle the microphones and roll up the cables. Gehrig was still not budging, his head still fixed on the ground, before McCarthy walked over to him. The manager whispered something in his ear. Gehrig seemed to nod."

Finally, Lou Gehrig edged toward the microphones and delivered his speech.

"Fans, for the past two weeks, you have been reading about the bad break I got," he began. "Yet, today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth."

He went on to express gratitude for his 17 years in baseball, his friends and his family.

Gehrig finished his career with 493 home runs (27th all time), a .340 batting average, 1,995 RBIs, was a two-time MVP, seven-time All-Star and was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939.

Lou Gehrig's speech — July 4, 1939

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