Yankees commemorate Gehrig's speech
Team reads famed valedictory, promotes ALS awareness
NEW YORK -- Seventy years ago, a dying Lou Gehrig unsteadily walked into the Yankee Stadium batter's box and approached a waiting microphone at home plate, delivering one of the most powerful speeches in sports history.
The 277 words spoken that day still resonate strongly, inspiring with their class and underlying spirit of courage and strength.
The Yankees honored Gehrig's famed "Luckiest Man" speech before Saturday's 6-5, 12-inning win, as part of Major League Baseball's initiative to raise awareness and financial support for organizations leading the fight against ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), otherwise known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.
A red, white and blue floral wreath hung on Gehrig's monument in Monument Park, and prior to the club's contest against the Blue Jays, there was a special video presentation paying tribute to The Iron Horse, including Yankees players reciting portions of Gehrig's speech.
The video opened with grainy footage of a 36-year-old Gehrig, forced to surrender his starting job as the Yankees' first baseman and knowing his ultimate fate as he walked to home plate for his own appreciation day between games of a 1939 doubleheader against the Washington Senators.
Displayed on the large center-field screen at the current Yankee Stadium, Gehrig began his iconic speech, crackling into the microphone, "For the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break."
After a transition, Derek Jeter picked it up, continuing with: "Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."
The video clips were shot during Spring Training in preparation for Saturday's event, and each of the Yankees appeared to take their roles seriously, making sure to deliver the lines with legitimacy.
"That speech is one of the greatest speeches in American history," said the Yankees' current first baseman, Mark Teixeira. "All of the players that were a part of that wanted to make sure we did it justice."
Andy Pettitte, Teixeira, Nick Swisher, general manager Brian Cashman, Jorge Posada, manager Joe Girardi, CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Xavier Nady and Johnny Damon also recited lines from the speech, leading into Gehrig's conclusion: "So I close by saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for."
The speech was honored in the design of the new Yankee Stadium. Inside the Gate 4 entrance, a large panel photograph is permanently hung, depicting Gehrig standing at home plate delivering his speech. On adjacent speakers, an audio loop delivers Gehrig's voice on a continuous basis.
Even for a franchise so rich in history -- and dedicated to celebrating it -- Gehrig's momentous speech stands apart.
"When you play here for a long time, you remember that speech," Posada said. "It's a long, long speech. The words in that speech tell you a lot about how he was. When you play here for a while, you'd better know."
The Yankees also recognized Michael Goldsmith, the man who recently petitioned Commissioner Bud Selig to begin a 4♦ALS initiative to raise awareness and funds for ALS.
A lawyer and professor at Brigham Young University whose ALS was discovered in 2006, Goldsmith received a standing ovation from the crowd. With assistance, Goldsmith rose from his wheelchair and walked to the mound, throwing the game's ceremonial first pitch to Teixeira.
Goldsmith had to do so underhanded because of the effects of ALS, and he one-hopped it as Teixeira moved more than halfway to the mound. Goldsmith also was given a $25,000 donation for ALS research on behalf of the Yankees Foundation, presented by Girardi.
"ALS is a tough disease, and Major League Baseball did a great job today of raising awareness," Teixeira said. "As athletes, taking away your ability to walk and play sports is very difficult."
Girardi is a student of Gehrig, having first become interested in his story after joining the Yankees in 1996, and wonders what it would have been like to be in Yankee Stadium that day in 1939.
"I'm quite sure it probably would have brought tears to my eyes," Girardi said, "to imagine what he meant to the franchise and the game of baseball, and to watch the way he handled himself. I believe he is an inspiration, the way he lived his life during his most difficult years."
All uniforms were affixed with a special 4♦ALS patch, and a special No. 4 base was placed at first base. Following the game, both first basemen in the game -- Teixeira for the Yankees, Lyle Overbay for the Blue Jays -- were to sign the commemorative base, to be auctioned off at a later date to raise funds for ALS research.
Girardi has been a consistent supporter of ALS research, as he has an uncle afflicted with the disease, which has yet to have a cure or a method to slow its progression in patients. He believes that the initiative should continue on an annual basis, much like Jackie Robinson Day is celebrated every April 15.
"I think it's a wise decision by Major League Baseball, just because of what he stood for," Girardi said. "We're always looking for positive role models, a way to go back. This is a way for people to have a better understanding of what it was like back then and connect baseball from then to now."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.