Wednesday, July 01, 2009

From The Trunk "Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day, The Farewell Speech"

It was Yankees versus Senators on July 4, 1939, a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. Those in attendance numbered 61,808, and most of them had showed up to honor Lou Gehrig in a ceremony between games.

Players, officials, writers and employees at the park out-did themselves with gifts for the Iron Horse. A parade launched the 40-minute ceremony as the Seventh Regiment Band escorted Babe Ruth, Waite Hoyt, Bob Meusel, Herb Pennock, Joe Dugan, Tony Lazzeri, Mark Koenig, Benny Bengough, Wally Schang, Everett Scott, Wally Pipp, George Pipgras and Bob Shawkey to the center field flagpole. A banner was hoisted saluting the 1927 Yankees. Then the group of former stars, all in street clothes, assembled shoulder to shoulder near the pitcher's mound. Yankees and Senators formed a semicircle around a microphone at home plate. "We want Lou, we want Lou," the chant began. Led out of the dugout by Yankees president Ed Barrow, Gehrig doffed his cap and fought back tears as the crowd roared.

Sid Mercer, the Master of ceremonies, announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, Lou Gehrig has asked me to thank you all for him. He is too moved to speak."

"We want Lou! We want Lou!" the chant was a plea for Gehrig to speak.Coaxed by manager Joe McCarthy, Gehrig wiped his eyes, blew his nose. On unsteady feet, he moved towards the microphone to speak the speech he had written the night before. "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 in 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 Barrows? 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 groundskeeper and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies, that's something. When you have a father and mother work 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 in saying that I might have had a bad break, but I have an awful lot to live for." Until season's end "The Pride of the Yankees" was there with and for his team. He spent every day on the bench and traveled with the Yankees on road trips. He sat through all four of the 1939 World Series games. On June 3, 1941 Lou Gehrig died at his home, 5204 Delafield Avenue, in the Fieldston section of the Bronx He would have been 38 years old on June 19.

Confined to his home for the last month of his life, he lost weight steadily during his final weeks. It was reported that he was twenty-five pounds under weight shortly before he died.

Harvey Frommer is his 33rd consecutive year of writing sports books. The author of 40 of them including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM, an oral/narrative history (Abrams, Stewart, Tabori and Chang) was published in 2008 as well as a reprint version of his classic "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball."

The prolific Frommer is at work on REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK (2010).Frommer sports books are available direct from the author - discounted and autographed.FROMMER SPORTSNET (syndicated) reaches a readership in the millions and is housed on Internet search engines for extended periods of time.

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