New York – 75 years ago on June 2, 1941, the world lost Lou Gehrig to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a debilitating and fatal disorder that today is often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s disease.”
Time Magazine noted how Gehrig was poignantly honored in ballparks across the nation at the time of his death:
In every ball park, flags drooped at half-mast. In New York’s Polo Grounds, Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field and Detroit’s Briggs Stadium – where New York ball clubs were playing – tier upon tier of fans stood bareheaded for a minute of silent tribute. In baseball’s Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y., mourners filed past a black-draped plaque. For the baseball world last week mourned 37-year-old Lou Gehrig, onetime Yankee first baseman, who had succumbed after two years to a rare, incurable disease known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Gehrig most enduring legacy, among many, was a 2,130 consecutive game streak that ended during the 1939 season when he benched himself for what he felt was his subpar performance. He received the ALS diagnosis in June of the same year from the Mayo Clinic.
Gehrig delivered his now-famous speech a month later on on July 4, 1939 on “Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day.” An excerpt from the speech has been quoted countless times to illustrate both the caliber of Gehrig as a man and as a source of hope for those waging battles with disease or difficult circumstances.
“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 the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.”
ALS afflicts roughly 5,600 people in the U.S. today. In recent years, former NFL’er OJ Brigance has proven an eloquent, inspiring successor to Gehrig in the public eye as he wages his own battle with ALS.
(All photos used with permission and are copyright Getty Images)