Thursday, July 4, 2019

The Luckiest Man

So, the Times, somehow pulling itself away from exciting sporting news such as the opening of the polo season on Long Island, commemorated Lou Gehrig's famous speech today, on this, its 80th anniversary.

This marked, I think, the start of the Old Timers Game, as well, as the Yankees brought back Gehrig's legendary 1927 team to play the 1939 one.  Quite amazing that he played for both—at least officially—as most baseball scholars rank one or the other as the greatest team to ever play the game.

(My vote, as you may recall, is for the 1998 team, which ran up those record, 125 wins against a major-leagues full of juicers while—apparently—having no PED users of its own, an incredible feat when you think of it.  And of course, you can't have a "greatest ever" team from the Jim Crow era of baseball.)

But certainly, those were two amazing teams, and it was an amazing day.  As the Times relates, it wasn't clear that Gehrig was going to speak at all, and at first it didn't seem as if he would be able to, due to the emotions that were choking up everybody.

He was also in truly terrible shape.  Ed Barrow actually came down on the field and clutched him by the shoulders, he was so afraid that Gehrig was going to fall down.

The fans and his fellow players gave him a lot of nice gifts, as was standard for a ballplayer's "day" back then—though this was a day like no other:  a fruit bowl, some candlesticks, a rod-and-reel, a plaque.

Mayor La Guardia spoke, and called him "the best to be found in sportsmanship and citizenship."  Manager Joe McCarthy spoke, and related how Gehrig had "told me you were quitting as a ballplayer because you felt yourself a hindrance to the team.  My God, man, you were never that!"—and then Marse Joe did break down in sobs.

The 61,808 in attendance (probably more like 74,000 with standing room) kept chanting for Lou to speak, though, and finally he did.

It was a little surprising that the speech was so good, because Lou had a reputation for malapropisms.  A few years before, he had famously ruined a live radio commercial for "Huskies" cereal by saying "Wheaties" instead.  (He was even going to make a joke about that in his farewell speech, but apparently decided not to.)

Instead, he thanked everyone there, as they all sobbed together—a rare display of mass, public emotion for 1939.

He thanked his parents and his wife.  He thanked his manager and his teammates, and his old manager and his old teammates, and Colonel Ruppert, and Ed Barrow, and the fans and the writers, and the groundskeepers and the vendors, and even the New York Baseball Giants, who had sent a gift.  And at the end he said the famous line about how he had a lot to live for.

When it was done, Babe Ruth flung his arms around him and cried like a baby, and there's a great picture of the Babe in tears and Lou Gehrig smiling wanly, as he tended to, almost cheek-to-cheek.  Though only Bill Dickey noticed that Lou did not put his arms around the Babe in return:  "Lou just never forgave him."

And after that he walked down into the dugout and disappeared, as in that wonderful, last shot in Pride of the Yankees.

His teammates were so shook up that they split a doubleheader against the Washington Senators that day.  A few days later, they got the final word on just how bad Lou's sickness really was, and it seemed to visibly shake them on the playing field:  they dropped five in a row to Boston, at home, in a year when they absolutely steamrolled everyone.  Then they went back to steamrolling again.

The best tribute on the day came from John Kieran, the great sportswriter, naturalist, and radio personality, who wrote the poem inscribed on the trophy they gave him:

We've been to the wars together;
We took our foes as they came;
And always you were the leader,
And ever you played the game.
Idol of cheering millions,
Records are yours by sheaves;
Iron of frame they hailed you
Decked you with laurel leaves.
But higher than that we hold you,
We who have known you best;
Knowing the way you came through
Every human test.
Let this be a silent token
Of lasting Friendship's gleam,
And all that we've left unspoken;
Your Pals of the Yankees Team.

It's a silly game, I know.  But the camaraderie isn't silly at all.


JM said...

Just great, Hoss.

HoraceClarke66 said...

Thanks, JM. Now let's bring this one home!

TheWinWarblist said...

Well done, Hoss.

TheWinWarblist said...

What could Larry have possibly had to say to Cessa? "Don't fuck up; you're making Ma sad?"

Fuck you Hal.

TheWinWarblist said...

Apparently scoring 5 in the top of the 10th may not have been enough. Cessa, you warty hump.

HoraceClarke66 said...

Funny how Cessa only did well in EuroFenway. The world turned up side down.

Parson Tom said...

Thanks for the tribute to Gehrig and his speech. One of the most beautiful yet sad moments ever.

Local Bargain Jerk said...

HC66: Nice work on this post.

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