Saturday, July 4, 2009

A day to remember a hero

I'm often critical of Major League Baseball and its clueless, short-sighted, money-grubbing leadership, but today - brace yourself, folks - I'm using my cyberspace to doff my cap to Commissioner Bud Selig.

I think it's fabulous that today, on the 70th anniversary of Lou Gehrig's poignant speech, the Commish is having the Gettysburg Address of Baseball recited by various speakers in Major League parks throughout America.

Sadly, we live in a time in which history is considered bunk. So, I believe it's even more important that we use these anniversaries to celebrate and educate people about moments that speak to the character and spirit on which the game and this country were founded.
That Gehrig, a shy, humble man, was able to tell the world that he "considered himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth" while dying of Amyotrophic Lateral Scelrosis (ALS) remains one of sport's most inspirational and transcendent moments.
The slugger's comments that day in front of 61,808 spectators at Yankee Stadium were so moving and so eloquent that William Safire included it in a book about the great speeches in history, alongside those of popes, presidents, kings and philosophers.
Gehrig remains the finest first baseman ever to play the game. But his enduring legacy will be the grace and dignity he displayed in the face of death. His name became associated with the hideous disease that destroys the nerve cells and results in paralysis and death, usually within five years.
There currently are about 35,000 Americans who suffer from ALS. Each year about 5,000 people die from it and 6,000 new cases are diagnosed.
Gehrig, a strapping man who played 2,130 consecutive games, remains an important figure in the search for a cure, nearly seven decades after his death at age 37.
Today's recitations of Gehrig's speech in ballparks across America will raise awareness about ALS and serve as a reminder about being grateful for the blessings we've been given.
Good job, Mr. Selig. Good job, Major League Baseball.
For those of you interested in learning more about Lou Gehrig, may I suggest two wonderful biographies - Ray Robinson's Iron Horse and Jonathan Eig's Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig.
In addition, I recommend Gary Cooper's portrayal of Gehrig in the movie, "The Pride of the Yankees.'' It can be a little sappy at times, but it's still one of my all-time favorites. And you'll even see a cameo by Babe Ruth himself.
Eleven years ago today, I took my kids - Amy and Christopher - to their first game at Yankee Stadium. Talk about an All-American way to spend the Fourth of July - family and baseball.
Not surprisingly, the trip and harkenned many memories of my first trip to The House That Ruth Built 32 years earlier.
One thing that made it even more memorable was that the Yankees, in honor of Lou Gehrig Day, had actress Teresa Wright throw out the first pitch. Wright, some of you may recall, played Gehrig's wife in "The Pride of the Yankees.'' As I've said before, love 'em or hate 'em, nobody does nostalgia like the Yankees.
One final Gehrig note: He was the first athlete in professional sports to have his number retired, which is why you'll see his No. 4 before Ruth's No. 3 in the lineup of retired uni's in Monument Park in Yankee Stadium.

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