Appel: Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day at 75

From SABR member Marty Appel at The National Pastime Museum on July 3, 2014:

Seventy-five years ago, July 4, 1939, in what has come to be called the day of “Baseball’s Gettysburg Address,” Lou Gehrig delivered an unscripted yet brilliant farewell to baseball before an overflow holiday doubleheader crowd at Yankee Stadium.

It was at once a “memorable moment” for the National Pastime that did not involve a game, and a day that became one of the most emotional in the history of sports.

There are no players, ground-crew members, sportswriters, or baseball officials who stood on the field that day who are still with us. The last of them was Tommy Henrich, who died at 96 in 2009. But there are still fans, youngsters at the time, who crammed into the 16-year-old stadium for the event.

One was Ray Robinson, who went on to graduate from Columbia (Lou’s alma mater) in 1941 and to become a noted sports author, with an acclaimed biography of Gehrig among his works. Ray is now 93, still on top of his game, and still filled with memories, because Gehrig was his hero. He once tried to interview Gehrig outside the stadium for his school newspaper, but Lou was busy and instead left him tickets to come back the next day. It was a great thrill for Ray, standing so close to his hero.

“There are a few things that I especially remember,” he says. “I was sitting in the bleachers, and none of us that day thought that Lou was dying. We knew he had something that was forcing his retirement, but his impending death was not on anyone’s mind.

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Originally published: July 3, 2014. Last Updated: July 3, 2014.