Sandomir: Eighty years on, Lou Gehrig’s words reverberate

From Richard Sandomir at the New York Times on July 3, 2019:

Lou Gehrig had finally made it to the Yankees’ clubhouse that afternoon, drained and drenched with perspiration, having delivered a speech of such simple eloquence that it would one day be called baseball’s Gettysburg Address.

Lou had wept as he spoke — as did many of the nearly 62,000 other people in Yankee Stadium on that Fourth of July 80 years ago.

Back in the comfort of the clubhouse with teammates and friendly reporters around him, he asked, “Did my speech sound silly?” It was a humble man’s question with an easy answer: it did not.

Much of the speech no longer exists as an intact recording; poor preservation of newsreels has left only four known surviving lines.

The opener — “For the past two weeks, you’ve been reading about a bad break” — leads into the “luckiest man” declaration, which was shifted to the end of “The Pride of the Yankees,” the 1942 film about Gehrig, starring Gary Cooper, for dramatic impact. In another extant sentence, he refers to his 1939 teammates as “fine-looking men” who are “standing in uniform in the ballpark today.” And his last line also survived: “And I might have given a bad break but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.”

If we think we know a complete speech, it is because of the version that Cooper delivered in “Pride,” which borrowed from what Gehrig’s wife, Eleanor, remembered of July 4, 1939, and from newsreels that had not yet wasted away or been discarded. Cooper had morphed into Gehrig, not because he looked like him or could play baseball like him, but because he knew so well how to play men of quiet dignity.

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Originally published: July 4, 2019. Last Updated: July 4, 2019.