- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 3, 2014


In May 2007, Cal Ripken enjoyed the benefits of being a newly elected member of the Baseball Hall of Fame — a behind-the-scenes look at the museum.

Two months before his induction, Ripken and his family got a tour of the Cooperstown museum, including many of the treasures that are hidden away and stored.

One of them was particularly powerful. Ripken was handed Lou Gehrig’s first baseman’s mitt, and tried it on.

It was finally the DNA connection between two men who set the standard for determination in their eras. Ripken had been walking in Gehrig’s footsteps for nearly two decades, ever since he was setting consecutive innings records and everyone looked to the future, wondering if Ripken would break the unbreakable Gehrig record — 2,130 consecutive games.

When Ripken did so on Sept. 6, 1995, he spoke of what had become a connection to Gehrig, and what it meant to him.

He told MLB.com in January that he still feels that connection. “I’d love to actually have a conversation with him and talk to him about some of the demands of playing every day and really what was important about playing every day,” Ripken said. “I think I already know the answer to that question, but it would be really great to be able to talk about it.”

On Friday, July 4th, America will rediscover its connection with Lou Gehrig. Not by trying on his first baseman’s mitt, but instead by the reminder of the courage of the Iron Horse’s words on July 4th, 1939 — 75 years ago, when a courageous man dying of an incurable disease stood on the field at Yankee Stadium and told everyone he was the “luckiest man on the face of this earth.”

He said this while he was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Two years later, he was dead at the age of 37 of the malady that has carried his name — Lou Gehrig’s disease — ever since.

MLB players, managers, coaches and umpires will wear a commemorative patch on July 4. The tribute will include a video shown at all ballparks featuring a first baseman from each team reciting a line from Gehrig’s speech.

“When Lou Gehrig delivered his historic farewell speech at Yankee Stadium 75 years ago, he indelibly linked our national pastime to the fight against the disease that would bear his name,” baseball commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement.

Gehrig was one of the greatest players in the history of the game, period, and the best first baseman, case closed. Over 17 seasons, he batted .340, with 493 home runs, 1,995 RBI and a slugging percentage of .632. He led the Yankees to six World Series titles, won two Most Valuable Player awards and won the coveted Triple Crown in 1934. And he played with the giants of the game — teammates like Babe Ruth and opponents like Jimmy Foxx.

His last hit was against the Washington Senators on April 29, 1939 at Yankee Stadium. The next day, against the Senators, would be the last game Gehrig would ever play.

But he had one more home run at home — his July 4th retirement speech, one of the most celebrated in all of sports:

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break. Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face on the earth. I have been in ballparks for 17 years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them even for one day.

“Sure I’m lucky.”

He went on to talk about some of the people he had known in the game, his opponents, his family, and closed by saying, “I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.”

Lou Gehrig lives on through those courageous words.

Cal Ripken isn’t the only one who would like to have a conversation with the Iron Horse. We would stand in line for that one — for a chance to thank him for the gift of perspective he gave America 75 years ago.

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com

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