July 4, 1939. Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day.
After starting the 1939 season with just four hits in 33 plate appearances—none of them extra-base hits—everyone could see that something wasn't right for the greatest first baseman to ever play. Lou Gehrig played his last big league game on April 30. After almost two months of tests at Mayo Clinic, which were covered in detail by the media, Gehrig's ALS diagnosis was announced publicly on June 19. On June 21, the Yankees announced that he was retiring from baseball.
To honor Gehrig, a tremendously popular player, the Yankees declared their July 4th doubleheader against the Washington Senators as "Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day." Over 61,000 fans packed Yankee Stadium to send off their hero. In 14 full seasons, Gehrig amassed 493 home runs, 2,721 hits, and a .447 OBP. He won two MVPs—finishing in the top five six more times—and was a World Series winner six times.
Between games of the doubleheader, there was a ceremony held on the field. When it was Gehrig's turn to speak, he did not move. It was announced to the crowd that he would not be speaking. However, after a brief conversation with his beloved manager, Joe McCarthy, Gehrig walked to the mic to deliver the now famous speech. Though no video of the entire speech exists, we have the full transcript. Keith Olbermann (I know he can be annoying, but he's great here) fills in the gaps in the video below.
The full transcript, as provided by the Hall of Fame:
"Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen 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 for even one day? Sure, I'm lucky. Who wouldn't consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I'm lucky.
When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift - that's something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies - that's something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter - that's something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body - it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed - that's the finest I know.
So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for."