TYLER, Texas — On Saturday I accepted my ice bucket challenge in support of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). It was a hot day, the temperature was approaching the 100-degree mark, so what better time to have a bucket of cold water poured on me.
For those who delay in accepting your challenge, let me point out that the fall season will be here before you know it. To have a bucket of ice water dumped on your head on a hot day is one thing, but on a 55-degree day — well, that is a joy that, all things considered, I would just as soon not experience.
In the US, this terrible disease for which there is no cure and no effective treatment, is most commonly linked to baseball player Henry Louis “Buster” Gehrig, the left-handed first baseman of the New York Yankees who played for 17 seasons before retiring in 1939. Nicknamed “The Iron Man” in tribute to his incredible durability, Gehrig set many baseball records including playing in the most consecutive games, 2,130, a remarkable standard that survived for more than 50 years until it was eclipsed it in 1995 by Baltimore Orioles shortstop Calvin Edwin “Cal” Ripken, Jr.
Gehrig’s touching but simple farewell speech to his thousands of adoring fans at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939, is central to why this devastating malady is also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Gehrig’s Farewell Speech – Yankee Stadium, July 4, 1939
“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 this 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 might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.”
© 2021 John Gregory Self