Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Lou Gehrig’s famous farewell speech and I thought it was important to share with you. He said, “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth and while I am facing a recent setback, I have a lot to live for!” Mr. Gehrig was diagnosed with what is now known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, the deadly amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neuromuscular disease with no known cure. If you are not familiar with who Lou Gehrig is, I suggest you look him up. He was probably the best all around baseball player to ever live and the least known. He played 17 years with the New York Yankees until having to retire due to his illness. Why am I telling you this? Well, he didn’t start out as the luckiest boy. He had a rough childhood and in many ways as the son of first generation immigrant parents, he was destined to work in a mill or some other industrial job like his father.
How did he become the “Iron Horse” and Hall of Fame player for the New York Yankees without great workout and practice facilities? What he did have was a tumultuous home life in Yorkville, NY and a father in and out of work due to bouts with alcoholism, a mother working as a maid at a Columbia College sorority and a sister dying at early age from complications from the measles? Those who knew him, talked about the “it” factor, the steely determination in his eyes, and the ever presence of grit and resilience he had to develop as a young boy.
Gehrig, talked about how as a kid he dreamt of being a New York sports hero. He lived close to the Polo Grounds where the NY Giants football and baseball teams played. He would spend hours envisioning himself running for touchdowns in a Giant uniform and hitting towering home runs for the Giants baseball team and then for the Yankees! He would do odd jobs around the neighborhood and often go with his mom to cook at the sorority house. He became a good football player. He was very fast, some would say due to running away from trouble or after getting into trouble with neighbor gang kids. He played baseball too, where he was becoming a good ballplayer. Speed helps!
His break came when he was 17, his high school team won the NYC Championship. He played well but not spectacularly in his mind. At the time, there was a competition between New York and Chicago, where the two cities’ championship high school teams would play each other. That year New York traveled to the then Chicago Cubs Stadium (now Wrigley Field). The game progressed and NY was winning by a run in the top of 7th inning, Gehrig at the plate with runners on, he could put the game away with a hit and score a couple more runs. Instead he hits into the right field upper deck! New York goes on to win, and Gehrig became known to the major league scouts at the game. A NY Giant scout approached him and asked him to come by for a try out (this is what used to happen in baseball). Due to his situation at home, he thought it would be a great idea. He could support his family while getting paid to play baseball. However, his parents hated the idea. They thought – why should he waste his time on a backyard game? Well, Gehrig went to the tryout anyway with lots of confidence. When he arrived he was asked to hit, first pitch, whack, out the park in the Polo Grounds! Second pitch, whack, out of there again! The Yankee manager said, “Enough, go onto the field and let’s see what you got.” He went out to first base, where he typically played if he didn’t pitch. First ground ball from the coach, whiff! Right through his legs. The manager said, get out of here, Yankees didn’t need any more bad ballplayers!! Dejected, he walked home crying all the way. Some break! After what Gehrig considered a failure at baseball, he was offered a chance to play football at Columbia College, where he was a starting running back and had a great start to his collegiate career. When baseball season rolled around in the spring, he went out to play and after the season he was asked to try out for a minor league team in upstate NY. He made the team and unlike a couple years earlier when he was asked to leave the field, Gehrig, would be ready for this opportunity. Without supervision much of the time, he would go bounce a ball off a wall and field the ball from every angle. He would have friends throw the ball in the dirt so he would learn how to come up with it at first base. Funny thing was, even his Columbia baseball coach wasn’t sure how he had gotten better, he just knew he could hit! And hit he did! He made the team and played for money, like now, it was a violation of amateur rules of college, now the NCAA (most powerful organization in sports!). So, Gehrig was advised to play under an alias so that he could make money to bring home. At first, he didn’t know or even think about why he had to play under someone else’s name and didn’t care, frankly because it allowed him to do what he loved! He did this for a couple of summers while at Columbia then realized he should focus on getting his degree and finishing up school. However, while doing so, he had become the best hitter in the minor leagues and garnered another shot at becoming a Yankee. Given another tryout, Gehrig duplicated his feat from when he was 17, home run after home run in batting practice. In the field, he was flawless. In 1923 he debuted with the New York Yankees and went on to play 2,130 straight games without missing a start hence the “iron horse” nickname. He would say he played every single game because he loved it! He didn’t want to let himself or his teammates down. But mostly because he loved doing his job!
The moral of the story this week – You Gotta Love It! You have to commit to be your best each day, giving your best effort, knowing that when you lay down to rest, you have done your job well today! I know these are tough times, but these are the times it is important to wake up each day grateful to have the opportunity to do the thing or things you love, even if it requires some struggle!
Enjoy Your Journey!