By Steve Williams
As we celebrate America’s birthday this week, I would like to share some famous sports events that occurred on July 4th over the years.
Although it happened before most of us were alive, many sports fans have heard and seen the replay of Lou Gehrig’s famous farewell speech at Yankee Stadium in 1939.
Thanks to Ken Burns’ outstanding documentary on “Baseball,” I have watched excerpts of Gehrig’s emotional good-bye countless times, but I had forgotten it happened on a Fourth of July.
It is one of the most moving moments in the history of all sports.
“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got,” he began. “Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.”
Gehrig, who batted behind Babe Ruth in the lineup, had been stricken with a disease that gradually weakened his body. That year in spring training he and his teammates noticed the effects of it and were stunned.
Lou had earned the nickname “Iron Horse” and played in 2,130 consecutive major league games before taking himself out of the lineup about a month into that season. He underwent medical tests and got the news.
A huge, sad crowd had packed Yankee Stadium for “Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day” that Fourth of July, paying tribute to their beloved hero.
Gehrig was too moved to speak at first as he choked back tears. But he composed himself and was assisted to microphone stand by Manager Joe McCarthy.
Why did he consider himself a lucky man?
Well, he told us as he continued his speech. He acknowledged the fans for their encouragement and kindness over 17 years, the great men he had played with and were coached by and led by in the Yankees’ organization.
He even mentioned the rival New York Giants sending him a gift. He spoke of the groundskeepers where he played remembering him.
And he had a family to be thankful for, saying even his mother-in-law sometimes took his side in squabbles he had with her own daughter. “That’s something,” he said.
Gehrig spoke of his father and mother and their support being a blessing in his life and his wife being “a tower of strength” and courageous for him.
“So, I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.”
A standing ovation lasting two minutes followed. Ruth hugged him.
Gehrig died two years later of what now is called “Lou Gehrig’s disease.”
RICHARD PETTY, the King of motor racing, won his 200th and last race on July 4th, 1984 at the Firecracker 400 in Daytona, and soon as it was over went to shake the hand of Ronald Reagan, who was the first sitting president to ever attend a NASCAR race.
TIM MCCARVER of the St. Louis Cardinals did something no other major league baseball player has ever done on our country’s Bicentennial birthday in 1976. He hit a game-winning grand slam home run in Pittsburgh, but it didn’t count because he passed teammate Gary Maddux as he was rounding the bases.
Umpires scratched their heads and awarded McCarver a “grand slam single.”
How did such a thing happen?
“Sheer speed,” answered Tim, who went on to become a well-known national broadcaster.
JOE LOUIS made his pro boxing debut in Chicago on Independence Day in 1934 and earned $59 for his first-round knockout.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY USA!