Beyond the bucket: Lou Gherig, ALS, and how you can help
75 years ago, on July 4, 1939, baseball legend Lou Gehrig delivered a farewell speech that continues to be included in the lists of the great sports speeches of all time. Here is the full text of his remarks.
From the Lou Gehrig Website, here is the background to that speech:
New York sportswriter Paul Gallico suggested the team have a recognition day to honor Gehrig on July 4, 1939. There were more than 62,000 fans in attendance as Gehrig stood on the field at Yankee Stadium with the 1927 and 1939 Yankees. He fought back tears of overwhelming emotion and began to speak his immortal words of thanks, calling himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” It was one of the most poignant and emotional moments in the history of American sports, and there was not a dry eye in Yankee Stadium. At the close of Gehrig’s speech, Babe Ruth walked up, put his arm around his former teammate and spoke in his ear the first words they had shared since 1934.
As it turned out, the reconciliation was brief (for the story of the Babe Ruth-Lou Gehrig falling out, see this article in the New York Times; you can view rare footage of Ruth and Gehrig on ABC News).
Gehrig’s illness manifested itself quickly„ and the baseball great quickly realized his days as an athlete had come to an end:
In 1938, Gehrig fell below .300 for the first time since 1925 and it was clear that there was something wrong. He lacked his usual strength. Pitches he would have hit for home runs were only flyouts. Doctors diagnosed a gall bladder problem first, and they put him on a bland diet, which only made him weaker. Teammate Wes Ferrell noticed that on the golf course, instead of wearing golf cleats, Gehrig was wearing tennis shoes and sliding his feet along the ground. Ferrell was frightened. When asked if he would remove Gehrig from the lineup, manager Joe McCarthy said, “That’s Lou’s decision.”
Gehrig played the first eight games of the 1939 season, but he managed only four hits. On a ball hit back to pitcher Johnny Murphy, Gehrig had trouble getting to first in time for the throw. When he returned to the dugout, his teammates complimented him on the “good play.” Gehrig knew when his fellow Yankees had to congratulate him for stumbling into an average catch it was time to leave. He took himself out of the game. On May 2, 1939, as Yankee captain, he took the lineup card to the umpires, as usual. But his name was not on the roster. Babe Dahlgren was stationed at first. The game announcer intoned, “Ladies and gentlemen, Lou Gehrig’s consecutive streak of 2,130 games played has ended.”
Doctors at the Mayo Clinic diagnosed Gehrig with a very rare form of degenerative disease: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which is now called Lou Gehrig’s disease. There was no chance he would ever play baseball again.
After his retirement, Gehrig lived on another two years. The disease he suffered from, as noted above, came to be known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease: learn about the disease, here.
This year, the #icebucketchallenge was created for two purposes: to raise awareness about ALS and to raise funds for the fight to find a cure:
It relies on a simple dare: You have 24 hours to videotape yourself being drenched by a bucket of ice water, or donate $100 to ALS research.
In terms of raising funds it’s been an unqualified success. The funds are direly needed:
Advocates for nearly every disease have to fight for dollars and awareness. But when it comes to deserving causes, ALS might be on the short list.
The disease is terrifying and unyielding. Motor neurons die off, leading to the loss of voluntary movement; within weeks, muscles begin to waste away. There’s essentially no treatment: the lone drug approved to treat ALS, riluzole, slows the symptoms by only a few months.
It’s like Parkinson’s on super-steroids.
Patients end up trapped in their bodies, dependent on technology to keep them breathing and communicating. ALS is a “glass coffin,” Ron Schaffer, an ALS patient who relies on an iPad speech app, told the Charlotte Observer.
The typical prognosis is 3 to 5 years.
But ALS is technically an “orphan disease” — it afflicts about 30,000 Americans, or about 2 in 100,000 people. That means there’s little incentive for pharmaceutical companies to pour billions into R&D and pursue the market.
And while the NIH currently allocates $40 million to ALS research this year that’s $10 million less than the NIH spends to research Attention Deficit Disorder ($50 million) and $22 million less than it spends on anthrax research ($72 million)…
Unlike certain celebrity fundraising phenomenons, the donations are headed to a good place: The ALS Association is a highly respected charity.
Charity Navigator gives the association four stars — its best rating — and the organization is trying to be transparent and proactive.
“I know that many people are wondering what The ALS Association is going to do with these donations,” Barbara Newhouse, the association’s CEO and president said over the weekend. “My answer is this: invest prudently in helping people with ALS and their families and caregivers in the battle against the disease, while resolutely pursuing all avenues to extend, improve and ultimately save lives.”
If you want to accept the giving part of the #icebucketchallenge, visit ALSA.org for details on donating.
Here at home, you can make a difference by considering a donation to the ALS Ward of the Philippine General Hospital. Contact the Department of Neurosciences:
PGH G/F, Ward 5 – Department of Neurosciences ; LN: 2405; DL: 554-8462
Even as research continues, you can do something to help individuals and families now. (Thanks to Abi Valte who is promoting this upon the suggestion of Dinky Soliman and Bro. Armin Luistro).
Learn about the disease, and ponder just some of the lives the disease has claimed:
Most commonly, ALS strikes people between the ages of 40 and 70, and as many as 30,000 Americans have the disease at any given time. ALS has cut short the lives of other such notable and courageous individuals as Hall of Fame pitcher Jim “Catfish” Hunter, Senator Jacob Javits, actors Michael Zaslow and David Niven, creator of Sesame Street Jon Stone, television producer Scott Brazil, boxing champion Ezzard Charles, NBA Hall of Fame basketball player George Yardley, pro football player Glenn Montgomery, golfer Jeff Julian, golf caddie Bruce Edwards, British soccer player Jimmy Johnstone, musician Lead Belly (Huddie Ledbetter), photographer Eddie Adams, entertainer Dennis Day, jazz musician Charles Mingus, former vice president of the United States Henry A. Wallace and U.S. Army General Maxwell Taylor.
And don’t forget Dr. Richard Olney, who himself studied ALS for 18 years. It’s the work of these scientists that can move things forward (based, let’s not forget, on the study of patients, too: consider this 2001 paper which included four Filipinos in Guam).
So do learn about Lou Gehrig’s Disease or ALS, and those suffering from it, and the families coping with caring for loved ones who have it. A concerned individual established an ALSPhil Facebook page that shares some of these stories.